Precht: Hopes fading or merely on pause?

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Some of us voted for Obama because (1.) we feared the nebulous promises of Romney and the malign influence of no-nothing Tea Partiers and (2.) we hoped that a second term, lame duck president would be less likely to compromise the liberal values we hoped he harbored.

That first fear can be dismissed although the movement lives on among Republicans in Congress. They seem still determined to block any sensible motion by the president as they did during his first four years. Fanatics in this country are no less destructive in their (metaphorically) suicidal impulses than their counterparts in the Middle East.

Our pre-election desperate hopes concern us most now: Will Obama, the Prophet of Liberalism, remain true to his faith and followers or will he again offer up the mush of compromise that any self-respecting Old Testament prophet would deride as a betrayal of belief?

He started off well. In his first press conference he plainly, adamantly promised that tax rates would rise for the rich — a mandate from his election, he said. Then, as he was stepping away from the rostrum we smelled deal making coming from the policy kitchen. Soon, more pungently, we sniffed in the press that, well, you know, maybe reducing deductions will achieve the same purpose as higher rates.

Next, the president’s unfriendly “ally” and not-so-covert backer of his electoral opponent, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu laid siege to Gaza. The president’s response sounded as if he were still trying to win votes in Florida: “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Obviously, no person of whatever persuasion would deny that elemental right. He left it standing alone, however. The second, essential and obvious clause in that assertion remained unspoken: “Gazans have the right to resist a relentlessly cruel blockade.” Both sides, be it noted, are in violation of international law.

It is the forthright man giving voice to the second clause that some loyal voters hoped to see make an appearance. Balance — as in the distant days when the United States was the “honest broker” for the Arab-Israel strife — was all we wanted. A fair approach so as to give Washington leverage in working for a durable peace settlement. Practical steps that follow a policy that reflects our traditional values — that is all the faithful seek.

What we got instead wasn’t all bad: a cease-fire that may still be in effect when you read these words. And only about 10 times the number of Palestinian killed as Israelis — compared to 100 times as many in the last, but longer, dust-up. The end of bombing and rockets was possible because the president of Egypt (not America) stepped in to use his influence with both sides, a deal that saw Israel negotiating, albeit indirectly, with its “terrorist” enemy Hamas.

Yes, I know. Secretary Clinton flew in to add her bit in the final act. Always welcome. But necessary? Perhaps just another entry on the CV of a politician with aspirations for four years hence?

A bigger test may come before too many months have passed. Should Netanyahu press to have American forces help him in an unnecessary war against Iran, will Obama stand firm with principled backbone to protect American and the world’s human and economic interests and deny the Israeli leader?

Reflecting on these events, it seems to me that we are not just dealing with a question of liberalism vs. conservatism. It is a question about leadership. It’s about not trying to get our way by force or threats, but through persuasion and respect. That’s the country that made us proud in the past. We hope to see it restored.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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