If it was once possible, based on evidence of his past associations and his record in office, to describe President Barack Obama as “anti-Israel,” it is no longer plausible now. Either Obama has changed, or revealed a side to himself that he had kept largely under wraps. Regardless, his words and actions in Israel last week put to rest those doubts. Yet they also confirmed Obama’s radical left-wing perspective–a philosophical orientation that causes him to adopt policies toward Israel that are counterproductive.
The most revealing statement Obama made during his trip was that it is not “fair” that Palestinians do not have a state. Of course it is fair, especially since Jews and Arabs began with an equal opportunity of forming states, side-by-side, when the British Mandate ended in 1948. But Obama and the left persist in evaluating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of “weak” and “strong,” instead of “right” and “wrong.” That leads to erroneous conclusions about who bears the responsibility for making concessions in the peace process.
We see the same dynamic at work in the apology Obama encouraged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the Gaza flotilla incident. It may not be “fair” that nine Turkish citizens lost their lives on the Mavi Marmara–but they were in the wrong, violating international law by using civilians for the military purpose of breaking the blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza. Yet it was Israel that had to apologize, setting a bad precedent for both Israel and the U.S.
There is something stubborn in Obama’s insistence on clinging to such a simplistic worldview. An Israeli journalist called him “naïve,” but at this point in Obama’s career that can no longer be the case. His insistence on seeing the world through the prism of “fairness,” at home and abroad, is a willful act of self-deception that requires a degree of intellectual arrogance. We see that Obama is willing to change his rhetoric and his policy, on Israel and on other issues, but not his fundamental belief in leveling.
It is important to understand the purpose that belief plays in Obama’s life. It gives him a sense of direction and convinces him of his own authenticity. The challenge for Obama, who was raised by a single mother but enjoyed an elite private education, has been to find his place in a society not always conscious of its own complexity. He found political traction by simplifying the complexity of his own life–adopting the crude racial outlook of Jeremiah Wright, for example, or taking hard-left stances on issues he knew to be difficult.
When he began building a national political profile, Obama found that the complexity of his own identity was an asset. But beneath the many, often contradictory things he allowed his supporters to see in him, he remained a committed leftist. That leftism is still second-nature for Obama, whose tastes (golf, expensive vacations, celebrity fêtes) betray his elitist preferences. Yet it is important to him, because it is his way of imposing order on his own mind and on the world around him. And it is attractive to his core supporters.
The temptations of a simplistic outlook like “fairness” are deceptive. The world remains complicated, and forcing it to fit a crude model only leads to further complications. Most of Obama’s domestic initiatives have hit that reality: Obamacare raised insurance costs, for example, and the “stimulus” may have slowed the recovery. His foreign policy has met the same fate: the chaotic Arab Spring ran directly contrary to Obama’s ideas about the Middle East, and he has struggled ever since to maintain the pretense of his relevance.
A different, and better, approach would be to accept the world’s complexity and accommodate it. Instead of lecturing Israelis about empathy, for example, and urging Israeli youth to pressure their elders, he could have asked his audience to prepare for the day Palestinians finally reached out. But that would also force Obama to acknowledge his own lack of control over events. So he stuck with exhortations about “fairness,” and forced an Israeli apology to Turkey–a gesture whose consequences are already not what was planned.