The Power of Perception – Israel, Oil, and Other Stuff

7 06 2010

This is a continuation of my previous post about the oil spill. Someone was kind enough to comment and I have so much to say, I needed a whole post to respond and elaborate on the topic.

For many, this photo sums up everything they feel about the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina. It’s not fair, but it’s the nature of the game. Hurricane Katrina – from the evacuation through to the rebuilding (still in progress, BTW) – was bungled every which way until it was nothing short of a boondoggle, but one man, George W. Bush could not have single-handedly wrecked it no matter how hard he tried. I’m not say he didn’t mess up, I simply stating the fact that he wasn’t the only one. There were plenty of mistakes made by a whole bunch of people who did a shoddy job thinking that somewhere along the line someone would pick up the slack and no one did – administratively speaking, that is. There are big-hearted individuals and groups that have done incredible work. There are some that still are working down there.
As for that picture of President Bush the Younger peering down at a devastated New Orleans from Air Force One, it isn’t all that it seems. Yes, he flew over and didn’t land to see the true plight of the citizens, but there was a very good, practical reason. When Air Force One shows up, it’s not just an ordinary day in the neighborhood. The Secret Service has to work alongside local law enforcement and, given the totality of the destruction of the infrastructure and such, those agencies would have run the risk of not being there to protect the local population if they were devoting what resources they had to providing the level of protection a presidential visit requires. They decided the risk wasn’t worth taking. See, it’s quite a valid reason, but when people are suffering and dying, reasons for not doing things that are seen as helpful all sound a bit like cop outs.

This is currently the image of Obama and the oil spill. While not entirely reassuring, he is there on the beach and that’s something. If an image comes along that carries more emotion – one of an oil-soaked wetland littered with dean animals, or something like that – then he will hear more cries that he hasn’t done enough. He still can’t go and fix the well himself or make all the oil disappear, but he is doing what little he can.

In other news, last week Israeli commandos were involved in a violent incident while boarding a Turkish aid vessel attempting to break the blockade Israel has imposed upon the Gaza Strip. I’m not going to try to piece together what happened that night on that dark, crowded ship. All we know is that something went very wrong, people died, and many were injured at the hands of military personnel. The image of elite troops killing and wounding civilians is almost universally unpalatable. The result – serious discussions all over the world about the efficacy and ethical implications of the Israeli policy regarding Gaza. Usually, such dialogues result in fierce accusations of the people, groups, or countries involved being “anti-Israel” or “pro-terrorist”, but this time, under these conditions is seems as though we might be able to cut through the bullfunky and get to the point. Some in Israel itself are calling for a review of the way Israel handles Gaza. If you’re wondering where the US stands, the Secretary of State issued the following statement.

Just a note, this is not a picture from that press briefing, it's a picture from her October 2009 visit to Israel. Why didn't I use a picture from the briefing? Because the briefing was supposed to be about her bilateral meeting with the Foreign Minister of Romania and I wanted an US/Israel image. It was all for aesthetics.

MR. CROWLEY: On his last day of covering the State Department, Nick Kralev of The Washington Times.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, Nick.

QUESTION: Hello.

SECRETARY CLINTON: We should sing Auld Lang Syne or something. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, thank you very much even without doing it.

Madam Secretary, I’d like to ask you a couple things about the Israeli situation which, as you know, is getting more and more serious by the day. I know there are many unknowns at this point, but do you accept Israel’s argument of self-defense? And do you think that the investigation should be done by Israel or by a third independent party, as other Security Council members have said?

And more broadly, we all know there are so many moving pieces to this. There’s Turkey, there’s Israel and in the Palestinians, there’s Iran, there’s Syria. What are the implications in your mind of this situation to the peace process and in the larger issues in the Middle East? Thanks.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Nick, on your last day, you’ve asked a very complicated set of interrelated questions. And let me put it into context as I respond. First, let me say how deeply we regret the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered among those involved in the incident aboard the Gaza-bound ships, and we offer our condolences to the families of the deceased and the wounded.

Turkey and Israel are both good friends of the United States, and we are working with both to deal with the aftermath of this tragic incident.

The United States supports the Security Council’s condemnation of the acts leading to this tragedy. And we urge Israel to permit full consular access to the individuals involved and to allow the countries concerned to retrieve their deceased and wounded immediately. We urge all concerned countries to work together to resolve the status of those who were part of this incident as soon as possible.

We support in the strongest terms the Security Council’s call for a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation. We support an Israeli investigation that meets those criteria. We are open to different ways of assuring a credible investigation, including international participation, and we will continue to discuss these ideas with the Israelis and our international partners in the days ahead.

The situation in Gaza is unsustainable and unacceptable. Israel’s legitimate security needs must be met, just as the Palestinians’ legitimate needs for sustained humanitarian assistance and regular access for reconstruction materials must also be assured.

We will continue to work closely with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority along with international NGOs and the United Nations to ensure adequate access for humanitarian goods, including reconstruction and building supplies. And we welcome efforts to promote the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate and internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.

Ultimately, the solution to this conflict must be found through an agreement based on a two-state solution negotiated between the parties. This incident underscores the urgency of reaching this goal and we remain committed to working with both sides to move forward these negotiations.

I think the situation from our perspective is very difficult and requires careful, thoughtful responses from all concerned. But we fully support the Security Council’s action last night in issuing a presidential statement and we will work to implement the intention that this presidential statement represents.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for taking this question.

