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Obama in the Abstract

Spokesman for the ‘international community.’

Jun 6, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 36 • By TOD LINDBERG
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So maybe “it depends” on how hard you try to close Guantánamo, or to end the occupation. And maybe, in Obama’s view, Israel isn’t trying hard enough. I happen to think this is a classic case in which reasonable people might differ. Again, though, one gets the impression that for Obama, the only acceptable demonstration of sufficient effort would be the end of the Israeli occupation. An aspirational abstraction inherent in liberal internationalism​—​democratic states don’t occupy the territory of others​—​trumps all facts on the ground: History, politics, culture be damned.

But unlike Guantánamo, one of the things “it depends” on for Israel is the view of the political authority of the territory Israel is occupying. (Actually, that’s “authorities,” Fatah and Hamas both, which is another problem.) Can it really be the case that Palestinian political leaders, by holding out​—​indefinitely? permanently?​—​for demands Israel cannot meet (the “right of return” above all), can cause the American president and the weary “international community” for whom he presumes to speak to conclude that Israel, while still a Jewish state, is no longer a democratic one?

Maybe so. And it’s but a short step from there to a bigger problem of liberal internationalism arising from liberalism writ large. That’s the tendency to reject all particular and exclusive claims in favor of universal standards for judgment of right conduct​—​a tendency that also, by the way, constitutes liberalism’s greatest strength and most important contribution to the betterment of the human condition.

In this case, however, that short step can lead to the conclusion that “Jewish” is the real problem.

Tod Lindberg, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and editor of Policy Review, is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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