Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | March 25, 2013

Observations on Obama’s trip to Israel: Feelings (Part 2)

Part 1 is here.

The second observation relates to Obama’s statement with Netanyahu on his arrival in Israel.  A correspondent of mine pointed out the number of times Obama spoke of how Israelis “feel” about their security, as if the objective is to provide a feeling for Israelis on that head.  It is an interesting rhetorical choice in more ways than one; an obvious concern is that Obama posits a theoretical situation in which Israelis could be, objectively, secure, and yet not feel themselves to be so.

Constructing such a theoretical situation for argument’s sake has, of course, problematic implications.  Do we make policy to ensure Israel is actually secure, or is our policy oriented toward what will make Israelis feel secure?  Why is there an apparent premise that the two things may be different?  Statesmen normally talk to allies about being secure, not about feeling secure; it is assumed that the latter is subjective and unquantifiable, and cannot be guaranteed.  The former, by contrast, can be judged objectively and agreed on, given a state of geopolitics and technology.

This point reminded me of Obama’s commemorative address on Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2009, when he urged the learning of “empathy” as a preventive against holocausts, using the examples of sympathizers who had saved individual Jews from the death camps.  I pointed out at the time that the Holocaust of the Jews was ended only through force of arms, with the “regime-change” of Germany.  Like other genocides, the Holocaust was mounted using the armed force of the state; the only successful weapon against it was armed force.

But it couldn’t be just any armed force.  It had to be the armed force of liberal nations with consensual polities, which finally decided to stop Hitler’s advances through Europe – and with him the process of the Holocaust.  It had to be armed force used reluctantly by governments with compunction, accountable to their people.  Indeed, the political environment that fostered these conditions is itself the practical antidote to sociopolitical diseases like anti-Semitism.  Feelings are not the “way ahead” on matters like enforcing human dignity or maintaining national security – not even good feelings.

Rather, there must be careful, accountable governments and objectively verifiable freedoms honored by governments for the people.  There can be no guarantee that everyone will “feel secure” (or be empathized with).  But it is much more possible to guarantee, in an accountable way, that all of the relevant factors in national security will be discussed freely by those whose opinions differ.  It can be guaranteed that votes will have meaning, that opposition will not be silenced, that vilification of each other by opponents will not undermine policy outcomes, that baseless allegations will not be used as a basis for government policy.  It is possible to guarantee that those who fail to satisfy the people on these points can be removed from office.

Hitler was able to do what he did because these all-important factors were lacking.  He didn’t succeed in killing six million Jews in the Holocaust because of a dearth of empathy in Europe.  He succeeded because of a dearth of checks on the scope and power of his government.

Obama speaks with the demagogue’s touch, emphasizing feelings and leaving objective factors out of his narratives.  Feelings, however, can be deceiving.  Plenty of Europeans felt secure after Chamberlain returned from Munich proclaiming “peace in our time.”

Fortunately, Israel has everything she needs to adopt a more verifiably objective stance on national security, from consensual parliamentary government to freedom of speech and press, civilian control of the military, superb national intelligence, an educated populace, technological dynamism, and an active, creative diplomacy.

The traditional – correct – way for Obama to acknowledge this would have been to speak to Israelis in terms of ensuring their security, rather than referring to their “feelings” about it.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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  1. […] Part 2 is here. […]

  2. “Do we make policy to ensure Israel is actually secure, or is our policy oriented toward what will make Israelis feel secure? Why is there an apparent premise that the two things may be different? “

    The ‘feeling’ rhetoric that Obama has engaged in is NOT directed at Israelis. It is directed at the 2014 American Jewish vote. He is making the argument that Israel is more secure than it supposes, that he is a steadfast ally of Israel and, that hard line Israeli’s are too close to the problem to realize that a solution is at hand, if they can only discard their preconceptions.

    Obama could actually care less about how secure Israel is or feels. That Obama posits a theoretical situation in which Israelis could be, objectively, secure, and yet not feel themselves to be so…is only secondarily important in that it might persuade Israel to make some further concession(s). His real aim in positing that theoretical situation… is to reassure the American Jewish vote that while he’s objective enough to be sympathetic to the “legitimate aspirations” of the Palestinian people, he remains Israel’s friend. This is a dog and pony show for the American Jewish voter, not for Israeli’s.

    Obama’s trip to Israel is all about maintaining the democrat’s hold on the 2014 American Jewish vote.

    • Didn’t Obama win the Jewish vote? Of course, he did so by saying without equivocation that Jerusalem is the capital of israel and must remain undivided.

      His current statements in support of Israel are not outside of his election platform. The real question is his commitment to the truth of his sayings.

      • Yes, he did win the 2012 Jewish vote. It is the 2014 Jewish vote of which he is now concerned. Obama and his compliant democrats must regain the House in 2014 in order for him to advance his agenda and avoid becoming a lame duck President.

        Obama is a congenital liar, he has no commitment whatsoever to his assertions of sympathy toward Israel. It’s smoke and mirrors to retain the American Jewish vote, while he pursues his agenda.

    • You have a good point, GB, about Obama’s “feelings” rhetoric. In a formal situation, he can always properly be held accountable for the audience he was officially speaking to — but, of course, he’s in campaign mode on a tarmac in Israel as much as he is anywhere else. And as I said in Para 1, this trip was about the 2014 election.

      Shifting our idea of who the audience was doesn’t ultimately change the inapplicability of the Feelings approach, of course. In the absence of another, more forthright, statesman-like, and credible president, it’s Obama’s pronouncements that have to be subjected to the security-logic test.

      • Obama’s pronouncements utterly fail the security-logic test. Unfortunately, the people most in need of realizing that are also the ones most enthralled with him as their savoir.

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