Friday, January 30, 2009

It's Not Only Journalists and Pundits...

It's even the President of the United States who could benefit from a bit of cramming.

Amir Taheri looks into Obama's comment about how things were better between the US and the Arab world 20 or 30 years ago. This was of course a peculiar statement, and Taheri fleshes out how so.

It is far too early days to know what the Obama administration will or won't succeed at, in the Middle East or anywhere else. So far they're engaging in cheap and painless gestures and symbolism, and there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that: symbols sometimes can effect reality, especially when they nudge reality in a direction that already had potential. Nor is there anything intrinsically right with it, either: sometimes reality is immune to symbols, especially when they try to nudge reality in directions with no potential. The tricky thing is to get it right, to chose only the symbols that will be beneficial, and none that will have adverse effects.

How do you know the former from the latter? Two ways. The first, rather reliable though not foolproof, is to have the benefit of hindsight. Alas, that's not a good method for people who have to make decisions in the present. The second method to tell useful symbols from neutral ones from destructive ones, is to know a lot about the situation you're trying to impact. According to all reports Obama is an unusually intelligent man, widely read. The fact that his first pronouncement on the recent history of the Middle East could have been refuted with ease by anyone who's been reading newspapers and remembering their content for the period he's pronouncing on, is mildly worrisome.


Anonymous said...

According to all reports Obama is an unusually
intelligent man, widely read.

that's what they all agree on and when ALL are in agreement I get distrustful and start thinking about whom I consider to be unusually intelligent on my own without being constantly prodded and realize that those all have in common that they are telling me something I have not been thinking or perceiving on my own or which I couldn't put in one clear sentence.
(I perceive a lot of other qualities and potential in Obama but find the continuous praising of his intellectual etc. qualities quite patronizing - if I were black I would bristle because I also bristle whenever somebody is amazed by an athlete or an actor or a non-academic being intelligent - but if ALL are of the same opinion and find it correct to continually affirming it than of course it must be true and I must be wrong ...)

Therefore, hoping to be able to agree to the general view, I am listening to his weekly radio addresses and to his famous 2004 Democratic Convention speech which is published by the podcast "great speeches in history" where I have listened by now to a lot of other truly impressive speeches, speeches which have awed me by being skillful or frightening or great - by comparison I found the Obama-DNC-speech quite simple - I must be missing something


Anonymous said...


Taheri fleshes out the BEST LINE about Obama calling himself a bridge.

I'll repeat it here, because it is so memorable.


Obama's start, so far, is not record breaking. HOWEVER, he is not depending on the media to help him get across whatever it is his plans are.

Yesterday, after following the story on Ergodan a bit, I read that "we shall see." Because DURBIN II comes up in April. Will Obama have the guts to cut his ties to it?


Then, we'd all be a bit luckier, here.

rashkov said...

How about the role of propaganda? I am young and quite confused about the pursuit of historical truth. Your work has been very reassuring, but then there are things which call into question the collective Israeli understanding of historical fact:

adam d. said...


I think it's best to not to draw conclusions about public opinion from studies that predictably describe a world in which the academic is all knowing the the public is made up of impressionable children.

People's expressed opinions often reflect their perceived interests, not their assessment of the objective truth. Even academics are guilty of that!

That means you have no idea how rich or complex people's understanding of the history is unless you know them personally.

I'm not in any way a historian so for all I know I'm expressing a truism that every first year student knows. My risk.

Try this question. If most Israelis consider the Jewish population of the region largely in the right and the Arab population largely in the wrong, why are they consistently willing to seek a deal?

You may find, in considering that question, that people make allowances for complexity and doubt in their actual political behavior that don't show up in surveys designed to make them look stupid.

Gavin said...

I'd agree with Adam.d. I've been reading some of Efraim Karsh's articles and one in particular has some disturbing revelations about the world of academia. Karsh is highly critical of the new historians & that stance has seen him ostracised by major universities around the west.

It's worth a read for anyone interested, of particular note is the way he was treated by academia over his book Empires of the Sand:; Few even read the book but still lambasted Karsh over it.

Gavin said...

I'll add another comment for Rashov, after reading the article he linked to.

The author of that article is typical of the liberal left academic. He alone knows the real truth of Israel's history, everyone else has been duped or is stupid. His arrogance is quite staggering.

A good example of intellectual dishonesty from academia is in that article. He stated that the Jews got 55% of the territory and the Arabs 44% from the UN partition plan. He implies that as a justification for the Palestinian rejection of the UN plan. He deliberately neglects to mention that the Jewish share included the Negev desert which made up about 40% of their 55%. The real facts are that the Arabs were given the lions share of the good land by the UN.

The 55% argument is used a lot by the anti-Israel mob, it is a gross distortion & cynical misuse of statistics. Unfortunately that practice is all too common.