Obama in 2012: Won’t Get Fooled Again

Just happened to glance at a blog post I wrote during the 2008 Presidential General Election campaign entitled “Go Rabbis for Obama!”

Man, what a difference four years makes. I think I can safely say it will be impossible for me to summon the kind of excitement I expressed in that giddy blog post just four short years ago.

Actually, if truth be told, it was just one year into his presidency when I concluded that Obama, from a foreign policy point of view at least, was essentially Bush 2.0.  Now as his first term comes to a close, I’m daring to consider the possibility that he might actually be worse.

I’ve already written a fair amount about my disillusionment on this score – most pointedly in my Yom Kippur serrmon from earlier this year:

For some Americans the most salient lesson of 9/11 was that the world is a dangerous place and we must use military power to mitigate the danger.  I include myself among those who learned a very different lesson: 9/11 taught us that when we intervene militarily abroad, we beget blowback here at home.

Many of us had hope that Obama truly believed this as well – that he would turn back the Bush doctrine and steer our nation’s foreign policy toward a saner course. But as it has turned out, the very opposite has happened. He has embroiled us in even more Mideast wars and has deployed even larger numbers of special operations forces to that region.  He has also transferred or brokered the sale of substantial quantities of weapons to these countries and has continued to build and expand US military bases at an ever-increasing rate.

He also promised to prosecute the so-called “War on Terror” with greater attention to civil liberties, but that hope has been fairly dashed as well.  During his campaign, note what he had to say about this subject:

“As president, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.”

Well, it’s over two years later and Guantanamo is still open. This past March, the Obama administration announced it would be resuming military tribunals there. And just last week, we learned that our President did something truly unprecedented – our President actually approved the extra-judicial assassination of an American citizen in Yemen.

And it’s gotten even worse since then. More recently, we’ve learned that Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Obama has been personally been maintaining a drone “kill list” which, according to the NY Times:

counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent. (Emphasis mine).

Even more recently, the NY Times has revealed that President Obama has been secretly overseeing a massive cyber-war initiative against Iran (known as “Olympic Games”) that, among other things, almost assuredly represents the official kickoff to a global cyber-weapons race. As the article correctly concludes, the blowback to our nation from Obama’s cyber-adventures could potentially be devastating:

(No) country’s infrastructure is more dependent on computer systems, and thus more vulnerable to attack, than that of the United States. It is only a matter of time, most experts believe, before it becomes the target of the same kind of weapon that the Americans have used, secretly, against Iran.

But my disillusionment in the Obama administration is most profound when it comes to its handling Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  I’ve written about this issue over and over as well – but if you still need more convincing that this administration has utterly caved to the Israel lobby and has abdicated any semblance of “honest broker” status in this process, it was recently reported that Obama unabashedly assured a group of Jewish orthodox leaders that his administration is “decidedly more attentive to Israel than it is to the Palestinians.”

All this to say that I’m in a very different frame of mind as Obama now runs for reelection. The giddiness has been replaced with a dose of hard, cold realism about the role of the President in the 21st century national security regime:

Again, from my Yom Kippur sermon:

I’m focusing these observations exclusively on our Commander-in-Chief, but of course I realize that this issue is much, much larger than just one man.  I know it’s natural to look to our primarily to our President, but in truth what we call “Washington” is really a massive bureaucracy that includes a myriad of interests. It’s a far reaching power elite that includes not only the federal government but the national security state, as well as the intelligence and federal law enforcement communities. It also includes big banks and other financial institutions, defense contractors, major corporations and any number of lawyers, lobbyists former officials, and retired military officers, all of whom hold enormous influence over our foreign policy.

So as we swing into summer and we listen to Obama and Romney trade salvos over foreign policy, don’t be fooled – at the end of the day there is less than an inch of daylight between the two.  Mideast analyst Aaron David Miller, in a Foreign Policy post entitled “Barack O’Romney” only half jokingly suggested that if reelected, Obama ought to consider making Mitt Romney his new Secretary of State.  Another respected analyst, MJ Rosenberg, has gone as far as to suggest that President Obama would actually be more likely to bomb Iran than a President Romney.

What should we do with all this hard political realism?  As for me, I’m taking my cue from the classical Jewish text, Pirke Avot:

Love work. Hate authority. Don’t get too friendly with the government. (1:10)

And for good measure:

Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress. (2:3)

The events of these last four years have provided a painful education for me.  I’ve learned more than ever that it is not politicians who create socio-political change – it is, rather, the people and the movements who make it impossible for them not to.

