PunditWire readers may recall my analysis of the intellectually and technically unsatisfactory speech by President Obama in Cairo. Now we have the first major overseas speech given by President Trump, delivered in Saudi Arabia at the heart of the ‘Islamic World’. How did he do?
We all use metaphors to make a point. Speechwriters adore a good metaphor: get the right one and the speaker sounds wise, folksy, sassy and astute all in one go.
The trouble with such metaphors is that they capture your imagination but deaden your brain. Continue reading Slippery Slopes, Slippery Language, Slippery Logic
Richard Wagner, the great German composer, was born two hundred years ago on May 22, 1813. Wagner was one of the most stupendous musical geniuses who ever lived. He was also a notorious anti-Semite. