In golf, if you step up to the tee and proceed to hit the ball out of bounds, there is a fine tradition on public link courses that you are allowed a do-over, or “Mulligan” so that you can try to hit the ball a little straighter and not be penalized for your wayward swing.
There’s no such thing in politics, of course…that is, unless you happen to be an inexperienced liberal Democrat campaigning for president who is vouchsafed such luxuries as getting to “clarify” a monumentally stupid statement that demonstrated a dangerous cluelessness about a vital part of the world.
Barack Obama’s statement on the crisis in Lebanon fell as flat as 3 week old champagne in Israel and Lebanon, and probably other places where reformers are seeking to overturn the established order in the Middle East and bring more freedom to the people there. It’s bald faced ignorance about Hizbullah, about the Lebanese people, and what has been going on for more than 2 years in the streets in that tragic country underscores a dangerous naivete on the part of the candidate as well as a shocking lack of perspective on the true nature of groups like Hizbullah and Hamas.
In an eye-brow raising interview with the New York Times David Brooks, Obama was offered a chance to amend his mealy mouthed, pusillanimous statement on Lebanon made over the weekend and substitute instead thoughts that might connect to some semblance of reality regarding Hizbullah and their threat to whatever is left of democracy in Lebanon:
First, Obama’s initial swing that duck hooked clean out of bounds for a 2 stroke penalty:
He called on “all those who have influence with Hezbollah” to “press them to stand down.” Then he declared, “It’s time to engage in diplomatic efforts to help build a new Lebanese consensus that focuses on electoral reform, an end to the current corrupt patronage system, and the development of the economy that provides for a fair distribution of services, opportunities and employment.”
I took the candidate to task for his naive belief that “those who have influence with Hizbullah” care one whit what happens to Lebanese society and in fact, were encouraging Hizbullah in their violent efforts to undermine the legitimacy and authority of the elected government.
As for a “diplomatic consensus” on electoral reform I would say to Obama where the hell have you been for 3 fricking years? The Lebanese along with the Saudis, the Syrians, and the Arab League have all been engaged in efforts to reform Lebanon’s archaic electoral laws.
As for the patronage system, have him clean up his homestate’s corruption before he goes over the Lebanon and starts telling them about “corrupt patronage.” Mayor Daley and Governor Blagovetich make the Lebanese look like pikers in that regard.
And what’s with this “New Deal” economic program for Lebanon? He can’t be that dense, can he? When George Bush took office, aid to Lebanon amounted to around $35 million. This year, in keeping with our pledges made at the Paris Roundtable on aid to Lebanon, the President is asking Congress for $770 million which would make Lebanon the third largest recipient of US aid per capita. This is an amount that Iran can’t come close to matching. Clearly, Lebanon has become one of the most important Middle Eastern countries to American interests.
The Roundtable countries pledged upwards of $7 billion to rebuild Lebanese infrastructure pulverized by Israel during the war with Hizbullah. But that aid can’t start flowing until Lebanon has a new government. And Lebanon won’t have a new government until they elect a president. And they won’t elect a president until a new electoral law is passed. And they won’t have a new electoral law until Hizbullah folds up its tents in downtown Beirut and stops threatening to topple the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, joining their fellow countrymen in a national dialogue. And that won’t happen until there is a new government…
And around and around we go with Obama’s laughable ignorance exposed for all to see. He wants to treat Lebanon the same way he would go about reforming a corrupt ward in Chicago. For obvious reasons, this did not sit well with any Lebanese blogger or pundit I have read since he released that statement.
A sample from AK:
Oh the time we wasted by fighting Hizbullah all those years with rockets, invasions of their homes and shutting down their media outlets. If only we had engaged them and their masters in diplomacy, instead of just sitting with them around discussion tables, welcoming them into our parliament, and letting them veto cabinet decisions. If only Obama had shared his wisdom with us before, back when he was rallying with some of our former friends at pro-Palestinian rallies in Chicago. How stupid we were when, instead of developing national consensus with them, we organized media campaigns against Israel on behalf of the impoverished people who voted for them.
Given this reaction, one would think that given the opportunity to play a Mulligan, the candidate would try and make things right.
Right off the bat he reaffirmed that Hezbollah is “not a legitimate political party.” Instead, “It’s a destabilizing organization by any common-sense standard. This wouldn’t happen without the support of Iran and Syria.”
I asked him what he meant with all this emphasis on electoral and patronage reform. He said the U.S. should help the Lebanese government deliver better services to the Shiites “to peel support away from Hezbollah” and encourage the local populace to “view them as an oppressive force.” The U.S. should “find a mechanism whereby the disaffected have an effective outlet for their grievances, which assures them they are getting social services.”