Yes, there are some important domestic issues at stake in this election (not least of which are potential Supreme Court appointments) but let’s not be fooled into thinking that the future of US foreign policy fundamentally depends on who we choose to be our Commander in Chief.

The real difference will depend on our readiness to hold him accountable once the election is over.

28 thoughts on “Obama in 2012: Won’t Get Fooled Again

  1. Sarah L.

    Actually, Brant, I think a Romney presidency would be a foreign policy disaster. I know you are disillusioned with BHO, but Romney would do things like invade Iran and increase our nuke stockpile. Remember, one of the first global speeches BHO made as POTUS was in Prague in April, 2009, when he called for an end to nuclear weapons stockpiles in our life time. Would Mitt ever do that? Sorry to ask such a silly question.

    1. umrayya

      I think a Romney presidency would be a foreign policy disaster.

      And the Obama presidency hasn’t been? 😮 )

      As for the Prague speech, Obama has made a lot of pretty speeches with a lot of pretty words in them. There was that Cairo speech “to the Muslim world”, too, which sounded so great to so many people (but not to me – I saw right through it). And what have his actions been toward the Muslim world?

      Speeches are only important if they are accompanied by actions that fit with them. Obama\’s actions clearly do not fit his words. I’d rather have an honest President than one that makes lovely speeches and follows them up with hideous actions.

      One of Obama’s first acts as President, within a few hours of taking the oath was to sign off on bombings in Pakistan that resulted in the deaths of multiple children, women, and elderly. Did they also kill any ”suspected bad guys”? Not that that would justify anything, but maybe, maybe not, What we do know is they killed a number of completely innocent human beings.

      And who says Obama would not attack or invade Iran? Based on his actions so far, I would not be so confident. And other than making a nice speech, what has Obama DONE to end nuclear weapons stockpiles?

      Words! Words! Words! I\’m so sick of words!
      I get words all day through;
      First from him, now from you!
      Is that all you blighters can do?

      Never do I ever want to hear another word.
      There isn\’t one I haven\’t heard.

  2. Steve Hinman

    Be careful what you wish for. A Democratic president seen as weak on national defense would keep the Democrats out of the Oval Office for many years (i.e. 1968 – 1992 with a four year post-Watergate aberration).

  3. i_like_Ike52

    I read A D Miller’s article which hits things pretty much on the nose, but he doesn’t emphasize enough that the bi-partisan consensus also includes the fact that there simply is NO CHANCE of having the Israelis and Palestinians reach a compromise peace. Of course, Miller says that Obama feels “Netanyahu isn’t doing enough to advance the peace process” but Obama knows, after hours and hours of discussion with Abbas that the Palestinians are simply incapable of making the concessions necessary in order to enable a compromise peace which would entail an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Miller does not connect the fact that the failed “Arab Spring” is leading to the rise of radical, political Islamism to Abbas’ unwillingness to conduct meaningful negotiations with Israel. It is not AIPAC or other bogeyman who are preventing the negotiations, it is the fact that Abbas will not get any backing for making concessions that would be viewed as “traitorous” by the Arab world, both inside the Palestinian territories and outside of them. The radical Islamism agenda does not call for accelerated peace talks with Israel, it is calling for increased confrontation. For example, both the Muslim Brotherhood and Nasserite candidates for President in Egypt have noted that the main confrontation (as least verbally) with Israel is coming from the non-Arab states of Turkey and Iran and this is a humiliation to Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. Thus, the Arab world is moving towards at least some sort of increased confrontation and tension with Israel, not reconciliation. It is this fact that both Obama and Romney and others who look at the Arab-Israeli conflict without the rose-colored glasses of the Left/Progressives that will be driving American policy regarding Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict, not mythical, malevolent pro-Zionist-AIPACish forces.

  4. Shirin

    Rabbi, I was never impressed with Obama outside of the fact that he is a wonderfully impressive, articulate, intelligent, educated man with a great smile. My expectations of him as President were very low, particularly in the area of foreign and military policy. Nevertheless, he has managed to disappoint even me.

    Worse than Bush? Yes, in many ways. Worse on foreign policy, worse on military policy, and, shockingly, worse on civil rights.

    And yes indeed, worse on matters concerning Israel and the Palestinians.

    Who knew all that hopey changey stuff really meant change for the worse?

  5. Seth Morrison

    Let’s remember that Ralph Nader brought us GW Bush which started the terrible cycle we are in. I’ll be working hard to re-elect Obama because he is far better than the alternative. Since I live in Virginia, which will be a significant swing state I can make a difference in this election.

