The US, Israel and the Politics of Dumb
by Michael Widlanski
As Barack Obama gets ready to visit Israel, it is worth noting how much he and Benjamin Netanyahu have in common. Both were re-elected with reduced support, both are re-staffing their cabinets, and both are making a mockery of the job.
President Obama has persisted in his choice of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense even though Hagel demonstrated repeatedly at his hearings that he knew little about his job, was clueless about the policies of the Obama Administration and even ignorant of his own positions over the years.
Obama said Hagel was qualified for the job because Hagel was once a soldier. By that measure, any infantryman who sat in a trench or dug a latrine can command an army and direct the most complicated military machine in the world.
This is the kind nonsensical statement Obama makes with a straight face and with all his habitual pompous pauses and stentorian tones that the lap-dog media laps up.
With an equally straight face, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced he would appoint Tzipi Livni to direct Israel’s negotiations with the Arabs, though she has failed at almost every negotiation and diplomatic job she has ever undertaken.
A commission of inquiry into the 2006 Lebanon war, said then-foreign minister Livni largely failed in her job to explain Israel’s policy. When her then-boss, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert left office, Livni, leader of leader Israel’s then-largest party, Kadima, twice failed to form an Israeli government, though she held all the cards.
Along with Ehud Olmert, Livni failed miserably at war and peace, botching the battle against Hizballah in Lebanon while also booting talks with the PLO.She and Olmert offered the greatest concessions ever. They failed. When she was asked about this, Livni pretended it was all Olmert’s fault. She knew nothing, saw nothing
After losing her Kadima Party leadership to Shaul Mofaz, Livni swore she was leaving politics, but she even failed at retiring gracefully. She needed to return to the one profession in Israel where failures are forgiven easily.
But this is one make-over too many for the woman who first became a blonde and then claimed that she was the “Mrs. Clean” of Israeli politics.
Since her return, Livni’s biggest success was going on TV to show how to eat a “Kremm-Bo”—the Israeli version of a fluff-filled cream puff. [I promise I am not making this up.—MW] In front of cameras, Livni tamped down the cream puff with her hand and made it disappear—a wondrous triumph of air-head over fluff.
Polls show that most Israelis doubt that Livni could handle anything tougher than a cream puff. That is because they know her. Ariel Sharon picked Livni to join him in 2005 in his new Kadima Party—not for any great talent but rather as a convenient decoration, because Sharon sought a little feminine fluff to soften his image.
Sadly, Netanyahu has learned from Sharon, believes he needs decorations, not policy. He is in danger of turning himself and his future government into a joke just as Obama is in danger of turning his administration into a home for dumb soldiers.
President Obama thinks he is strong enough politically and smart enough to do without smart and independent minds in his cabinet. He is probably wrong on both counts, and he is proving he is the opposite of Abraham Lincoln, who wanted talented and independent people around him to supply tough independent advice.
Obama—and some media—have deliberately misinterpreted Obama’s relatively narrow election victory over Mitt Romney as a “mandate” or “generational shift.” Obama further interprets this is a license to appoint people—like Chuck Hagel—who do not even deserve to be called mediocre.
Netanyahu is making a similar mistake. Israeli voters gave their verdict on people like Tzipi Livni who made careers pretending to reach peace with the Palestinians, while actually making things worse. Meanwhile, most Israelis do not think that the PLO or Hamas want peace.
Israeli voters prefer a new generation of politicians—Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennet—who want to talk less about Palestinians and act more on other issues.
Ignoring their voice would be wrong and dumb indeed.
Dr. Michael Widlanski, an expert on Arab politics and communications, is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat. He teaches at Bar Ilan University.