Only Words

The March 14 Coalition won a majority of seats in the Lebanese Parliamentary elections on Sunday.

A few excerpts from the Times:

“There were many domestic reasons voters handed an American-backed coalition a victory in Lebanese parliamentary elections on Sunday — but political analysts also attribute it in part to President Obama’s campaign of outreach to the Arab and Muslim world.”

“It is hard to draw firm conclusions from one election. But for the first time in a long time, being aligned with the United States did not lead to defeat in the Middle East.”

“Washington is now proposing talking to Hezbollah’s patrons, Iran and Syria, rather than confronting them — a move that undermines the group’s attempt to demonize the United States. The United States is also no longer pressing its allies in the Lebanese government to unilaterally disarm Hezbollah, which, given the party’s considerable remaining clout, could have provoked a crisis.”

“The results in Lebanon may also make it more difficult for Israel to capitalize on fears of Hezbollah dominance and shift the conversation away from the peace process with the Palestinians…”

The most common criticism of Obama’s speech in Cairo last week was that it comprised “only words” and no action.  It was naïve, unpatriotic, lacked substance and filled with platitudes, said the American right.  It is nothing until the U.S. matches words with actions, said many in the Islamic world, especially the extremists and the cynics who benefit from Bush-era tough talk that inflames populations.

Many of the man-on-street reactions that the Cowboy saw were cautiously positive, optimistic and surprised.

From the Cowboy’s saddle, the speech looked like shrewd realpolitik with a dose of grown-up optimism and some Getting to Yes.  Here is Sullivan’s write-up in the Times of London:

“But in many respects this was not a speech, as traditionally understood. It was an intervention.”

“The obvious critique that this was just a set of words seems to me to miss the point. An intervention begins with words because it requires the actions of others. You don’t get an addict to go into recovery by cuffing him and throwing him into an ambulance. You talk to him and his family and speak calmly about what everyone in the room knows to be true but no one will face. So, for me, the core sentence of the speech was obvious: “It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.”

Watch the speech.  Or read it.  Better yet, read it while you watch.  Sullivan calls it “The Biggest Speech Of His Presidency.”

While the Cowboy is not completely immune to the ironically shared idealism of the neoconservatives and liberal institutionalists, at his core the Cowboy is a foreign policy realist.  Now, like with most things, the Cowboy doesn’t like labelsAll things in moderation.  So, the Cowboy’s foreign policy realism is tempered by an innate optimism and a desire to act morally.  Are these contradictory?  Perhaps.  But the world – and life – is complicated.

Kissinger’s Diplomacy is a good start on realism.  Here’s a fascinating article on Kissinger by Robert D. Kaplan from 1999:  “Kissinger, Metternich and Realism.”  Kaplan captures many of the apparent contradictions in the man.  And after all, can’t we all be best understood by examining our contradictions?

The Cowboy has spent many, many hours in complex international negotiations.  And his approach is not inconsistent with his view on foreign policy.  “Getting to Yes” coupled with shrewd bargaining.  Contradictory?  Perhaps.

But that’s what keeps it interesting.

The Biggest Speech Of His Presidency

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Published in: on June 9, 2009 at 20:38  Comments Off on Only Words  
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