On experts

The situation regarding the Obama administration in the Middle East today is something like putting a child who is still learning the rules up against the world’s greatest poker players. For the first six months of a new president that is an understandable problem but if it continues longer the feeble condition of this administration’s foreign policy starts to seem permanent. — Barry Rubin, “Obama Administration’s Arab-Israeli Policy Adjustment: Out of the Frying Pan Into the… Saucepan

I have a theory about this. It’s not that Obama and his immediate advisors are dumb, although Obama himself has very little experience with Mideast diplomacy (he should ask Bill Clinton, who learned the hard way). It’s that they trust ‘experts’ too much.

JFK had the same problem. He listened to experts and invaded the Bay of Pigs.

The thing about experts is that to a certain extent their reputations are made by holding novel or even extreme positions. It has little to do with being right more often than wrong. And in fact the personal consequences of being wrong in academia or the CIA (as in the Bay of Pigs case) are rarely serious.

So ‘experts’ like Scowcroft and Brzezinski can present bad ideas like the ‘linkage theory’ and be applauded in the really, really uniformed media and by those who understand that it’s nonsense but see it as a way to weaken Israel. Whereas if the President adopts this theory and then makes policy which results in a disaster, he’s blamed.

I recommend the Rubin article linked above.

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4 Responses to “On experts”

  1. Robman says:

    I’m not convinced of the basic premise of this article. I allow that it may be correct, but given the lessons of recent history (e.g, the abject failure of the Road Map-ish “conventional wisdom” with respect to Arab-Israeli peacemaking, which is now being placed in overdrive minus confidence building measures), and the fact of Obama’s background and past associations (which matter greatly in any context, besides the never-never land of Obama sophists who whined about “guilt by association”), I’m not sure that it is.

    I think it is quite possilbe that Obama knows very well what he is doing. Never mind whatever commitments he may have made to Israeli security/friendship during the campaign; if the past seven months have taught us anything, it is that this man is an incredible liar, even by the standards of politicians. In my 47 years, I’ve never seen such a yawning gap between how a political leader represented himself before the fact, and what the reality of their policy turned out to be. Take your pick: “fiscal conservative”, “bipartisan”, “post racial candidate”….”FRIEND OF ISRAEL”…I mean that this guy was able to keep a straight face through all of this is simply incredible.

    No, I strongly suspect that he means to undermine Israel in a very definite manner. He presents Israel with a lose-lose proposition: First, by aggressivly promoting a humiliating, impossible peace agreement that is little better than “Saudi peace plan lite”. If the Israelis balk, he puts the blame on them for being inflexible, intransigent, not really wanting peace, etc…..and uses this as an excuse to cut off aid, and otherwise begin the process of strangling them Rhodesia style as a global pariah state. Or, the Israelis accept, and after a “decent interval” (i.e., three weeks), the Palestinians launch Intifada Three. Once the Israelis defend themselves, during the inevitable emergency session of the UNSC, Obama piles on with the rest of the anti-Semites and demands an immediate cease-fire, etc. This time, no US veto. And of course, threats of no more U.S. aid, plus economic sanctions, are not far behind.

    We have to do this, of course, because otherwise, we can’t get the “moderate” Arab regimes on board with us to help fight “Moslem extremists” (even though these same sorry regimes are as threatened by said extremists as anyone), and we can’t get them to acquiesce in our action against Iran (which we would not do as a favor to Israel, though it may be billed as such, but instead as a favor to our Sunni Arab “allies”, who are as scared of Iran as anyone). To the extent that there is naivete at play here, it is in these latter beliefs on the part of U.S. policymakers described above.

    Anyway, it is about time those pushy, uppity Israelis got put in their place. Meanwhile, what reason will Jews in the U.S. have to complain? The administration is filled with highly-placed Jews (as long as they don’t have anything to do with Middle East policy), so of course, Obama’s policies can’t be anti-Semitic, no no no. Heck, he even had the very first Passover Seder ever held in the White House! What more do ya want??!!

  2. Vic Rosenthal says:

    So, of the three options:

    1) Dumb
    2) Bad advice
    3) Evil

    you are choosing option 3)?

    I think we’ll find out in the next few months, or weeks.

  3. Robman says:

    At the risk of over-simplification, yes, I pick #3.

    We have a president who has little concept of “evil” as you or I understand this term. Quite revealingly, at the Saddleback Debates during the campaign, Obama answered the question of whether or not there was evil in the world, and what should be done about it, by saying that in the pursuit of evil, we must not become evil ourselves. Add this to his 20 years worth of “mentoring” by Rev “God damn America” Wrong (oops!…guilt by association…silly me!), among other associations, and what we have in Obama is a practically undiluted example of the classic “America is the problem” mindset of far-left liberal acedemia, a la Noam Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, etc., seasoned nicely with a healthy dollop of black liberation theology “f*** you, whitey” attitude (Obama has such a chip on his shoulder that way, it is amazing to me that he can stand up straight). To Obama and his ilk, the most “evil” things in the world are capitalist “exploitation” and rich white guy imperialism. The left has long tarred Israel with both of these brushes.

