President Obama, cool and detached and still sounding more like a professor than a president, remains a mystery to many analysts. In today’s Washington Post, columnist Richard Cohen takes a stab at psychoanalyzing the chief executive, and the results are interesting.
Cohen writes that “at the heart of Barack Obama’s foreign policy is no heart at all. It consists instead of a series of challenges — of problems that need fixing, not wrongs that need to be righted.”
He continues: “It’s not clear that Obama is appalled by China’s appalling human rights record. He seems hardly stirred about continued repression in Russia. He treats the Israelis and their various enemies as pests of equal moral standing. The president seems to stand foursquare for nothing much.”
Obama has a “tin ear” when it comes to his own image, according to Cohen; he completely misunderstood the public’s longing for him to get genuinely angry about the BP oil spill and show that it affected him personally.
“Obama’s opaqueness has enabled his enemies — they are not mere critics — to define him as they choose,” Cohen writes. “He becomes a socialist, which he is not, or a Muslim, which he also is not. Even his allies are confused. The left thought he was a leftie. He’s not. The right, too, thought he was a leftie. He is, above all, a pragmatist. This makes it a lot easier to say what he is not than what he is.”
“It is not essential that he get angry or cry,” he adds. “It is essential, though, that he show us who he is. As of now, we haven’t a clue.”
I have a friend who insists Obama’s problems with Israel and pro-Israel activists here has less to do with his policy – which isn’t very different from the policies of former President George W. Bush, described by some as the most pro-Israel president ever – than with an aloof personal style that doesn’t connect with Israelis on a gut level.
Israel wants a U.S. president who shows he cares about him – not just with dry words about peace and security and all that, but with gestures and gut-level outreach. They want to feel liked, not just supported.
But policy is part of the mix, as well – policy that seems to be adrift, with ambitious goals that haven’t, so far, produced pragmatic, logical policies to reach them. That goes for the Middle East peace process, which is hardly a process at all, and it goes for the BP oil spill, a crisis that has produced confused policy as well as inadequate outreach to the many victims.
On policy, as well as in his soul, we don’t really know who this president is. That includes policy on the oil spill disaster, the stalled Middle East peace process and the war in Afghanistan, which is looking more and more like the issue that could spell disaster for Obama and the Democrats.