Monday, September 29, 2014


Thugs strangling a traveler, early 19th century. Via Wikipedia.
You might not think it, but I do get embarrassed sometimes at how little I have to say that's critical about President Obama. It's partly because I'm so continually appalled at the attacks on him and their overtly racist character; as Melissa Harris-Perry was suggesting a few weeks ago, his presidency is in a lot of ways more important than he is himself. And then I'm not seeing a lot of practicable alternatives to his management, in the current situation in the United States, with a paralyzed legislature and a poisoned Supreme Court and a rotten and poorly informed political press and a rogue intelligence community that, I'm convinced, defies him; Obama is so much the least objectionable part of our establishment, and we ought to be trying to strengthen his hand against the rest of it.

Intellectually, though, he can be pretty ordinary or unimaginative (who can't?), and this bit of analysis from Professor Cole on the situation in Iraq and Syria struck me as kind of important:

At one point in the interview, Obama lays out what he thinks the underlying problems are:
“They have now created an environment in which young men are more concerned whether they’re Shiite or Sunni, rather than whether they are getting a good education or whether they are able to, you know, have a good job. Many of them are poor. Many of them are illiterate and are therefore more subject to these kinds of ideological appeals. And, you know, the beginning of the solution for the entire Middle East is going to be a transformation in how these countries teach their youth. What our military operations can do is to just check and roll back these networks as they appear and make sure that the time and space is provided for a new way of doing things to begin to take root.”
This point of view is just old-fashioned modernization theory, and I think it puts the cart before the horse. It depicts Iraqi and Syrian youth as putting sectarian considerations before ones of rational economic well-being. I don’t believe this is an accurate characterization of what has happened. That Obama sees these Arab young men as merely acting irrationally, and that he doesn’t seem to understand the profound crisis of joblessness behind the turmoil, helps explain why ISIL surprised him and his intelligence officials.
Obama seems guilty of some old-fashioned Orientalism here.

If he really believes (as I'm afraid Clinton did in his views on the South Slavic states) in illiterate young people giving in to "ancient hatreds" as the problem in the Middle East, he needs to stop reading Friedman and start reading Cole. The biggest problem in Iraq and Syria is the economic destruction together with the surfeit of armaments, both wrought by the 2003 invasion.

Cross-posted at Booman Tribune.

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