MoDo says Barack Obama, the young superhero, needs to learn to control his superpowers… Can we take up a collection and send her back to France? Mr. Friedman is in Ramallah, on the West Bank, and isn’t hopeful. Here’s MoDo:
In mythic tales from “Superman” to “Star Wars” to “Spider-Man,” there comes a moment when the young superhero has to learn to harness his powers. That’s the challenge Barack Obama faces now.
Clearly, the 45-year-old senator is blessed with many gifts. He can write and talk, think and walk, with exceptional grace and agility.
When he wants to, Mr. Obama can rouse the crowd to multiple ovations, as he did yesterday when he talked with a preacher’s passion about the “quiet riot” of frustration of blacks in this country, on issues like Katrina, in a speech before black clergy at Hampton University in Virginia.
But often he reverts to Obambi, tentative about commanding the stage and consistently channeling the excitement he engenders. At times, he seems to be actively resisting his phenom status and easy appeals to emotion. When he should fire up, he dampens. When he should dominate, he’s deferential. When he should lacerate, he’s languid.
Futilely, he chafes at the notion that debates and forums are rituals for showing a sense of command with a forceful one-liner, a witty takedown or a “shining city on a hill” moment. He keeps trying to treat them as places where he can riff, improvise, soothe, extrapolate or find common ground. He skitters away from the subtext of political contests, the need to use your force to slay your opponents.
In the first two Democratic debates and Monday night’s forum on faith, Hillary Clinton commanded the stage, just like a great squash player dominates the T. The woman radiated more authority than the glamour boys flanking her — and she did it despite the pressure of having a few new books published with salacious and unflattering nuggets about her.
In the South Carolina debate, Senator Obama was — absurdly — taken by surprise when Brian Williams asked the requisite Dukakis question designed to elicit manly passion: How would he respond if Al Qaeda hit two American cities? The senator ignored the visceral nature of the question and rambled on cerebrally about natural disasters, working with the international community and about how he would have to see if there was “any intelligence on who might have carried it out so that we can take potentially some action to dismantle that network.”
He was already told that it was Al Qaeda in the question, and “potentially,” “some” and “dismantle” are not the sort of fast-and-furious words the moment required. A bit later, he doubled back to say he would hunt down terrorists, but it was too late.
In the New Hampshire debate Sunday night, Mr. Obama again missed his chances. Hillary is the one he needs to unseat, but he treads gingerly around her. He seems afraid of a repeat of that moment last December, as the clamor for him to run was building, when he touched her elbow and winked at her on the Senate floor, and she kept walking. He called a friend afterwards, stunned at her icy behavior.
Instead, he wasted his time tangling with Dennis Kucinich in the first debate and slapping back John Edwards in the second.
When Hillary admitted that she had not read the National Intelligence Estimate before voting to authorize the president to go to war, Senator Obama had a clear shot. The woman who always does her homework did not bother to do her homework on the most important vote of her Senate career because her political viability was more important than the president’s duplicity: She felt that, as a woman, she could not cast a flower-child vote if she wanted to run for president. At this fateful moment, she was thinking more of herself than her country. As someone who has been known to tailor the truth to accommodate her ambition, she looked away while W. was doing the same.
Mr. Obama let the opportunity for a sharp comment pass. He made an oblique one, without mentioning her name, noting that former Senator Bob Graham said that the N.I.E. was one of the reasons he voted against the war authorization.
He missed another chance when Hillary said at the beginning of the debate that she believed “we are safer than we were” before 9/11, even though the Democrats won Congress with the opposite argument last fall, and even though the Iraq war has clearly made the world more dangerous than ever.
The next day, after reflecting on the matter overnight, the Obama campaign sent out a rebuttal to Hillary’s ridiculous claim, citing reports showing that radicalization in the Muslim world and terrorism are spreading rather than diminishing. The belated memo was blandly addressed to “Interested Parties.” But by then the only thing that was interesting was why it took Obambi so long.
Meanwhile, Hillary’s Web site blared the headline “In Command” linking to “raves” of her confident debate performance.
