Is Obama’s Problem that He Doesn’t Get it, or that He Can’t Sell It?

In a recent rerun of one of my favorite comedies, “The Office”, Stanley the eternal pessimist refuses to take part in one of his boss’s moronic activities. When Michael, the office manager, tries to put Stanly on the spot, the pessimist remains defiant asking “Did I stutter?” Stanley, by the way, ultimately reaches an agreement with Michael whereby he will not challenge his boss’s authority as long as he is allowed to sit in the back and continue solving his beloved crosswords.

This is what Détente really looks like.

Unlike Stanly, US President Barack Obama, the eternal optimist seems to be stuttering for some time especially with regard to the events that are unfolding in the Middle East. His stand on Syria, for instance, remains a mystery. On the one hand he has called for the ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad and has stated repeatedly that the use of chemical weapons would be seen as crossing a red line, one that would necessitate American action. On the other hand, he has sat ideally by while Iran, Syria and Hezbollah all break the deadlock between Assad’s armed forces and the Syrian rebels. On the issue of Egypt and its current state of turmoil, the President is even more elusive making his way from stuttering to mumbling to the golf course.

Unquestionably, the events reshaping the Middle East are as complex as Stanly’s beloved crosswords. Old alliances have broken down, new alliances have been forged and no one is exactly sure how, when and where the chips will ultimately fall. Yet there seems to be a deafening silence coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s almost hard to believe that the man who swept the world in 2008 thanks to his eloquence and near perfect pitch is the same one currently occupying the Oval Office.

The consensus amongst Israeli analysts, one which was expressed last Friday night on all three major channels, is that the US simply doesn’t get the Middle East. According to these analysts, the United States suffers from a sort of tragic naiveté with regard to emerging democracies and the possibility democracy taking route in the Arab world.  In other words, “It’s always sunny in Washington D.C.”. Israel, according to all three channels, remains the world’s foremost expert on the Arab world. In fact, it is such an expert that it failed to anticipate the protests in Tunisia, the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the revolution in Egypt, the counter-revolution in Egypt and the Tom Cruise Katy Holms split up.

In a recent column in The New York Times, Maureen Dowd suggested that Obama be more like the fictitious President portrayed by Michael Douglas in the Film “The American President”.  To paraphrase Douglas’s “American President”- there is always the possibility that Obama’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it, but that he can’t sell it.

The early 1990’s saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and the triumph of Capitalism. As Russia and former Soviet states battled with the economic ramifications of this collapse, America emerged as the world’s only Superpower, one that no longer needed Détente. The economic boom of the Clinton years further solidified America’s position enabling it to answer Beyoncé’s question- “Who runs the world?”

But times are changing. The Russian bear is no longer dormant and is back to playing Risk in the Middle East. China, to put it crudely, now “owns” a substantive portion of the US. Europe is unemployed, Brazil is depressed and the Middle East is on fire. America’s days as the ultimate “Lone Ranger” may be over.

It is in this new geo-political reality that America requires a President who can bring opponents together, who can create international coalitions and who can broker deals. One can’t help but wonder if Obama is the right man for the job?

Judging from his record thus far, the answer may be daunting. For most of his Presidency, Obama has been unable to push through his domestic policy and an end to the five year war between The White House and Congress is nowhere in sight. In addition, when finally tasked with leading an international intervention in Libya, the President opted to “lead from behind”, a term that for the better part of the 20th Century did not appear in the American foreign policy vernacular. Lastly, the Obama-Clinton diplomatic dream team failed to meet most of its objectives and watched on TV monitors as the world changed, the same way they did the night Bin-Laden died.

If there is a world leader hidden within Obama, it’s time for him to come out of the closet. As the First Lady Michele Obama commented on her husband “He’s always asking: ‘Is that new? I haven’t seen that before.’ It’s like, Why don’t you mind your own business? Solve world hunger. Get out of my closet.”

To quote Michael Scott, “That’s what she said!”

About the Author
Ilan Manor is finishing his mass media studies at Tel Aviv University. He has previously contributed to the Jerusalem Post, +972 Magazine, the Jewish Daily Forward and On Second Thought magazine. His Hebrew-language blog has been featured several times in the Israeli press.