    Of course throughout the election and a hoped for second term I will continue to work hard for peace, social justice etc. Obama is far from perfect but he is much more open and flexible than Romney would ever be.

    1. umrayya

      I am tired of hearing Ralph Nader blamed for George W. Bush. For the record, I did not vote for Nader, but he did not bring us George W. Bush. What brought us George W. Bush was a terrible political system in which two parties and only two parties have a lock on power, the ridiculous, severely outdated electoral system, and the American electorate.

      Stop blaming Ralph Nader and others who are trying to break through the two-party system, and take a good look at the real problems.

  6. Michael Mandel

    “let’s not be fooled into thinking that the future of US foreign policy fundamentally depends on who we choose to be our Commander in Chief.

    The real difference will depend on our readiness to hold him accountable once the election is over.”

    In my view, one of the biggest problems with having a Democratic president is that far too many on the left, progressives, liberals, etc. refuse to condemn and take action against the very same crimes that would get them outraged, in the street, starting civil disobedience, etc. if done by a Republican president. I haven’t been alive long enough and I’m not a good enough student of history to know for certain but it seems like the organizing and mobilizing momentum on the left suffers greatly once a Democrat takes office. Certainly seems beyond a doubt to be the case during the George W. Bush and Obama eras.

    It is disappointing and disheartening, but not necessarily surprising, to see just how far back we have moved on so many issues of war, peace, justice and morality since Obama took office. Especially since so many people were truly excited four years ago and ready for a leader to inspire us to do the hard work necessary to get back on track, in brining the troops home and in those other areas you mentioned in your post, as well as with taking serious action on climate change and global warming, passing pro-immigrant reform, fighting against global hunger and so much more.

    I too believe this has more to do with a wholly corrupt, out of control system than with whoever is president. But just because the system is rotten, most members of the media serve their political and corporate masters, the vast majority of congressional Republicans are completely crazy (and huge numbers of Democrats are indistinguishable) and a Republican president might be worse doesn’t mean that Obama and the Democrats deserve anything less than extreme scorn and disgust for their drone wars, murdering of innocents throughout the world (and the blowback that is sure to follow), support for big business and the wealthy at the expense of most everyone else, lack of leadership on climate issues, explosion of poverty, etc. etc. etc.

    Sorry for the long rant. And thanks, as always, for your words and actions, Rabbi Brant.

    1. Shirin

      In my view, one of the biggest problems with having a Democratic president is that far too many on the left…refuse to condemn and take action against the very same crimes that would get them outraged…if done by a Republican president.

      I think in the case of Obama you do have a point. I think it was also true, though perhaps to a lesser degree, of Clinton. However, looking back a bit farther in history – perhaps before your time – we all remember things like massive crowds marching and chanting things like “hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today”.

      I do find that a lot of the heavy koolaid drinkers, and a lot of those who are devoted to the Democratic party and the two-party system seem to have been rendered at least partially blind. They are able to criticize Obama “when warranted”, but simply cannot face up to the magnitude of his policies and actions. “Better than Bush” is not only untrue of Obama, in the case of foreign policy, military policy, human rights, and civil rights “worse than Bush” actually applies.

      I honestly don’t see how there is enough difference between either party to care either way. One of the greatest problems, and what has and will continue to keep this country stuck where it is is the two-party system, and a system in general in which winning and being in power overwhelms the good of the country and its people, humanity, and the world at large.

      I doubt that I will vote this year. I just don’t see the point.

      1. Nancy Bruski

        But Shirin, despite your frustrations about the lack of enough daylight in some areas between the Republicans and the Democrats, PLEASE remember that in 2010 when the Dems stayed home, we ended up with a Republican House of Representatives, which passes the most heinous legislation that only gets stopped because the Senate won’t go along, and which is now barely in Democratic hands. I know the Dems have no courage and have also been co opted by the monied interests, but surely issues such as gay rights, women’s rights, investments in infrastructure and renewable energy and the protection of the environment have a better chance with a government in the hands of the Democrats than the Republicans! And most of all, remember the Supreme Court! Please don’t sit it out. It could be A LOT worse.

      2. Shirin

        Nancy, I understand your point, but I just don’t want to participate in a system in which I have a choice between bad, worse, and worser. And in any case, I live in a state in which my vote will not make the slightest difference either way. It always goes solidly Democrat, so no matter what I do it will be that group of liars, thieves, and scoundrels will be elected, and not the other.

