A Batman movie? (& Obama praises “very” honest Putin, but criticizes Cameron)

March 11, 2016



1. A Batman movie?
2. Obama praises Putin, criticizes Cameron
3. French MP: Obama needs to look in the mirror
4. Bibi is “more disappointing” than Assad, Ahmadinejad and the ISIS leader?
5. Obama rewrites his own Cairo speech
6. Obama: I already understand the Middle East
7. Russia clearly condemns Palestinian attack; Obama administration avoids doing so
8. A trip to Mecca, then stab some Jews and Americans
9. Arab jogger wounded in Jaffa terror attack
10. “The Obama Doctrine” (By Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, April 2016)
11. “The Disappointment of Barack Obama” (By David Frum, The Atlantic, March 10, 2016)



[Notes below by Tom Gross]

There has been a great a deal of further criticism of U.S. President Barack Obama following the release online yesterday of the text of the very long piece which will appear in print in the April 2016 issue of The Atlantic magazine, titled “The Obama Doctrine.”

It is possibly the longest interview Obama has ever given about his foreign policy, to his “in-house” journalist Jeffrey Goldberg. In fact it is based on a series of interviews Obama granted Goldberg -- at the Oval Office; over lunch in Obama’s dining room; aboard Air Force One; and in Kuala Lumpur during his most recent visit to Asia, and so on.

Some observations on the piece:

While there has been much derision of Donald Trump for his use of coarse language, and the shallowness of some of his foreign policy statements, in the Atlantic interview Obama uses the “s” word – blaming Britain and France (but not his own policies and military actions and inactions) for turning Libya into what he calls a “s***show”.

And then Obama, when discussing ISIS with his foreign policy aides, compares the Islamic State to Heath Ledger’s Joker in Christopher Nolan’s 2008 Batman film, The Dark Knight.

(For those who have forgotten, Obama famously dismissed ISIS -- which controls and terrorizes large parts of two of the largest and most important countries in the Middle East, Iraq and Syria -- as a “JV team” in a 2014 interview with the New Yorker magazine.)

(Obama also previously failed to condemn or distance himself from one of his senior aides for using the “s” word about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The aide called Netanyahu, a decorated soldier who risked his life in battle, a “chickenshit” and a “coward”.)



President Obama also told The Atlantic that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin was “scrupulously polite” and “very frank”.

While Obama continues to appear to have a soft spot for despots and dictators (in Cuba, Iran, and elsewhere), he continues to demean the democratically-elected leaders of America’s closest allies, not only Israel this time, but also Britain and France.

In the interview, while having generous words for Putin, Obama takes a swipe at British Prime Minister David Cameron, calling him a “free rider” who (together with the French president) “aggravated” him.

Presumably trying to let Hillary Clinton off the hook for her central role in turning Libya into a quagmire, Obama tries to pin all the blame for the disastrous violence and Islamic State takeover of part of that country, on Britain and France.



Britain’s Social Care (and former foreign office) minister Alistair Burt tweeted in response to Obama’s Atlantic interview:

“Interesting from Obama on Libya. When I’ve been in the MENA region it’s not the UKs retreat that’s commented upon, Mr President.”


Not only British Conservative MPs but British Labour Party MPs are also criticizing Obama.

Among them, senior Labour MP Barry Sheerman tweeted:

“Truth is that Obama has been a huge disappointment as a President & leader of free world.”


French MP Herve Mariton, responding to Obama’s criticism of Britain and France, told the BBC:

“I would offer Obama a mirror.”



There is also bewilderment in Israel, even among detractors of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that, even during another week of vicious terrorist attacks (attacks that have been praised by the U.S.-funded and supported Palestinian Authority – the Palestinian murderer of an American tourist was praised as a “hero” on Palestinian Authority TV) that Obama continues to single out Netanyahu for criticism, but not Palestinian Authority President Abbas.

The Atlantic reports that Obama sees Netanyahu as the “most disappointing of all Mideast leaders”.

