‘To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets.” – Barack Obama, Dreams of My Father
You can hardly blame Obama. Most folks are prisoners of their upbringing. They cannot escape the mind-set that took shape in their youth. Breaking through the bounds of early instruction/indoctrination requires a plucky character. Even then, intellectual integrity doesn’t always overcome the expediency of exploiting superficial truisms and old associations for ulterior motives and political ends.
It’s hard to judge precisely into which subcategory Obama fits. Does he simply lack the knack to unfetter himself from what was inculcated into him, or does he by now merely use platitudes and affiliations to further personal vested interests?
But whether it’s conformity or cynicism (or a convenient combination of both), the bottom line is that Obama seems to expect all global arena players to abide by Harvard conventions – to broad-mindedly tolerate adversarial viewpoints, to submit a priori that no cause is unavoidably more just than any other, and to effectively prefer ostensible Third-World underdogs with a peeve.
My country, Obama was taught at Harvard, isn’t necessarily more right, democracy isn’t necessarily democratic or superior, and belligerents can be soothed with sufficient sympathy, flattery and concessions. Obama’s tour de force at Cairo University epitomized the ethos of post-hippie-era Harvard.
EVERY BIT as crucially formative was the enlightenment gained by Neville Chamberlain’s foreign secretary, Lord Halifax (Edward Frederick Lindley Wood), at aristocratic Christ Church, Oxford. Halifax would go on to become one of the prime architects of appeasement. After hobnobbing with Hitler, Goering and Goebbels in 1937, Halifax noted in his diary that “although there was much in the Nazi system that profoundly offended British opinion, I was not blind to what he [Hitler] had done for Germany, and to the achievement from his point of view of keeping communism out of his country.” Hitler’s feat involved banning the Communist Party and banishing its leaders and accused members to concentration camps.
Halifax signaled Hitler that German designs on Austria, chunks of Czechoslovakia and Poland weren’t altogether illegitimate in British eyes, so long as German territorial expansion was “peaceful.” And Halifax, of course, proclaimed unwavering faith in Hitler’s professions of peace. Old attitudes die hard. Once reputations are staked on policies, no matter how misconstrued, it’s not easy to acknowledge error.
Only after the Axis bully began misbehaving with particular impudence following 1938’s Munich pact did Halifax finally figure out that this wasn’t quite cricket. But to his credit Halifax did agonize, even if belatedly, and he did draw some extremely cogent conclusions. “I often think how much easier the world would have been to manage,” he mused, “if Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini had been at Oxford.”
We’ve no way of telling if Obama had already reached the stage in which he laments the fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wasn’t, like himself, imbued with the liberal spirit at Harvard Law. However, our hope isn’t lost. In future Obama may yet rant, in Halifax’s immortal idiom, that the world would have been so much easier to manage had Ahmadinejad not enrolled in Iran’s University of Science (where he led the “students” who in 1979 attacked the US Embassy in Teheran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days).
In the fullness of time Obama may likely deduce that the Palestinian state he so fervently yearns for would have been a snap to establish had Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh imbibed progressive values at Harvard too. Had that been the case, dealing with them would then have been indubitably straightforward and unproblematic.
BUT AS inconsiderate fate would have it, Abbas’s alma mater was the People’s Friendship University in then-communist Moscow (where he wrote a PhD dissertation denying the Holocaust, a fact of which political correctness prohibits discussion nowadays, but one that creates a tangible ideological bond between Ramallah and Teheran). Haniyeh’s jihadist zeal was forged at that great repository of humanism, the Islamic University of Gaza.
One might expect that Obama’s hypotheses would evaporate into their thin-air principal component in view of Abbas’s incompatibility with notions of democratic accountability, rudimentary responsibility and credible reliability. Likewise one might expect that Obama’s schemes to reward Haniyeh’s terrorist ardor with gratuitous gifts would be stymied by the proven catastrophic consequences of emboldening fanatic hate-mongers.
But multipurpose delusions endure. So far Obama won’t admit that he practices appeasement, yet he seems to assert that there just isn’t enough of it.
The entire international coterie of baddies is delighted. Nothing suits it better than a leader of the free world who so dutifully complies with Harvard rules. So what if he assumes that they would too. Let him. They’ll do as they please, undeterred because he’s Harvard-bound to consider their perspective.
Israel, though, is ineligible for similar indulgent thoughtfulness (perhaps because its prime minister graduated from MIT). In other words, Israel is slated to pay the price of Obama’s bigheartedness toward our region’s Muslim warlords. The basic premise is that Israel gives and the PA gets, that Israel makes conciliatory concessions and the PA reluctantly consents to accept the proceeds, that the onus for quelling the chaos isn’t on the merchants of mass-murder but on Israel.
The fundamental doctrine of appeasement is the axiomatic given. Obama’s Harvard-honed conviction is that Israel is somehow morally culpable for Arab blood lust and is therefore charged with decreasing Arab displeasure. The conception of rogue regimes as harboring reasonable grievances that can be mitigated or redressed remains as integral to appeasement’s rationale as the good guys’ reluctance to fight.
Reasonable grievances then and now – i.e. Sudeten and Palestinian “occupation” canards – are indistinguishable. Obama clearly has swallowed the claim that the Mideast conflict isn’t about Arab aspirations to eradicate the Jewish state but about creating a Palestinian state. Never mind that before 1967, when “Palestinian” territories in question were under Arab rule, Palestinian self-determination remarkably wasn’t an issue. It was subsequently raised as an irredentist ruse to wrest land from Jewish control. Same as German irredentism in Czechoslovakia.
Hitler successfully convinced enlightened Europe that the Czechs were cruel occupiers of the Sudetenland and ruthless subjugators of its ethnic Germans. Vulnerable Czechoslovakia, struggling for survival, was portrayed as the intransigent troublemaker.
Nothing substantive changed from the grotesque pre-World War II defeatism of decent democracies. On September 27, 1938 Halifax’s boss, Chamberlain, opined: “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.”
Near death Chamberlain still insisted that the fault wasn’t with appeasement: “Everything would have worked out OK if Hitler hadn’t lied to me” – which presumably he wouldn’t have had Hitler operated by Oxfordian fair-play codes.
Ahmadinejad, Allah forfend, is likewise every bit as unbothered by Harvard precepts.
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