The Plank

A Unified Theory Of Obama


Reading President Obama's interview with Newsweek, this passage struck me as crucial:

[W]e want to offer Iran an opportunity to align itself with international
norms and international rules. I think, ultimately, that will be better
for the Iranian people. I think that there is the ability of an Islamic
Republic of Iran to maintain its Islamic character while, at the same
time, being a member in good standing of the international community
and not a threat to its neighbors. And we are going to reach out to
them and try to shift off of a pattern over the last 30 years that
hasn't produced results in the region.

Now, will it work? We don't know. And I assure you, I'm not naive about
the difficulties of a process like this. If it doesn't work, the fact
that we have tried will strengthen our position in mobilizing the
international community, and Iran will have isolated itself, as opposed
to a perception that it seeks to advance that somehow it's being
victimized by a U.S. government that doesn't respect Iran's sovereignty.

This is, first of all, a persuasive defense of Obama's diplomatic approach. By negotiating, we demonstrate our goodwill, and if it fails the onus of intrasigence is shifted onto our adversery. Indeed, diplomatic failure can become a kind of success, allowing us to rally neutral countries to our side.

Second, this also perfectly describes Obama's approach to the Republican Party. He repeatedly demonstrates his goodwill and willingness to negotiate, and if and when Republicans refuse, they pay a heavy penalty in the court of public opinion. Obama's approach to international relations turns out to be identical to his approach to domestic politics. I think we've got a unified theory of Obama.

--Jonathan Chait


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