“Really?” asks the former Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren (a member of Israel’s centrist Kulanu party) in an interview with The Algemeiner’s Ruthie Blum yesterday:

“Netanyahu is one of Obama’s ‘deepest disappointments’ as a Middle East leader? More disappointing than [Syrian President Bashar] Assad? Than [former Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad? Than [ISIS chief Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi?”



Oren also criticizes Obama for rewriting his own Cairo speech:

“My argument was this,” Obama told Goldberg, “Let’s all stop pretending that the cause of the Middle East’s problems is Israel… I was hoping that my speech could trigger a discussion, could create space for Muslims to address the real problems they are confronting – problems of governance, and the fact that some currents of Islam have not gone through a reformation that would help people adapt their religious doctrines to modernity.”

But Oren said that the speech in question, which Obama delivered at Cairo University during his first official visit to the region, “nowhere mentions that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not the core of the Middle East’s other conflicts.” On the contrary, Oren emphasized, “It actually implied the opposite.”

Oren added that “The Cairo speech is the foundational document of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy, and it is based on linkage: that everything in the region is linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and therefore if you solve it, you will solve the region’s problems.”

Oren, who served as Israel’s envoy to Washington from 2009-2013, said that he “used to hear that linkage mentioned every single day. Even former National Security Adviser James Jones said that if God came down and asked to solve one problem, it would be the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was doctrinal.”

Furthermore, Oren told Ruthie Blum, “The Cairo speech, which was twice as long as Obama’s first inaugural address, gave Israel legitimacy based on the Holocaust – the same as the Arab narrative about why the Jews were given a state – and didn’t even mention the Sunni-Shi’ite divide or Iranian-Arab enmity, for example.”

“A more important question here might be to ask why Goldberg didn’t challenge him on it,” Oren said, adding that the interview was “illuminating,” in that it shined light “on the relationship of the press with the president.”



The Israeli paper Haaretz highlights the fact that Obama interrupted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when Netanyahu respectfully tried to explain to Obama the dangers of the brutal region in which Netanyahu lives, and that Obama didn’t want to hear it, feeling he knew all about it already.

Obama said he told Netanyahu:

“Bibi, you have to understand something. I’m the African American son of a single mother, and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House. I managed to get elected president of the United States. You think I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I do.”

A subscriber to this list writes: “I totally get the fact he is an African American son of a single mother who was elected president but I don’t understand what that has got to with truly understanding the threat to Jews and others of annihilation by radical Muslims in Iran and elsewhere.”

Tom Gross adds: This week Iran test-fired two new ballistic missiles that it said hit targets over 850 miles away and were capable of reaching Israel. The missiles are said to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Iran’s Fars news agency reported that the missiles had text written on them in Hebrew saying, “Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth”.

Photo here: here


(A probe by the U.S. Justice Department yesterday determined that Iran was responsible for a 2013 cyber attack on a dam in the suburbs outside of New York City.)

(Executions in Iran are now at their highest level since 1989, the New York Times reports today.)

(As Obama continues to publically blame Netanyahu, the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds reports today that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected a peace initiative presented by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during their meeting in Ramallah on Wednesday.)



There is also bewilderment in Israel that the official Obama administration statement (by the Spokesperson for the Bureau of Public Affairs) condemning the series of terror attacks on Tuesday in Jaffa, Petah Tikva, and Jerusalem, in which a U.S. citizen was killed, refused to mention that the attacks took place in Israel, or that they targeted Israelis, or that the perpetrators were Palestinians.

Other governments had no problem saying the attacks took place in Israel and were carried out by Palestinians.

Here for example, from Russia’s Tass News agency:


MOSCOW, March 9. /TASS/. Moscow has strongly condemned the terrorist attacks in Israel that claimed the lives of civilians, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday.

“Moscow resolutely condemns the terrorist attacks against civilians, whatever the reasons given for them,” the ministry said.

“Among the victims are four Russian citizens who sustained injuries of varying severity,” the statement says. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Russia’s Embassy in Israel is taking vigorous measures to provide necessary assistance to the hospitalized Russian citizens.

