For the last week I stayed out of range of the internet, newspapers, and television. It was a cleansing experience, but now I have re-engaged in the real world and one of the things that has leaped out at me is how little reality matters to those who develop a powerful emotional attachment to their own weltanschauung.
Even for those with normal levels of narcissism, the probability of falling into an over-investment in one's own ideas is ubiquitous. The maxim that "scientific paradigms change one death at a time" is a recognition that even those (scientists) who are expected to be most dispassionate about their beliefs are subject to the all too human failing of growing wedded to inaccurate or incorrect theories simply because they have invested so much time and energy into them that they are unable to countenance the possibility that they are in error. Those who have more than the usual quanta of narcissistic pathology are far more liable to embrace, and persist in their embrace of, nonsensical ideas than those who lack such a passionate attachment.
Politicians tend to come in two varieties, both exhibiting elements of enhanced narcissism. Most politicians are primarily opportunistic. Their narcissistic investment is in their own importance and power. When the polls go against them, they can rather easily jettison their political beliefs in favor of the more important gratification of being loved, adored, and re-elected. Other politicians are much more ideological and ideologues are prime examples of those who refuse to examine their own beliefs in the light of failure.
Barack Obama appears to have a narcissistic over-investment in his own particular ideas of how the world should operate and he shows little evidence just yet of allowing reality to impinge upon his beliefs. (I do not think he is especially ideological; I agree with the pundit, whose name escapes me, that Obama's liberalism is more of an attitude than a developed and principled ideology.) Obama's policies often appear to be primarily motivated by an animus toward George W. Bush rather than any profound or nuanced grasp of complex realities. If Bush did it, then Obama must be against it. On those occasions when Obama has continued or adopted Bush's policies, he takes pains to pretend that he is doing something different from what Bush had done and the press offers cover by omitting any mention of the inconvenient truth.
Nowhere is Obama's over-investment in his own ideas (or attitudes) more overt than in his approach to the Middle East. Come what may, he insists that his policy (what there is of one) toward Iran is appropriate and necessary. (This may actually reflect a dearth of ideas on the part of his foreign policy team but if so, that is even more dispiriting.) Barry Rubin, of the GLORIA Center, Global Research in International Affairs, offers a concise summary of our position viz a viz Iran:
Gerald Seib’s article in the Wall Street Journal is worth responding to because it does symbolize the curious mentality about Iran prevailing in American policymaking and opinion-making circles. The article is entitled, "Iran Collapse Complicates U.S. Moves."
On the contrary! I think it makes things much simpler and clearer.
But first a story told to me many years ago by famed radio host Barry Farber:
A reporter is dispatched to cover a high school basketball game but doesn’t file a story. As deadline approaches the editor irritably calls the journalist into his office and asks where is the story?
“There isn’t any story,” says the reporter.
“Why not?” asks the editor.
“There wasn’t any game,” the journalist replies.
“Why not?” asks the editor.
“The gym burned down.”
For those of you who are journalists with certain mass media outlets, I should explain the point of the anecdote: The gym burning down was the story.
Now back to Seib.
He explains there is an alleged irony in the fact that, “America's most vexing enemy is plagued by growing internal dissension, a vocal opposition movement that won't die and a crisis of legitimacy.”
What is it?
“The upheaval there actually is making the job of crafting an American strategy more difficult.”
Because, you see, it is harder to engage Iran when it is so busy with domestic matters and in disarray. I’ve heard this from others in Washington as well. And Seib gives us the likely Obama administration conclusion:
“And here's the most likely outcome: The U.S. will leave the door open to engagement with Iran, but won't be trying as hard as before to coax the Iranians into walking through it.”
Well, why are we even talking about this? It is time for a new view of Iran and U.S. policy. Memo to Obama: The situation has changed big-time.
Why engage a country where the most extreme of the extreme have seized power and anyone prepared to make compromises has been kicked out or put on trial (not that they were so moderate either)? There can be no illusion that while the president of Iran is a loudmouth the spiritual guide is a secret moderate.
Why engage a country which has ignored every effort to do so and has gone full speed ahead on nuclear weapons?
Why engage a regime which has just appointed a wanted terrorist involved in killing Americans as its defense minister, who will have control over nuclear weapons?
Why engage a country whose ambitions are clearly regional hegemony and is making gains in that direction precisely because of perceived U.S. weakness?
What the United States needs now is not an engagement policy or even a sanctions' plan (though that is a part of it) but a strategy to compete with Iran and its allies throughout the region and defeat their ambitions. (Just because George W. Bush thought that way does not mean it's wrong, a concept it is vital for the Obama administration to grasp.)
I’ve got news for you. There is a story: Iran burned down.
I took the liberty of reprinting most of Barry Rubin's article because it is so exquisitely on target. While I disagreed with the President's position that (greater) engagement with Iran was going to be anything more than a way for Iran to temporize and progress toward their goal of a nuclear capacity, his position was defensible. However, since the elections and the turmoil in Iran, with the thugs in charge showing for all the world to see their true nature, the justification for continuing to press for engagement is impossible to rationalize.
If Barack Obama still believes that he can bring about world peace simply by the force of his personality and his eloquence, he is dangerously foolish and naive. The alternatives, that he still does not have a coherent Iran policy or that he believes that empowering tyrants will moderate their behavior, are, if anything, worse.