Aug 03 2008

A Cautionary Tale of Post-Ideological Politics in Israel: Visions of a future Obama presidency?

Category: Hamas,Hizbullah,Israel,middle east,Obama,politicsharmonicminer @ 9:16 am

Pretty much anyone who can read, and bothers to, knows that the Olmert government in Israel is hopelessly corrupt. The old notion of a “fish rotting from the head” comes to mind. Olmert is the target of seven different corruption investigations, a likely candidate for prison unless he cuts a deal before leaving office, and the most feckless leader in recent memory at fighting Israel’s enemies and protecting its people.

Building a governing coalition based on the Kadima party, the self-confessedly post-ideological creation of Ariel Sharon, a party which claimed to be neither right nor left (shades of Obama’s claim to “unify” and be “beyond old categories”), a party which would simply do what was necessary without reference to previously stated ideological positions, Olmert has actually accomplished nothing but to stay in power and stretch out his tenure, while causing great harm to Israel’s security.

This is all made very clear by Caroline Glick as she describes the ebb and flow of the Israeli electorate in response to events on the ground, and the way a “post-ideological” leader is captive to swings in public mood, but lacks the strength to actually carry out a coherent policy:

With the nation in a left leaning mood in the run-up to the last election, Kadima announced its plan to give Judea and Samaria to terrorists from Fatah and Hamas. Distinguishing their party from the radical left, which shares their plan, Kadima’s leaders explained that they sought to place Israel’s major urban centers in Palestinian rocket range not in the interest of peace – as the leftist ideologues would have it – but in the interest of the hardnosed “demographic” aim of putting all the country’s Jews in one concentrated area.

Before the nation had an opportunity to fully understand what Kadima’s “convergence” plan entailed, Israel’s body politic shifted to the right in June 2006 after the Palestinians attacked an IDF post near Gaza and kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Schalit. Two weeks later it shifted further to the right when Hizbullah carried out a nearly identical attack along the border with Lebanon and abducted reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

Noticing the public’s rightward shift, Olmert and his colleagues followed immediately. When Olmert launched the Second Lebanon War, he sounded downright Churchillian as he promised the nation nothing less than the total defeat of Hizbullah and the return of our hostage servicemen.

But then, when Olmert’s bombast was confronted with the hard reality of war, he lost interest in being a right-winger. And so he fought the war like a radical leftist and accepted humiliating defeat. Ever since then, Kadima has tacked to the right and then to the left with no guiding rationale other than the morning’s headlines, the weekend’s opinion polls, and the threats of its right-wing and left-wing coalition partners.

In the meantime, the actual threats arrayed against Israel as a whole have become more acute and more fateful. But Olmert and his colleagues can’t be bothered to deal with them. They are too busy. Deciding who you are each day anew on the basis of the morning radio broadcasts is a time-consuming venture. And their solitary aim remains constant throughout. They just want to stay in power for another day, another week or with a little luck, for a few more months.

Natan Sharansky, writing in his new book, “Defending Identity“, points to the inherent weaknesses in both “post-identity” and “post-modern” politics, which are kissin’ cousins to “post-ideological” politics. To put it bluntly, none of these has the strength to weather hard times, face hard choices, or make tough decisions, or even to allow nations attempting to practice them to survive. If you don’t believe in anything in particular, you don’t believe in yourself enough to meet challenges that you can’t negotiate your way out of. You certainly cannot effectively fight a war. If you don’t fundamentally think you have the right to survive and defend yourself, and if you do not value what you are enough to fight for it, how can you summon the will to create and carry out policies to that end?

We see hints of something similar in Obama:  Last week he wasn’t for drilling, but this week, maybe he is, sometimes (his handlers must have read the polls).  The surge isn’t what really changed the facts on the ground in Iraq (it was just the Sunni leaders getting rid of Al Qaeda), but he wants to do a surge in Afghanistan.  He is going to be a new kind of politician, not simply ideologically committed to left or right, but meeting each challenge with a fresh viewpoint and his “judgment” to do what is good for the people (which apparently includes all the people of the world, not just the USA).

Olmert, of course, like Obama, is a leftist pretending not to be.  In fact, all those politicians who claim to be “post-racial”, “post-identity”, “post-modern”, “post-ideological” or “post-anything-at-all”, seem to be leftists putting on a new mask.  Right off-hand, I can’t think of a politician previously from the right who now claims to be “post-anything”.  Maybe someone will name one for me.  I’ll bet you can’t name two.

Many have commented on how slippery Obama’s positions are, how difficult it is to discern actual policy goals behind them, and that when it is possible to nail him down on something, it usual is clearly Leftist.  I think that’s about all we need to know about him.  He will continue to claim to be post-this-and-that, and to be a new kind of politcian, but he may turn out to be surprisingly similar to Olmert, surely a very bad thing for the USA.

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