The U.S. needs a foreign policy that “looks at the root causes of problems and dangers.” Obama compared Hezbollah to Hamas. Both need to be compelled to understand that “they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims.” He knows these movements aren’t going away anytime soon (“Those missiles aren’t going to dissolve”), but “if they decide to shift, we’re going to recognize that. That’s an evolution that should be recognized.”
Obama didn’t only hit his Mulligan out of bounds – the ball made a beeline for the clubhouse and hit the President of the Country Club right in the middle of the forehead.
And while the President of the Golf Club can ban Obama for life, we voters aren’t so lucky. We must deal with this head in the clouds, pie in the sky, completely unrealistic and dangerously naive candidate for the rest of the campaign. All we can do is point out his shocking idiocies and hope that the American people see the danger too.
To take his statement apart, he doesn’t think Hizbullah is a “legitimate” political party. This would come as news to the 24 Hizbullah deputies seated in Parliament and the millions of ordinary Lebanese belonging to what an American presidential candidate has just told them is an illegitimate political entity.
Maybe Obama sees them sort of like Republicans in Chicago’s city hall.
But the real head scratchers in Obamas’s statement have to do with his idea of how government should work in Lebanon. He thinks the Lebanese government should deliver “better services” to the Shia – actually believing that bringing national health care or maybe food stamps to the south will “peel away” ordinary Shias and cement their loyalty to the government. He also thinks we should make the Shias see Hizbullah as an “oppressive force.”
Brooks thinks Obama has been well briefed on Lebanon – that’s a pile of crap. First of all, the writ of Lebanese law does not run in the south – no services, no government officials, just Hizbullah. Perhaps Obama never heard the expression relating to Hizbullah “a state within a state.” How, pray tell, is Obama going to get government services to a people when the terror bosses of Hizbullah control access to the population? How is he going to “peel away” Shias while showing Hizbullah to be “oppressive?”
Of all the platitudinous nonsense ever uttered by Obama, this comes close to taking the cake.
Well, until he said “The U.S. should “find a mechanism whereby the disaffected have an effective outlet for their grievances, which assures them they are getting social services.”
Wha? Who? WTF? The Shias already have an a very fine mechanism that is “an effective outlet” for their grievances. It’s called Hizbullah. And make no mistake, being funded to the tune of $300 million a year by Iran allows the party to set up an entire social welfare infrastructure that addresses the basic needs of the Shia in a way that the Lebanese government never did. Sorry, Barry but if you would return to earth with the rest of us mortals, you would realize your half assed opinions about the situation in Lebanon can only do damage to the very people we are seeking to help.
It only gets more bizarrely stupid the more he opens his mouth. No liberal panacea for what ails Lebanon would be complete without the “root causes” meme – as in, “Gee, if only the terrorists grew up with good food, shelter, heath care, and a 37’ Sony Trinitron, their hearts would melt and the world would be a fine place, indeed.” He believes both Hamas and Hizbullah “need to understand” that they are going down a “blind alley” with violence that “weakens their legitimate (gulp!) claims.”
Can Obama pick and choose which “legitimate claim” Hamas might want to pursue? Maybe they don’t want peace. Maybe they view their #1 legitimate claim to be the destruction of the Jewish state and death to every jew they can lay their hands on. How now, Barry? Will you help Hamas pursue that legitimate claim?
Hizbullah is a slightly different story but only because you can vaguely place their “legitimate claims” in the context of standing up for the Shia underclass – something that this past week’s violence revealed as a sham as Michael Young put so brilliantly in this piece. Basically, Young believes that Hizbullah’s attempted power grab this past week opened a schism between the Shias and the rest of Lebanese society that has made them more isolated than they were.
To even speak of “legitimacy” of claims by Hamas or Hizbullah is outrageously naive. Obama keeps insisting he has a “realistic” outlook on our enemies. And while he makes some of the right noises about Iran and Syria, he more often comes up with ludicrous statements like this that call into question his fitness for the presidency.
Lebanon is not some senate district in Chicago where someone can jump in and butt some heads together, shower a little money, and talk of about economic development as if it were just a question of opening a spigot somewhere and out would pour goodwill and prosperity.
Our friends in Lebanon are very worried about this man becoming president. They fear he will sell them down the river in order to get a peace deal with Iran or broker a Middle East peace with Syria and Israel. The temptation will be great to do so no matter who is president – McCain or Obama – to give in to Syria’s demands on Lebanon and leave the Lebanese people to the tender mercy of Hizbullah and Gangster Assad’s henchmen.
So far, it doesn’t appear to me that Obama has grasped the essential truth of what is at stake in Lebanon and may not see much wrong with abandoning the tiny country to its own, tragic fate.
And in the game of nations, no Mulligans are allowed.