On an almost-related note, today Helen Thomas, veteran opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers’ and Dean of the White House Press Corps, retired today over inflammatory remarks about Israel – namely that they should “get the hell out of Palestine,” and “go home.” Obviously, these statements are incendiary to say the very least and especially given the fact that, against all odds, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are still set to begin soon. Kudos to George Mitchell. As for Ms. Thomas, she should have, and did, issue a statement of apology. She should not have been made to retire, but it’s fine with me if she chose to do so. She is approaching ninety after all. It is always unfortunate when an illustrious career is ended with a mind-bogglingly stupid comment or action. She broke a lot of ground for women in journalism, but will be remembered, in the short-term anyway, as the old woman who didn’t like Israel. Freedom of speech is protected, but it isn’t always popular and there are some things you just can’t say in public – especially if you’re “somebody”. Sorry, but that’s the way it goes.

Advertisements




After the Glow Wears Off – Why Fandom Doesn’t Work With Politicians

26 05 2010

In the aftermath of the explosion of the Deep Water Horizon – that oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico – and the subsequent ecological catastrophe which is, as of right now, still intensifying something is happening in the minds of many Americans. They are realizing that Barack Obama, the President of the United States, is not a super hero. He cannot take out his Super-Duper Galactic Fix-It Ray and make the problem and all the foibles that come with trying to fix it just go away and neither can Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, or anyone else. Winning an election gets you a very big job, a place in the history books, and that’s it. The pants you put on in the morning may be bullet-proof – yes, they do exist – but you still put them on the same way anyone else does.

In the 2008 presidential election, particularly on the democratic side, much was made of the candidates’ personalities and whether or not they were “likable” enough. If it hadn’t been for that, I believe I’d be sitting here kvetching about the latest mistake President Clinton made – President Hillary Clinton, that is. She had everything – money, connections, experience – everything but a triple dose of charisma and that was her downfall. She couldn’t change who she was, so she lost. It’s not fair, but it’s the nature of the game. You have to be “likable” and you either are or you aren’t. For many people Barack Obama was The Man – the man to elect, the man to back, the man you’d want to have a beer with, just the man. In the world of Political High School, he was the captain of the football team and valedictorian all rolled into one while then-Senator Clinton was the jealous, geeky, overachiever on the debate team, and John McCain was the guy who played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons. Neither of them had a chance in hindsight.
The problem with popularity in politics is, just like in high school, it’s fleeting. To be known simply as “popular” is to be unknown and invisible in a week’s time. Politics is a business fraught with unpopular positions. With some perpetually contentious issues like abortion, to take a firm stand one way or the other is to alienate a large section of the voting population. The only thing worse than taking a strong stand on a divisive issue is to take no stand at all. That just makes you look weak. If you manage to get elected, a whole new world of “un-likablity” opens up and is furthered by omnipresent mass media. Make one mistake, say one thing out of line, forget to smile at someone and it’s news and news always offends someone. Make a offhand comment about women in the workforce and someone will say you’re against stay-at-home moms and therefore single-handedly out to destroy the traditional American family. Question military expenses and you’re an evil, marxist, terrorist, hippy, America-hater. Innocently point out the good qualities of a colleague of the opposite sex, or of the same-sex if you are known by the public to be openly gay or lesbian, and you may very well end up being dragged by your sinificant other to couple’s counseling and have to explain yourself. Choose not to go to church and you become evil and completely anti-American even though there are plenty of Americans who don’t attend church and are also not enemies of the state.
These things all pale in comparison to what happens when a big problem comes along – unusually polarizing legislation, Supreme Court appointments, some sort of unforeseen tragedy. That’s when that cult of personality really begins to crack under the weight of the task at hand. It becomes blindingly clear that you can’t walk on water or fly or shoot lasers from your eyeballs. You’re still disappointingly human with only twenty-four hour days just like the rest of us. The pedestal you’ve been placed on by your supports erodes away from beneath your feet and you come tumbling down to earth to rejoin the rest of us mortals. People start to ask “What if? What if I’d pulled the other lever or checked the other box?” This is the predicament that our current president finds himself in. It’s not fair, but it’s the nature of the game. Presidents seem like they have more power than the rest of us and to some extent they do, but we forget they’re also astoundingly human. I could go into specific presidential examples of human frailty – the same problems we see every day in our own lives – but why bother. It’s all old news.
One would think that, in light of these recent events, we as a nation would be less inclined to idealize our political figures but it seems more prevalent today than it was two and a half years ago. For example, Sarah Palin could make a statement saying something needs to be acted upon and thousands of people would go out and make it happen regardless of what “it” actually is. The task is completely immaterial simply because Sarah Palin said “it” should be and they think Sarah Palin is the best human being that ever lived and is right all of the time. Ron Paul, the Congressman from Texas, has a similarly devoted and vocal following. Hillary Clinton, the current Secretary of State, still has quite a fan base even after her election lose and employment with the Obama administration, and some of them are fiercely loyal. Just search Clinton 2012 to see the kind of rumors bubbling up as campaign season approaches with all of these diehard fans lying in wait, though, historically, a primary challenger to the incumbent president has never won the nomination and only serves to split the party and make an election victory that much harder to achieve. Even so, hope springs eternal for some of her supporters who view her as the best hope for democrats in 2012. I say that’s a long ways off and a highly unlikely turn of events. Her high approval rating will plummet if she turns on the administration who employed her for three years or so. Nobody likes a turncoat not to mention that putting your sense of loyalty into question is never the best political move.
And what about Mr. Obama and his charisma? Well, while he may recover some popularity for one reason or another – these things go days by day – it’ll never be quite the same now that everyone knows he isn’t a super hero or a jedi knight or some other spectacular being. It’s like having a really attractive roommate. Everyone sees them as this Adonis-like figure, but you’ve seen them at their worst – hung-over, unhappy, angry, first thing in the morning – and you know that they have their moments just like anyone else. You can’t idealize someone after that because you know that they are no more or less than human.