A series of attacks on civilians in Israel occurred on March 8 and 9. Two Israelis suffered gunshot wounds at Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. Almost simultaneously another Israeli was stabbed in the city of Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv. On the evening of the same day one person was killed and 12 wounded (among them Russian citizens) in an attack with the use of cold steel arms on the outskirts of Tel Aviv in Jaffa.

“In the course of the terrorist attacks all Palestinian attackers were killed by Israeli law enforcement authorities,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.



The Palestinian terrorist who murdered the Americans and injured many others in Israel does not seem to have been “poor” as some in America’s media suggested. He had just returned from a foreign trip to Mecca where he was further indoctrinated to kill Jews.

The Islamist who randomly murdered a Jew in Uruguay on the same day (Tuesday), shouting “Allah Akbar” as he repeatedly stabbed a member of the Uruguayan Jewish community, also told police he was carrying out what he said were Allah’s commands. The three adult men who beat up a 13-year old Jewish boy outside a Paris synagogue last weekend also don’t seem to have been motivated by poverty.



Mohammed Wari, 26, an Arab man from east Jerusalem, who works for a hi-tech company near Tel Aviv, was one of the victims of the Jaffa terror attack on Tuesday. (Several other Palestinians, mistaken for Jews, have been victims of Palestinian terror attacks in recent months.) As Wari was jogging through Jaffa, he encountered the Palestinian terrorist, Bashar Masalha, who stabbed him in the shoulder near his neck.

Wari told journalists: “This is unrelated to the fact that I am an Arab, but the terrorists and their supporters don't discriminate between Jews, Muslims, and Christians, or Americans and Russians. They only want to kill. Terror has no color, race, or religion. Terror is an illness that needs to be stopped. Terror has a clear goal: to kill and destroy the world and the coexistence in which we live.”

Official Palestinian Authority TV informed viewers that Wari and all the other victims of the Jaffa (and other attacks in Petah Tikva and elsewhere) were “settlers”.

In addition to the dozens that died, hundreds of Israelis (including children) have been wounded over the past five months of terror attacks, many of them still recovering from their injuries.

-- Tom Gross



The Obama Doctrine
By Jeffrey Goldberg
The Atlantic
April 2016 Issue

At 19,000 words, the piece is too long to attach in this dispatch, but you can read it here if you have time.



Here is David Frum’s (much shorter) response to Goldberg’s essay, also published in The Atlantic.

The Disappointment of Barack Obama
He admits one major mistake: not making sufficient allowances for how unreasonable other people are.
By David Frum
The Atlantic
March 10, 2016

About a quarter way into Jeffrey Goldberg’s intimate profile of President Obama, Goldberg mentions German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “one of the few foreign leaders Obama respects.”

Thirty-five years ago, The Atlantic ran one of the most famous interviews in the history of journalism: Bill Greider’s “The Education of David Stockman.” Goldberg’s interviews deserve to become equally famous, perhaps under the heading: “The Disappointment of Barack Obama.” For the dominant theme of these interviews is that we, all of us, have grievously let down the president.

Obama, concludes Goldberg, “has found world leadership wanting: global partners who often lack the vision and the will to spend political capital in pursuit of broad, progressive goals, and adversaries who are not, in his mind, as rational as he is.” The good news is that these inadequate partners and purblind adversaries will soon suffer their comeuppance: “What they don’t understand is that history is bending in his direction.”

The trouble is that this historical consummation seems to be rather slow in arriving. Across Europe and the Middle East, old friends and new worry that under President Obama the United States has lost its bearings and its will. “I think I believe in American power more than Obama does,” Goldberg quotes the King of Jordan as saying—and he is not alone. Obama is obviously aware of the growing level of concern that he has set the United States adrift. The president insists that the United States, not its geopolitical rivals, continues to set the agenda for G20 meetings. When it comes to clerical tasks, the U.S.A. apparently remains No. 1. And to those impatient with the gaps in his leadership, Obama replies with scorn: They’re mad at him? No! He’s the one who’s mad at them!