  7. Nancy Bruski

    Brant, I have tremendous respect for you and I admire pretty much every position you have taken on most issues. I, too, have been crushingly disappointed with Obama’s approach to human rights and the Middle East and his having backed away from so much that he spoke so eloquently about as a candidate.
    Another issue that galls me, as a progressive, is that we seem to be the folks for whom he has the most disdain…more even than for the Republicans, with whom he has tried so hard to work and has made compromises he never should have made, only to receive nothing in return.
    Nevertheless, I agree with the other commenter who mentioned that supporting Ralph Nader as a protest against the Dems’ weak stances on issues we hold dear resulted in eight years of George Bush. I hate to work my heart out for the lesser of two evils, but I can’t see any other option. I’m all for grassroots organizing and building pressure for change from the bottom up. Actually, Obama said during the campaign in ’08 that change doesn’t come from the top down, it comes from the bottom up. We all have a responsibility to work harder and be more outspoken about the change we want and need and haven’t received.
    At the same time, we still must work hard to re elect our president, because the dangers to our democracy if we end up with a Republican House, Senate and presidency are even greater than those Obama has perhaps contributed to. So I will be out there on the trail again, more chastened and wiser, perhaps, sadder, too…but I will be working hard to get him re elected because I know the alternative would be much worse. It’s a sad state of affairs, but very true.

  8. Steve

    I guess no one here read his Harvard Law Review articles. When Barak Obama was President of the Harvard Law Review he stood with the conservative constitutionalists in his opinions.

    Also, you can say what you want when you campaign for President on foreign policy and defense. Once in office and you see intelligence reports and consult our allies and then you find out what the world is really like and what needs to be done to protect the United States and it’s allies from threats of terror and mass destruction. I believe that is what Barak Obama has done or attempts to do. His best move was to appoint Leon Panetta as CIA director and then as Secretary of Defence. Also, Hilary Clinton remembers the behavior of the Palestinian negotiators when her husband was president. I am sure she is not impressed.

  9. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

    Thanks everyone, for your thoughtful comments and a great conversation. I’d like to jump in by clarifying a few things from my end:

    While I understand and respect Shirin’s point of view, It wasn’t my intention to encourage anyone not to vote for Obama – or to not vote at all – in the coming election. I am only advocating a more realistic POV about the role of government in foreign policy in our day. I genuinely have no illusions that one man/woman in the White House will make a fundamental difference when there are so many powerful interests colluding to exert American power around the world.

    To those who claim Romney would be much worse than Obama in this regard: I do encourage you to read the links in my post. I personally find them compelling and convincing. At any rate, I don’t think it makes much difference to a civilian in a Mideast war zone if her loved ones are killed under a Bush, Obama or Romney administration.

    I find it very notable that under the most recent poll, the US is viewed less favorably in much of the Arab world than it was during the final year of the Bush administration – and President Obama is less popular in the region than Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. While Presidents should never expect to win international popularity contests, I find these kinds of findings to be deeply troubling. At the very least, they should make us consider whether ramping up the drone war is the best way to combat extremism in that part of the world.

    I am not advocating that we give up on electoral politics as a force for social change. I deeply admire Nancy’s willingness to volunteer in coming election cycle despite her deep disappointment. But I do think we should bear in mind (as she rightly points out) that there are many different ways to work for change beyond working in campaigns. Progressives in particular should understand this better than anyone, particularly when you consider the sense of betrayal by Obama after our intoxication with his campaign in 2008.

    To use an example from domestic politics, I think we have much to learn from the recent recall election in Wisconsin. Progressives are rightly licking their wounds after Walker’s victory – but I fervently hope and pray it doesn’t put an end to the inspiring grass roots movement for social justice that rose in Wisconsin last year. For my part, I agree with those who say that the real reason the Wisconsin uprising did not bring down Scott Walker was that they left the streets and put all their faith in the ballot box.

    Journalist Andy Kroll spoke eloquently to this point in the wake of the failed recall:

    The energy of the Wisconsin uprising was never electoral. The movement’s mistake: letting itself be channeled solely into traditional politics, into the usual box of uninspired candidates and the usual lineup of debates, primaries, and general elections. The uprising was too broad and diverse to fit electoral politics comfortably. You can’t play a symphony with a single instrument. Nor can you funnel the energy and outrage of a popular movement into a single race, behind a single well-worn candidate, at a time when all the money in the world from corporate “individuals” and right-wing billionaires is pouring into races like the Walker recall.

    Colin Millard, an organizer at the International Brotherhood of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers, admitted as much on the eve of the recall. We were standing inside his storefront office in the small town of Horicon, Wisconsin. It was night outside. “The moment you start a recall,” he told me, “you’re playing their game by their rules.”

