The passage of Obamacare confirms Fouad Ajami's characterization of President Obama as America's first "cosmopolitian" president — i.e., the first to see the European model of governance by centralized bureaucracies as a model for emulation. Obamacare marks a transformative moment in the relationship of Americans to their government. It will vastly expand the federal bureaucracy and limit the freedom of choice of every "private" actor in the health care system — patients, doctors, and insurers.
America has embarked on the European path of economic stagnation and declining influence. Since 1945, Europe has depended on America to defend it, while spending ever smaller percentages of its GNP on defense. The huge budget deficits resulting from Obamacare will push America in the same direction.
The nearest American model to Obamacare, the Massachusetts health care plan, has plunged the state into near bankruptcy, and led to the election of the first Republican senator in nearly forty years. People and jobs are fleeing big government, bankrupt California and flocking to small government Texas.
Yet despite these cautionary tales, the Democratic-controlled Congress pushed ahead with Obamacare. Why? Because no matter how much crummier health care becomes for most Americans, no matter how much higher the taxes on the middle class, no matter how much larger the federal bureaucracy overseeing health care, no matter how great the shortage of doctors, as the profession becomes ever less attractive, and no matter how great the drag on the American economy of skyrocketing deficits — medical care will at least be equally crummy for everyone.
The Democrats pushed forward with the most ambitious possible revamp of one-sixth of the American economy, rather than opt for incremental steps aimed at specific aspects of the health care delivery system — e.g., the uninsured, spiraling costs — not despite the increase in the size of government entailed but because of it.
Every major government entitlement program has ended up costing many times more than initially projected, and the cost projections of the proponent's of Obamacare do not meet even minimal levels of credibility. In the first decade, they are skewed by the fact that four years of taxes will be collected before the major new benefits begin to bite. And the projected costs are predicated on half a billion dollars of annual cuts in Medicare. Those cuts will either be quickly rescinded, or a large group of angry seniors will find out that they can no longer find doctors willing to treat them.
World War II cost Britain its empire, and the huge budget deficits wracked up by Obamacare will likely force America to abandon its role as global policeman. That may be fine with Obama, whose bowing and scraping before despots reflects a profound unease with Pax Americana. Yet an American withdrawal will not leave a kinder, gentler world. A nuclear Iran will inspire many imitators and the retreat of the Great Satan will only whet the appetite of radical Islam. From these threats, the United Nations will not protect us.
PRESIDENT OBAMA'S COSMOPOLITANISM is only one component of predicting what is next on his agenda. At least as important is his exalted view of his historical role. Not by accident did his 2008 campaign have the air of a religious revival about it. He presented himself to the American public as a savior who would heal not only the body politic, but private woes as well. Michelle Obama promised that her husband would not allow Americans to return to their self-contained, private worlds, but would make demands upon them. She might have been describing one who aspired to the position of Dear Leader, not president of the United States. The blurring of private and public spheres is characteristic of totalitarian, not democratic, states.
Never have we had a president whose speech is so self-referential. In his message on the twentieth anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall to the German people, whom he dissed by not showing up in person, the President could not help reflecting on the amazing fact that a black man is now the president of the United States, as if that were the true significance of the fall of the Berlin Wall. No other candidate could have referred, without a touch of irony, to his nomination as "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."
Black intellectual Shelby Steele, the most astute analyst of racial attitudes in America, noted the connection between Obama's historical circumstances and his quest for a transformative role, in a March 31 Wall Street Journal piece, "Barack The Good": "[S]uppose you were the first black head-of-state in the entire history of Western Civilization. You represent a human first, something entire new under the sun. There aren't even any myths that speak directly to your circumstance, no allegorical tales of black kings who ruled over white kingdoms.
"[Y]ou may literally experience yourself as a myth in the making. After all, you embody a heretofore unimaginable transcendence over the old human plagues of tribalism, hatred and ignorance. Standing on ground that no man has stood on before, wouldn't it be understandable if your felt pressured by the grandiosity of your circumstance? Isn't there a special – and impossible – burden on 'the first' to do something that lives up to his historical originality?"