The Boy Wonder cannot take over the country unless he can take on Wonder Woman.
Here’s Mr. Friedman:
The Middle East has gotten itself tied into such an impossible knot that Biblical references or Shakespearian quotations simply don’t suffice anymore to describe how impossibly tangled politics has become here. Shira Wolosky, a Hebrew University English scholar, suggested to me that maybe Dr. Seuss, in “The Cat in the Hat,” offered the best way to sum up the Middle East today.
Then he shut the Things
in the box with the hook.
And the cat went away
With a sad kind of look.
“That is good,” said the fish.
“He has gone away. Yes.
but your mother will come.
She will find this big mess!
And this mess is so big
And so deep and so tall,
we can not pick it up.
There is no way at all!”
Just look around. Gaza is turning into Mogadishu. Hamas is shelling Israel. Israel is retaliating. Iraq is a boiling pot. Iran is about to go nuclear. Lebanon is being pulled apart. Syria is being investigated for murdering Lebanon’s prime minister. I could go on. Yes, this mess is so big and so tall. Who knows where to pick it up at all?
In Israel, officials are mulling all alternatives — from the Saudi peace initiative to negotiating with Hamas to opening talks with Syria to reoccupying Gaza to looking for a “trustee” for the West Bank — because no one is sure anymore what to do.
That is, the Left’s way — land for peace — was discredited by the collapse of Oslo. The Right’s way, permanent Israeli occupation of all “The Land of Israel,” was made impossible by Palestinian demographics and two uprisings. The third way, unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza, has been discredited by Hezbollah’s attack from Lebanon and the Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza.
“Israel is in a place it has never been before,” said Moshe Halbertal, a Hebrew University philosophy professor. “It does not have a picture of where to go and how, so people are looking for a fourth way.”
It is impossible to predict what that fourth way will be. But it is easy to identify the new realities it will have to take into account.
First is the fact that Yasir Arafat’s Fatah group, which has long dominated Palestinian life, is in disarray. Fatah will not disappear, but it will never again totally dominate the Palestinian Authority. Fatah will have to share power with Hamas, which has largely wiped out Fatah in Gaza already. Sooner or later, the U.S. and Israel are going to have to drop the economic sanctions they imposed on Palestinians to pressure Hamas into recognizing Israel. “As repulsive as [Hamas] is to me as an Israeli, I don’t think it’s coming to the Palestinian Authority just to pay a visit — it is here to stay,” said Israeli TV’s top Arab affairs reporter, Ehud Yaari.
Israel’s real choice is between dealing with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority or watching it collapse into little pieces, which Israel would have to pick up. (Think Iraq and Somalia.) West Bank and Gaza unemployment is now around 40 percent. Talking with Palestinians in Ramallah, the phrase I heard most was not “Israeli occupation” but “Palestinian disintegration.”
Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki told me that as bad as things are today, his polls show most Palestinians still don’t blame Hamas. They blame Israel and America for withholding funds from the Hamas government that Palestinians elected. The best way to diminish Hamas’s influence, or to moderate it, is by forcing it to assume responsibility. Ask it: “Do you want Palestinians to be able to work in Israel? Then sit down with Israel and work out the details.” We need to “force Hamas through a corridor of difficult decisions,” said Israeli strategist Gidi Grinstein. If America can talk to Iran, Israel can talk to Hamas.
Second, Hamas says it will only offer Israel a long-term cease-fire. Fine, take it. Fact No. 1: the real history of Israeli-Arab relations is: war, lull, war, lull, war, lull — from 1948 until today. Fact No. 2: “Since 1948,” said Mr. Yaari, “the Jews have always made better use of the lulls than the Arabs.” Israel doesn’t need Hamas’s recognition. It needs a long lull.
The third new reality is that Hamas’s shelling of Israel from Gaza means Israel can never hand over the West Bank to the Palestinians, without an international trustee — because from there Palestinians could close Israel’s airport with one rocket. Only Jordan, or an international force, can be that trustee.
Bottom line: I don’t know if there is a fourth way, but, if there is, it will have to include these new realities. Otherwise, this mess will get even bigger, deeper and taller.