    In other words, regardless of what happens in this (or any) election, the real work always starts the day after.

    Thanks again, everyone, for your heartfelt comments.

    1. Sarah Lovinger

      Connections between what was happening in Madison on February, 2011 and the Arab Spring go deeper than Egyptians phoning in pizza orders to a local pizza place in Madison for hungry protestors. Both movements represent popular uprisings. I was lucky enough to visit Madison twice during the first few weeks of the popular movement against Walker, and the energy, even on snowy days with temps hovering around 19 degrees, was palpable. I was back in WI on election day, this time knocking on doors in Racine, and this time, the feeling was much more subdued. Perhaps the recall election was never going to achieve the goal of ousting Walker, but what else could the citizens of WI do? By stripping state workers of their collective bargaining rights, thousands of real people doing important work, like nurses and teachers, have seen their real wages fall significantly. Short of a new governor, no amount of marching in the streets and eating pizzas paid for by sympathetic Egyptians can change that.

      1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


        Kroll’s point was that by opting to put energies into a recall campaign, the uprising movement lost it’s organizing momentum because it opted to play by the traditional electoral/political rules, which gives the advantage to the those who can raise the most corporate dollars. That was a losing gambit from the beginning.

        Writes Kroll:

        Historically, the Republicans have long been the party of big business, of multinational corporations, of wealthy, union-hating donors like Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Amway heir Dick DeVos—and in recent decades the Democrats have followed in their wake sweeping up the crumbs (or worse). And here’s the reality of a deeply corrupt system: Unless Congress and state legislators act to patch up their tattered campaign finance rule books, the same crew with the same money will continue to dominate the political wars. (And any movement that puts its own money on changing those rules is probably in deep trouble.)

        In the wake of the recall losses, the people of Wisconsin’s uprising must ask themselves: Where can they make an impact outside of politics? The power of nonviolent action to create social and economic change is well documented, most notably by Jonathan Schell in his classic book The Unconquerable World. The men and women in Schell’s invaluable history—Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil rights fighters, the Czech dissident Vaclav Havel, and so many others—can serve as guides to a path to change that doesn’t require recall elections. Already mainstays of the Madison protests have suggested campaigns to refuse to spend money with businesses that support Walker. “Hit ’em where it hurts. Pocketbooks,” C.J. Terrell, one of the Capitol occupiers, recently wrote on Facebook.

    2. Shirin

      I don’t think it makes much difference to a civilian in a Mideast war zone if her loved ones are killed under a Bush, Obama or Romney administration.

      Of course you are correct. The U.S. is despised for its actions regardless of which party or which individual is in power. During the Bush administration there was quite a bit of bafflement in the Arab and Muslim worlds. When people learned that I live in the U.S. they were naturally very curious about how I felt about Bush. In addition one of the very common questions I got from taxi drivers, shop keepers, waiters in restaurants, people on the street, and people I knew went something like this: “I think American people are nice and decent people, isn’t that right? So, why would they elect someone like Bush, and then allow him to stay in power?”

      I find it very notable that under the most recent poll, the US is viewed less favorably in much of the Arab world than it was during the final year of the Bush administration – and President Obama is less popular in the region than Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

      I spend quite a bit of time in the Arab world in 2008, and people there had high hopes for Obama – like many Americans they, too, bought into all that hopey changey stuff. They knew that he had some connections with prominent Palestinian-Americans, and they believed his familial connections with Islam would make him less unsympathetic with Muslims than previous administrations had been. I was far more skeptical than they were.

      In my opinion Obama struck a fatal blow against himself with Arabs and Muslims by making that speech in Cairo, and proving by his actions that it had all been political posturing and he hadn’t meant a word of it. I can’t imagine anything he could do now to regain the confidence of Arabs and Muslims.

  10. Clif Brown

    I recall Obama saying in his acceptance speech, “We are the change we have been waiting for”

    Of course, everyone thought this meant we the people who voted for Obama along with the man himself, will bring the change in the way things are done that we have been waiting for.

    But it soon became clear what he really meant – he was using the royal “we” in the same way a king would when referring to himself. By change, he meant the change from not being president to being president.

    So the translation of his statement is: I am the president that I have been waiting for. Yes, I’m being facetious, but how far off am I!

    My one and only reason to vote for Obama is that he will, if elected, be in his final term and freer to do things regardless of political popularity or financial support from the 1%. The chance that this will mean something other than same old same old for Israel/Palestine is very small but it isn’t nil.