Obama's historical significance, Steele concludes, "almost demands a kind of political narcissism."
What new initiative could satisfy the President's vaulting ambition to do what no mere mortal predecessor has been able to achieve? Cap-and-trade, which would create another massive new federal bureaucracy, and affect every aspect of the economy, would fit the bill. And President Obama did express an intention to move forward on cap-and-trade. But I suspect that even he knows that cap-and-trade is a dead letter for the time being. He may have persuaded enough congressmen to join hands with him in committing political suicide to pass Obamacare, but suicide, by definition, is a one-time affair.
The next initiative will be in the foreign policy arena, where no messy negotiations with Congress are necessary. The goal will be to deliver on the promise of a Palestinian state. That conclusion is no longer in the realm of the speculative. Last week, both the Washington Post and the New York Times carried detailed stories that the Obama administration is "seriously considering" presenting its own peace plan to resolve the Palestinian conflict. The parameters of that plan, according to senior U.S. officials (almost certainly National Security advisor Gen. James Jones), would be 90% based on the furthest reaching offers made by former Prime Minister Olmert -- even though those proposals were far beyond any Israeli consensus and rejected by the Palestinians -- plus further Israeli concessions.
The basic outlines of an American proposal were developed at a March 24 White House gathering of six former national security advisors convened by Jones. (Only the two national security advisors to President George W. Bush were absent.) The lead role was taken by Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, two long-standing critics of Israel. Brzezinski has publicly called for the United States to shoot down Israeli planes if Israel seeks to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. He is also the leading academic supporter of the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis that American foreign policy has long been thrall to an Israel lobby. During the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama explicitly stated that Brzezinski was not an advisor to the campaign on Middle East affairs and that he did not share Brzezinski's views about Israel.
Gen. Jones has long supported an imposed solution. Already last May, he conveyed to a senior European official that "an endgame solution" would be formulated by the U.S., EU, and moderate Arab states, with Israel and the Palestinians relegated to the role of bystanders. He happily allowed that Israel would "not be thrown under the bus.
The concept of an imposed solution is predicated on the assumption that there is a solution to the conflict that is obvious to all "rational" men: Israel's return to its 1967 borders with minor adjustments. That is false. For one thing, no Palestinian leader can or will renounce the Palestinian right of return, the sole concession likely to be demanded from the Palestinians.
From the Israeli point of view, any peace other than that of the graveyard, would minimally require the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, ensure Israel's ability to prevent the West Bank from becoming another Gaza Strip, within kilometers of its only major international airport and major population centers, and recognize that no Israeli government can uproot half a million Jews from homes built beyond the 1949 armistice lines. Few Israelis would trust the likes of Brzezinksi, Scowcroft, and Robert Malley, another Obama advisor temporarily jettisoned during the campaign, to address these concerns.
Former Bush II national security official Elliot Abrams lists in an April 7 Weekly Standard piece a series of issues about which all rational men have not agreed: "Is it agreed that Israel will control the air space and electromagnetic spectrum? Is it agreed that Israel can keep troops in the West Bank for some years? Do the Palestinians accept that Israel can control the Jordan Valley and patrol the border with Jordan?" He might have added: Is it agreed that the Palestinian state will be demilitarized, as Prime Minister Netanyahu demands?
The whole idea of creating a Palestinian state by fiat puts the horse before the cart, for it ignores the primary and fundamental issue of the Palestinians commitment to live in peace with Israel. At present, the Palestinians refuse to even negotiate directly with Israel, thereby returning the so-called "peace process" to pre-Oslo days. If they can't talk to Jews, can anyone believe they intend to live peacefully with them? The 17-year-old Palestinian promise to stop incitement against Jews and Israel in the Palestinian media and textbooks still remains unfulfilled to even the most minimal extent. And another generation of Palestinian children has been raised on a cult of martyrdom and the promise of Israel's destruction.