In Goldberg’s telling: “By 2013, Obama’s resentments were well developed. He resented military leaders who believed they could fix any problem if the commander in chief would simply give them what they wanted, and he resented the foreign-policy think-tank complex” that many in the White House see as “doing the bidding of ... Arab and pro-Israel funders.” Obama has had “not much patience for [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and other Middle Eastern leaders who question his understanding of the region.”

And when his understanding proved wrong, that only confirmed Obama’s disdain for everybody else. Early on, Obama had pulsed with excitement over the so-called Arab Spring. But there too, as Goldberg observes, the president “grew disillusioned” as “brutality and dysfunction overwhelmed the Middle East”—a development that apparently caught the president entirely by surprise. Now, Obama wistfully says, “All I need in the Middle East is a few smart autocrats.” “Smart” here is shorthand for “conforming to Obama’s wishes.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has certainly ruled autocratically. Yet Obama is vexed, reports Goldberg, that Erdogan “refuses to use his enormous army to bring stability to Syria.”

Obama seems to feel gathering disdain too for both sides of the Arab-Israeli dispute. On the one hand, Obama appears annoyed that Muslims worldwide did not heed his advice “to more closely examine the roots of their unhappiness.” On the other hand, “According to [former Defense Secretary] Leon Panetta, [Obama] has questioned why the U.S. should maintain Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge.”

This may all seem a roundabout way of arguing, “It’s not my fault!” Goldberg records only one major self-criticism by the president: Obama admits he does not make sufficient allowances for how unreasonable other people are. In the president’s words: “Every president has strengths and weaknesses. And there is no doubt that there are times when I have not been attentive enough to feelings and emotions and politics in communicating what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

Thus, for example, now that the war in Libya has left chaos in its wake, Obama blames himself for not anticipating other people’s shortcomings. “When I go back and I ask myself what went wrong, there’s room for criticism, because I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya’s proximity, being invested in the follow-up.” British Prime Minister David Cameron stopped paying attention to Libya, Obama said, instead becoming “distracted by a range of other things.” Then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy behaved even worse. “Sarkozy wanted to trumpet the flights he was taking in the air campaign, despite the fact that we had wiped out all the air defenses and essentially set up the entire infrastructure [for the war].”

The Libyans likewise disappointed Obama. “The degree of tribal division in Libya was greater than our analysts had expected.” So, having overthrown Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi, and plunged into civil war a country only a short boat ride away from southern Italy, the president sorrowfully disengaged. “There is no way we should commit to governing the Middle East and North Africa.”

Yet the Middle East and North Africa were not so easily kept at bay. In 2013, 2014, and 2015, a vast surge of migrants and asylum-seekers sought entry into Europe from across the Mediterranean—and tried, in smaller numbers, to reach the United States too. When voters reacted negatively to Obama’s plan to resettle Syrians in the United States, the president was stunned.

The president seemed similarly stunned by the anxiety that last November’s Paris attacks provoked in the United States. “Everyone back home had lost their minds,” an official tells Goldberg. “Later,” in Goldberg’s words, “the president would say that he had failed to fully appreciate the fear many Americans were experiencing.” Even after he appreciated it, he apparently still could not respect it. The “sort of panic,” in Goldberg’s words, that Obama “worries about most is the type that would manifest itself in anti-Muslim xenophobia or in a challenge to American openness.” Such xenophobia Obama regards as a much greater danger to the United States than terrorism.

Politics is a realm of paradox. The Obama foreign policy is especially rich in them. A president who professes multilateralism has left the country’s alliances in disarray. A president who justly criticized his predecessor for poor postwar planning in Iraq launched his own war in Libya with no postwar plan at all. A president who rejects religious extremism and authoritarianism has built his Middle East policy on visions of cooperation with extremist and authoritarian Iran. A president who sought to teach America the wisdom of humility never learned that lesson himself.

Of all the paradoxes, maybe the most important will be this: A president who came to office so deeply uneasy about American leadership has—over almost eight years of not providing it—reminded the rest of the world why that leadership is so badly needed.


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