    Romney is a businessman who speaks in the platitudes of the right, is clueless about the political world beyond the United States and clueless about the 99% of the citizenry that is not in his league of wealthy movers and shakers. He could just as well be Jamie Dimon or Lloyd Blankfein for what he could bring to the presidency.

    That we’ve come to such a pass – having such a lack of choice – only shows how far right the country has moved.

  11. Steve

    Here is another perspective on some of the points you made in your comment.

    “To those who claim Romney would be much worse than Obama”
    Here is a fact that would discourage most readers of this blog from voting for Romney but I think is positive.  Mitt Romney and PM Netanyahu worked together at Boston Consultant Group as graduates.  They became friends there and that friendship remains.

    “I find it very notable that under the most recent poll, the US is viewed less favorably in much of the Arab world than it was during the final year of the Bush administration – and President Obama is less popular in the region than Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
    This is because George W. Bush never apologized for the U.S. as President Obama does.  I believe this is a weakness of the President.

    My view is also different about the results of the recall election in Wisconsin.  Walker wasn’t recalled because:
    (1)The voters were upset that the recall even took place.  The recall was against policy rather abuse of office.
    (2) This is about spending on retirement payments for public workers paid by the State of Wisconsin.  And, reducing the payroll to balance the budget.  The funding for this doesn’t exist.  By the way this problem is much worse in Illinois.  So, Walker did something about it and he is popular as a result.  The result is less unemployment in Wisconsin and they have a balanced budget and Illinois will wind up like Greece. 

    I predict that this will have a major impact in the presidential race and cause the Senate to be controlled by the republicans. 

    1. umrayya

      [the US is viewed less favorably in much of the Arab world than it was during the final year of the Bush administration – and President Obama is less popular in the region than Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] because George W. Bush never apologized for the U.S. as President Obama does. I believe this is a weakness of the President.

      As someone who has actual contact and actually knows something about the Arab world and the region in question, I can comfortably state categorically that this is utter rubbish. The US is viewed less favorably and Obama is less popular for the reasons I stated earlier, not some silliness about apologizing or not apologizing.

      Arabs are not stupid people, Steve, and what they are looking for is reasonableness, intelligence, and fairness in U.S policy not some nonsense concept of “strength” versus “weakness” based on apologizing or not apologizing.

      1. Steve

        “As someone who has actual contact and actually knows something about the Arab world and the region in question, I can comfortably state categorically that this is utter rubbish.”
        Umrayya , I worked in Syria while Hafez Al-Assad was President.  It was a terrifying experience.  Most of my foreign co-workers didn’t feel very comfortable there.  In fact we had a discussion that we felt relief that Israel was across the border.  We despised the anti Israel and anti Jewish and anti West sentiments that were voiced on the streets of Damascus as well in the press and media.  As a Jew I could only think of Eli Cohen.  I liked the food and the culture but I would never go back.

        I went to Cairo for a week and then went scuba diving in the Red Sea.  In Cairo I found out several times that the Jews control the money in the world.  I went diving their once before when the Sinai was controlled by Israel.  It felt much safer then.  This trip to Sinai we were always on the look out for thrives or kidnaping attempts or assaults.

        I maintain when Israel and the United States is considered strong and acting in their interests then they are both more respected.  It is better to be respected there than liked.

      2. Shirin (aka umrayya)

        Interesting story, Steve, and curiously very different from my experiences and those of western visitors I know and have known. I’ve met plenty of westerners, including Americans, and including Jews who work or study and have worked or studied in Syria, and not a single one of them has ever seemed at all terrified. On the contrary, they enjoy Syria and Syrians immensely, and quite a few of them choose to stay in Syria far longer than they need to. I have also met quite a few Americans and Europeans, including a few Jews, who have visited Syria, loved it, and were very happily surprised at what one of them described as the “gentle vibe” there. I have yet to meet anyone who found it a fearful or unfriendly place in any way.

        As for me, I am a female, I wear the same clothes there that I wear everywhere else, and I travel alone. I do have the advantage of speaking Arabic, of being bicultural, and of blending in, which is a product both of who I am and the choices I make. Every time I leave Syria I have more friends there than I had when I arrived. Some of them are friends and neighbors of other friends or associates, and some of them are people I meet by chance, and who become friends I can depend on. I spend a great deal of time in Syria completely on my own going about my business, traveling throughout the country by train, by bus, or by car. I walk a great deal. Alone. At all hours of the day and night, in the cities, in villages, in the countryside. I have found the police and soldiers I have encountered to be normal, kind, and often funny – I remember one policeman in Aleppo that always said or did something that cracked me up.