Vice President Joe Biden says that it is hard for the Palestinians to stop incitement, even in the Palestinian Authority-controlled media and school system, just as it is hard for Israel to stop building in Jerusalem. Like most of the Vice President's statements, that one will not bear scrutiny. Israel never undertook not to build beyond the 1949 armistice lines in Jerusalem; the Palestinians undertook at the outset of Oslo to stop incitement. And if keeping that promise is hard for the Palestinian leadership, that is only because the Palestinian street is not ready for peace and has never been prepared for it by its leadership.
Peace for Israel has from the outset been far less important for President Obama than a state for the Palestinians. The latter has been the main desideratum of American foreign policy, and the key to its outreach to the Moslem world. From the outset, the Obama administration has made resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict its most important foreign policy objective - far more important, for instance, than preventing Iran from going nuclear, to which end it has done nothing. (Caroline Glick speculates that the Obama administration was so eager to pick a fight with Israel over the announcement of plans to eventually build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo in part to divert attention from the total failure of its Iran policy.)
For the Obama administration, pressure on Israel to accept an American diktat is win-win. Even if the president fails to deliver a Palestinian state, the administration's evident hostility creates "the space" Obama told Jewish leaders last July he seeks between the United States and Israel. The realist prescriptions of Walt/Mearsheimer/Brzezinski, according to which Israel harms American interests, become more dominant in the adminstration's thinking by the day, most notoriously in the hints by a series of administration officials that Israel's actions are endangering American troops. The realist approach brings the cosmopolitan president in sync with Europe, for which Israel has long constituted a nuisance.
Israel and her supporters are finally awakening to the fact that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are not, as they say, "that into" Israel. Martin Peretz, who actively campaigned for Obama, now admits that "he doesn't particularly like Israel." Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, describes him as "vindictive and ideological" towards Israel.
Clinton, channeling Obama, deliberately sought to make a cause célèbre out of the 1,600 units by pronouncing it "an insult to America." Interestingly, when Syria's Assad and Iran's Ahmadinejad met the day after the United States announced the resumption of diplomatic relations with Syria to blow contemptuous raspberries at the United States, she detected no insult worth mentioning. And she managed to maintain her icy smile when Russian President Putin called an impromptu press conference to unbraid her in front of reporters with a list of American misdeeds going back to the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment.
Nor has the nastiness been merely a matter of tone. On the substantive ledger, Israel's quantitative military edge has been allowed to wither: According to the Jewish Instititute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), every Israeli request for upgraded weapons systems since Obama took office has been denied, while the Arab states, most notably Egypt, have been provided with numerous advanced systems on par with Israel's. More recently, bunker busters necessary for any Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities were diverted. Last week, Maariv reported that the United States has denied visas to anyone working at the Dimona reactor and is refusing to supply any parts that can be used at the reactor.
Virtually the only foreign policy agreement the current administration has succeeded in securing was a March statement by the Quartet condemning Israeli building in Jerusalem. (A treaty with Russia to reduce nuclear arsenals, as French President Sarkozy dismissively pointed out to Obama, is profoundly unserious while rogue states like Iran and North Korea edge ever closer to going fully nuclear.)
The only question, writes historian Ron Radosh, is: What took Israel's supporters so long to wake up to the discovery of the president's animus? After all, we are talking about someone who felt comfortable sitting for twenty years in the pews of a church in which Jeremiah Wright poured out anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli invective and in which Louis Farrakhan was an honored figure; someone who has filled many of the top foreign policy positions in his administration with figures with long track records of hostility to Israel.
When Rashid Khalid, a former PLO spokesman, left the University of Chicago for Columbia, Obama said at his farewell party that if he ever attained high office, he would seek to redress past American foreign policy towards the Palestinians. Let's pray that he is less successful in his next grand project than in the last.