Thoughts — 25 September 2012

During our trip to Germany last month, our now 5 year old Jeremy wasn’t eating all that much and wasn’t pooping either. Finally, he cried out “Mommy, give me a carrot now. I want fruits and vegetables – I need to poop.” A day later he reported “Good News, I finally pooped.”

Recently he went out with our new nanny who had forgotten where the fish market was. He purposely sent her to the butcher where she was shocked to find that they didn’t sell fish. Then he told her that he knew he had sent her to the wrong store on purpose, because he didn’t want to eat fish. Not even if it were fried with crunchies.

We had a lovely summer holiday in Germany for 2 weeks, visiting Baden Baden and the Black Forest, the city of Berlin, and the southern region of Bavaria straddling Austria with its castles and Alps. You can read about it in the accompanying posting Travel Notes – Germany.

At the start of this school year we enjoyed that moment of exhilaration when we put both kids on the school bus and walked away and said “We’re Free!” It wasn’t exactly sleep away camp, but it was a start. I said to Karen, so now what do you want to do? She said she wanted to go to the butcher. I answered “Is that the best you can come up with?”

Unless Romney can come up with a game changer during the debates to either convince people why it would be worthwhile to change presidents or Obama makes a major mistake, I expect Obama to win re-election. Seven weeks before elections Obama leads in every swing state except for North Carolina. Even on the economy, Americans are not being convinced by Romney or the Republicans that he will do better than what the Republicans did 4 years ago, which was to almost throw the country into a depression based on their economic theories. One taxi driver in Houston asked me rhetorically if the country was that stupid to have such a short memory and evidently they don’t. The country doesn’t really buy into these ideas, and the Republicans have made themselves and Romney into extremists quite by themselves without having Obama and the Democrats do it for them. I think that Romney’s image was shaped by Republicans earlier this year and that he has failed to make himself electable. The Republicans will have to come to the center in another 4 years if they want to have a chance again at the White House. The Tea Party needs to become history, and I think that the country is not ready to elect a Mormon as President, at least not this one who still comes off as an enigma, because he did not clearly define himself as a person and as a potential leader of his own mind. People just don’t know who he is and whether or not they can trust him. Obama has basically acted responsibly over the past 4 years and people feel that they know him. I am not saying that people will be voting enthusiastically for Obama but I expect him to win. This has to be an important matter to consider if you are Bibi Netanyahu trying to decide how to play this election toward his country’s ends.

All things considered, I think the Israelis have received a strong message from the US and the UK – if you want to make a war against Iran before the election, you’re on your own and you will be responsible for creating a lot of trouble at a time when we don’t want it. I assume that Netanyahu wants a firm commitment from Obama over what he might do and that Obama doesn’t want to give one and most analysts feel that Obama is correct in not boxing himself in especially since Netanyahu has not publicly announced any red lines of his own. Fair enough – the Israelis would be taking a huge risk of alienating the US if it decides on its own to go against Iran in the run-up to an election and be seen as doing something that affects the election. You would have the perverse result of the Israelis striking Iran and being blamed for causing trouble, and the result would be only that it would set them back a few years. The world would sit back and declare the problem solved, and Iran would double down its efforts. A lot could go wrong here and it could become a very messy situation and it will completely hijack the world’s agenda fora period of weeks or months as there will be fallout from this – it will not be a 3 day affair. If I were the Israelis, I would wait until after the election, but then if Obama would not give them a firm commitment, I would think they could safely go ahead. Obama will be forced to support this action whether or not it takes place before or after an election, but if they attack now everyone will say they could have waited another month and not “played politics.” But Israel really does need a higher level of support in the world than it appears to have now because the attack will not be the end of things but rather a new beginning and the follow-up will matter– right now it looks like it is trying to blackmail the US at an inopportune time. It looks like it is sacrificing long term considerations for short term opportunity. I do think there will be ample opportunity to deal with this after the election, and I do think that the Israelis will be dealing with Obama. Based on what we now know – how many times Obama stepped away from opportunities to kill Bin Laden until he finally went along with one – I can understand why Netanyahu is frustrated with Obama and thinks he is “bloodless” in the words of Aaron Miller on CNN this month (Miller was a career consultant to the White House on the Middle East). But actually I think that it will be better for the Israelis to deal with Iran with Obama in the White House – Obama will be better than Romney at keeping the rest of the region from boiling over while Romney will be a more inviting target for retaliation against the US. All in all, the Americans will have more plausible deniability under Obama and the Arab world needs for the US to have that deniability in place when it gangs up with the US and Israel to put Iran in its place. To put things another way – Menachem Begin’s doctrine was that Israel would not tolerate a nuclear neighbor. David Ben Gurion’s doctrine was that Israel needed the support of at least one major power in order to undertake a military campaign. Right now it is caught between the two.

In Syria, Assad should have been gone by now. The #1 reason he is still there is that the opposition to him is so divided that the western powers just don’t know who to back and what to make of these people, many of whom they don’t like. In the rest of the Arab world, the events of the past month basically tell me that it is going to be two steps forward one step back but that in the long run hopefully it will be a good thing that these changes are taking place. I don’t think that the region will become an Islamic fundamentalist caliphate. I think if anything these events show the frustrations of the Islamist militant factions within their countries, that things are not going the way they hope. Behind a lot of this is also Iran stirring the pot. You want to bring down the temperature in these countries, deal with Iran. I’ve said that now for several years and nothing I’ve seen in the past year changes that.

Egypt is going to be a real problem if Morsi and Obama can’t figure out this week if they get along. Israel’s border with Egypt is becoming its worst border and so far despite the hype over what the Egyptian army is doing in the Sinai, it is accomplishing very little.

This month I visited Glenmere Mansion, just over an hour’s drive from Manhattan. It is a very nice retreat. A restored Italian palazzo, it has a nice restaurant, spa and is a member of Relais Chateaux. Get a junior suite overlooking the grounds and the lake with a large terrace and you will truly feel like you are a long way from the City. A good night’s getaway.

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