        I can honestly say that I have never, ever felt “terrified” or anything close to it. On the contrary, I feel safer there than I do in many parts of the United States. I love being there, and when I am away I miss it terribly.

        The reality is that the rate of personal crime there is very, very low, including, surprisingly for a third-world country, the rate of theft. I have also found that by and large you can depend on complete strangers for help when needed.The only time I can remember being slightly worried was once when I was going through passport control on my way to Jordan, and the guy kept asking me for my “pink card” saying all Iraqis had to have a pink card (he had picked up on the way I pronounce certain words – I can’t help it, it’s how I learned to talk). I kept insisting very politely that my passport is USA, and I don’t need a pink card, and In the end he gave up, and I went through. Polite persistence is very effective.

        Oh, and you know, the stereotype that people in the Arab world are obsessed with hatred of Jews and Israel is pure fantasy. In fact, the subject of Israel, including criticism of Israel, comes up far less there than it does in the United States. As for the subject of Jews, that almost never comes up, and even less often in a negative way.

        I remember some American guy telling me of the horrors of his visit to Egypt (I had to agree about how dirty, crowded, and noisy Cairo is), among which was flipping channels on the TV in his hotel room, and getting nothing but channel after channel after channel of “fanatical Moslem (sic) clerics” ranting about the evil Jews, Israel, and of course America. So, I asked him how he knew what these “fanatical clerics” were ranting about since he doesn’t know a word of Arabic. Was he telling me that there were English subtitles on his Egyptian TV? And how did he miss all the soap operas (for which Syria is famous), and clever educational children’s programs, and movies, and Al Jazeera English (which you can watch while in the Arab world, but not in the USA), Al Arabia, etc. He changed the subject really, really fast.

        Sorry you did not feel comfortable in Syria, and I won’t speculate as to why your experience was so different from that of virtually every other westerner I have met there, or why you didn’t leave if you felt so threatened there. I fail to see how that supports your notion that the United States is more respected (by which I suspect you mean feared) when it is “strong” and “acting it its own interests” (by which I suspect you mean bullying and lording it over other countries). That fantasy is rather rife with a very blind, deaf, senseless form of America-centric, self-congratulatory orientalist thinking that is completely outmoded, and simply does not fit with the reality on the ground.

      3. i_like_ike52

        Shirin’s positing telling us how wonderful Assad’s Syria is reminds me of the visitis of similarly “well-meaning people” like George Bernard Shaw to the USSR at the time of Stalin’s terror. Assad’s regime is a totalitarian police state just as Stalin’s was. Shaw and others also marvelled at the “low crime rate’ and the “equality” and how nice and pleasant the police were and how good everyone felt. Stalin also had consumer goods production increased at the same time he was maximizing the terror so those lucky enough not to be arrested and shot would feel good about the regime.
        I am sure many NKVD men of the Stalin’s secret police had as good a sense of humor as the cop Shirin encountered in Aleppo who “cracked her up”. I have just one question…did Shriin try to talk politics with all her Syrian friends? Did she try to hold up a sign saying “Down with Assad” anywhere? Did she aski the policeman who “cracked her up” what he thought of the regime.
        In fact, I would ask, if things there are so good, why have thousands of people been killed there in the last year? How can all these pleasant, funny soldiers and policemen do such things?

      4. Shirin (aka umrayya)

        LOL! Oh, Ike, really you are too funny sometimes. Of course, I was not talking about “Assad’s” (sic) Syria, I was talking about just Syria. Do you understand the difference?

        As for soldiers in Syria, they are conscripts. All young men in Syria are required to serve in the military. During one of my recent stints in Syria the brother of one of my close friends was about to begin his military service. They are from a beautiful village in the coastal mountains. It is called Harf Al Mseitra, is one of my favorite places on earth, and we went up to spend a week there. The new conscript took us on a really challenging and wonderful hike through a very rough and amazingly beautiful part of the mountains, then we went back to the house, drank tea, and and watched the sun set behind the mountains from the balcony as the call to prayer wafted through the air from the nearby mosque. We sat outside together, all of us, talking and drinking tea until the wee hours. He was terribly depressed that the next two years of his life would be wasted in military service with no possibility of escape, and I tried to give him the perspective of my greater number of years on this earth, telling him that two years will pass and he will have many more decades in front of him after that. We went to our rooms to sleep, and the next day we delivered him to the train station. That young man is typical of what the Syrian army consists of.