    According to this narrative, as the richest and most powerful country in the world, the U.S. is responsible for everything that happens in the world. Anything bad that happens ultimately can be traced to something we did or did not do; it is kind of a perverse form of national chauvanism, that we are somehow so powerful as to have such an overarching influence on world events and circumstances. Any of the manifestations of “evil” as you and I understand this – e.g., terrorism, medieval theocratic oppression, etc. – are actually the result of our own oppressive imperialistic policies.

    So, it is up to Obama to correct the error of our imperialistic ways. Hence, the global “apology tour”. Hence, kissing up to the likes of Hugo Chavez, who I think is actually something of a role model for what many hard core supporters of Obama hope he turns out to be as a leader. And of course, that imperialistic scab imposed upon the pious, noble, exploited Arab masses, Israel, must be got rid of.

    You see, this is how we are going to “win” the war on Islamic terrorism, by convincing these poor oppressed peoples that we are actually on “their” side; we will “co-opt” them into Obama’s “brave new world” by showing them that we share their sense of injustice, and we mean to “make right” the wrongs they decry.

    Dumb? Yes, it is dumb…but it is amazing how many “smart” people – legions of professors at elite universities, etc., buy into this crap. It is truly astounding the level of conformity we see today among these self-described ‘fearless iconoclasts’ who see themselves as ‘speaking truth to power’….what a load of b.s.!!!

    Bad advice? Sure…it isn’t going to lead to anything good. The second lesson of history is that appeasement never works (and that is really all these policies of Obama amount to, a highly rationalized form of cowardice, operationalized as appeasement). The bad guys just sense weakness and then go on to raise the price.

    Evil? In the end, that is what this boils down to. The evil of cowardice as an enabler, an accessory to a more fundamental and genuine evil. The evil of betraying what we ostensibly stand for, when we sell out a fellow liberal democracy that reflects our values and our institutions to the likes of dysfunctional dictatorships and monarchies that stand against everything we stand for. And the evil of greed…Today, we shake our fingers at Britain for trhe Lockerbie bombing release fiasco, for the sake of some oil deals….but though the UK is farther down the road of perfidy, we are not far behind under Obama. Much of what the Scowcrofts and Brzinskis (sp?..I don’t give damn) want is access to the same kinds of deals for the oil concerns on whose boards they sit, and/or the largesse of the Saudi lobbyists who line their pockets in order to promote this nonsense.

    Oh, and the “first” lesson of history, you may ask? It is that nobody ever learns from history.

  4. dsokal says:

    Hi Vic – Just wanted to reply to your last message on Rabbi Brant Rosen’s blog (which has been updated removing our conversation). Two things: 1) yes, obviously dialog is preferred to endless violence or the crushing of one side by the other without mercy. I think that should be clear to anyone who has seen the results of war and bloodshed first hand or even second hand. 2) It is up to the Palestinians to create a state of their own, but they might need a little help from Israel. At a minimum Israel must remove its soldiers from the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. Furthermore, Israel will need to cooperate with Palestine on establishing a transportation route between the two segments of Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank). And finally, it would also be helpful if Israel removed all settlements from occupied territories, all of which are illegal under international law and many of which were stolen from the rightful Palestinian owners.
    Here are some questions for you and your readers:
    1) Should the Palestinian State be built while it is under occupation?
    2) Under what conditions should the IDF leave the West Bank?
    3) Since there hasn’t been an attack for quite some time from the West Bank, why shouldn’t Israel reciprocate by, at a minimum, freezing the settlements?
    4) What steps do you imagine still need to be taken before Israel and the PA can sit down and talk about creating a secure, viable and economically vital Palestinian state next to a secure, viable and economically vital Jewish state?
    5) What will the Palestinian state look like in your view? Will it be totally independent, semi-autonomous or merely a province of Israel with it’s own local authorities under the authority of the Israeli government?
    6) If Israel continues to occupy the West Bank and continues to blockade Gaza, what does this mean for democracy in Israel? Can it rule over 4 million people, building walls and fences around and on their property, controlling their movement with armed soldiers at checkpoints dispersed throughout their land, dictating who they can and cannot elect as their leaders, building settlements the inhabitants of which claim citizenship and loyalty to another nation, arresting and imprisoning Palestinians without cause, destroying Palestinian homes as punishment or simply to replace them with settlers … can it do all this and still call itself a democracy?
    7) Finally, since you do not feel that all conflicts can be resolved through non-violent means, and apparently you include the conflict between Israel and Palestine in that category, what is the end game for Israel?