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Sunday Reads: Obama’s Unpopular Foreign Policy, Olmert’s Soap Opera, Leonard Cohen’s Curious Speech

by Shmuel Rosner

March 30, 2014 | 3:32 am

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert (C) leaves Jerusalem District court after hearing a mixed verdict in his trial July 10, 2012. REUTERS/Gali Tibbon/Pool

US

Ross Douthat believes that the unpopularity of Obama’s foreign policy is a matter of results, not ideology –

And from the vantage point of the typical voter, it’s the outcomes, not the strategy, that define the major difference between Obama’s first and second terms: The first seemed to produce decent results (Bin Laden killed, Al Qaeda harried, Qaddafi toppled, the Arab Spring in its “people power” phase, the unpopular occupation of Iraq wound down without an immediate disaster for the U.S.), while the second has featured more obvious fumbles by the administration and more crises (Syria, Ukraine, the bloody aftermath in Libya, the post-revolutionary crackdowns in Egypt) where its approach has not reaped ideal results.

According to Michael Cohen, President Obama’s reluctance to get more involved in the Ukraine comes from a sane and legitimate strategy, not out of weakness –

The pressure to respond to every crisis – to assert US “leadership” in practically every corner of the world and preserve “credibility” – is often born more out of political than strategic necessity. Still, the pressures are real, and they come not only from domestic audiences but also international ones. For five years, President Obama has often struggled in finding the right mix between leading from behind and leaning in.

Yesterday, however, in calling for the US and Europe to uphold the instrumentals of global peace and security, while eschewing provocative steps or inflammatory rhetoric, Obama came pretty close to finding that foreign policy sweet spot.

Israel

Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy contrasts Israel’s respectfully silent attitude towards President Putin with its less respectful and less silent attitude towards President Obama –

The US president must envy his Russian rival for the respect he receives in Israel as opposed to the daily dose of scorn and alienation served to our "ally" time and again. As the public has no knowledge about the reason for the echoing silence in Israel over Russian's policy in the region as opposed to the frequent criticism directed at the US, we should only hope that the people up there know some things that we don't. I have my doubts.

Ben Caspit examines Ehud Olmert’s dramatic soap opera of a trial –

Will a former prime minister be arrested and brought in for police questioning for the first time in Israel’s history? Is there a chance that for the first time in the annals of the state a former prime minister will be sentenced to a prison term? These questions are emerging after the latest twist in Ehud Olmert’s endless criminal prosecutions. Along with them, another fundamental question arises: Is Israel a corrupt state?

Middle East

Aryn Baker writes about Egypt’s Christian population’s support for General Sisi –

That kind of thinking may preserve Christian interests in the short term, but it risks putting them on the wrong side of history, says Michael Wahid Hanna, an analyst at the New York-based Century Foundation, a foreign policy think tank. “Christians in the region are forced into these Faustian bargains, in which they end up supporting authoritarian regimes for fear of what the alternative would look like,” says Hanna. “But the price is that it can aggravate underlying sectarian tensions and create further animosities and bigotry.” That leaves them even more vulnerable, and thus more likely to defend the strongmen who abhor democratic change. The Egyptian Christian leadership’s long history of accommodation with dictators is testament to this dangerous tendency.

Mustafa Akyol doesn’t have high hopes about today’s elections in Turkey –

In the past, there have been elections in Turkey that took the country out of a political crisis and initiated a brighter era. This Sunday’s elections, however, do not seem to have such potential. Quite the contrary, they could initiate an even darker era in Turkish political history.

Jewish World

Liel Leibovitz reconstructs an interesting 1964 speech given by Leonard Cohen to a crowd of Jews in Montreal –

Speaking to his fellow Montreal Jews, Leonard Cohen declared it his intention to tell the story as best as he could, not in pretty poems but in some other, new, unknown and throbbing way. To do it properly, he noted, he would have to go into exile. He would also have to stay stoic as his fellow Jews labeled him a traitor for daring to think up other possibilities for spiritual life—possibilities, like love and sex and drugs and song, for which there was little room in the synagogue. He was ready.  

Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore takes a look at Chinese attitudes towards Jews –

“Do the Jews Really Control America?” asked one Chinese newsweekly headline in 2009. The factoids doled out in such articles and in books about Jews in China—for example: “The world’s wealth is in Americans’ pockets; Americans are in Jews’ pockets”—would rightly be seen to be alarming in other contexts. But in China, where Jews are widely perceived as clever and accomplished, they are meant as compliments. Scan the shelves in any bookstore in China and you are likely to find best-selling self-help books based on Jewish knowledge. Most focus on how to make cash. Titles range from 101 Money Earning Secrets From Jews’ Notebooks to Learn To Make Money With the Jews.

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