        The police in Syria are mainly men from less than well-to-do families with high school educations only who are lucky to have a decent government job. Some of them are very nice people, some of them are not. Some of them are intelligent, some of them are not. Some of them are funny, some of them are not. Some of them are friendly and helpful, and some probably are not, thought I have been lucky enough to avoid the latter. Syrians, like most humans, tend to be polite, helpful, and kind if you are polite and kind with them. Funny how that works.

        But, as I said, Ike, given that you have never set foot in Syria, and I daresay likely have never met a Syrian, I must defer to your superior knowledge of Syria. 🙂

      5. Shirin (aka umrayya)

        PS Ike, given that I am in the room, why do you show me discourtesy by talking about me in the third person instead of addressing me directly?

        Yes, Ike, I frequently tried, and still do try, and succeeded and still do succeed in talking politics with my Syrian friends. That is how I know about the variety of views they hold. In fact, I have found it easier to communicate with friends in Syria ever since the regime stopped blocking FaceBook and other social networking sites. Oh – I have also had some great political discussions with taxi drivers.

        No, I have never carried a sign saying “down with Assad” (sic). But then, I have never carried a sign saying “down with” anyone – just not my style. And of course I am also an intelligent, sensible person who has the common sense not to carry signs saying “down with [fillintheblank]” when I am a citizen living in, a resident, or a visitor in a non-democratic country.

        No, I did not ask the funny policeman, or any policeman, what he thought of the regime. I am not in the habit of distracting people while they are performing the duties of their job, and in any case, he was not my friend, just someone I saw frequently, and joked with, as I walked around Aleppo.

        Actually, life is not so good there now, Ike, because there is a brutal, violent revolt going on, and yes, it is being repressed violently by the government, so neither side is looking good or winning many friends. And now there are seemingly random acts of terrorism going on, such as car bombings, and no one, even the most adamant regime-hater, believes the regime is involved in those. The violent opposition groups (as opposed to those who are still trying to act non-violently) are being used by various groups and countries outside of the country to further their own interests. The Saudis, as well as other Gulf countries are known to be sponsoring and supporting the FSA. Are you going to suggest that the Saudis’ goal in supporting the “opposition” is to free the Syrian people from their “Stalin-like” regime and instituting democracy there?

  12. Sarah L.

    Rabbi, with all due respect, the recall election in WI did bring some successes for the Democratic Party: the recall of a GOP state senator. The WI Senate is now–just barely–back in the control of the Democrats in WI, a blow to the Koch brothers’ puppet, Scott Walker. That electoral victory could really stem the bleeding of workers’ rights in the state to our north, and make a difference in the next gubernatorial election there in 2014. While I admire the energy of the Occupy movements across our country, electoral successes carry far more power. That’s why I will be heading to Toledo to knock on doors for BHO this fall. Four more years of Obama in the White House offers our country–and the world–a much better hope for the future.

  13. Ross

    Regarding the word translated as “government” in these two passages:

    Love work. Hate authority. Don’t get too friendly with the government. (1:10)

    Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress. (2:3)

    Taking into account the enormous power that corporations have over their workers and others since the industrial revolution, I wonder if it would be better to translate for “government” a term that includes corporations and other means by which the 1% dominate the 99%.

  14. Stewart Mills (Sydney, Australia)

    Thanks Brant,

    While so many of us shared the optimism for Obama’s presidency the writing was on the wall given his speech to AIPAC in 2008 about an undivided Jerusalem.

    My feelings back in 2008 were: “I have great hope in Barack Obama. I like so many was moved by the magnitude of his election as the President of United States of America. I will never forget the tears coming down from Jesse Jackson’s eyes at the announcement of Barack’s victory and the joy of seeing the Obama and Biden family coming together on the stage a symbol of the new future for America. However, Obama despite his messianic qualities is a mortal and must still be held accountable for his political positions. Yes, even though many of us just want to focus on the positives and celebrate his win – we still need to continue to be grounded in the humanity of the man. One position that Barack needs to be questioned on his position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Sadly, from my perspective Barack Obama (1) seriously underestimates the detrimental impact that US relations to Israel and the occupied Palestinian people has on the global Islamic community (2) fails to appreciate the link between terrorism and the failure to resolve this conflict and (3) fails to acknowledge the link between US bias towards Israel and the perpetuation of the conflict.”


    I am not optimistic for 2013 and beyond – whoever gets in. It seems human beings really have to learn the hard way. Sadly, it will only through the deaths of many more Palestinians that eventually the US (and client states like my own) will turn around and say. How did that happen? When that question is asked we will remember those like Brant and others who courageously spoke up and said ‘Never again’ – for anyone.

    Shalom Salam Peace


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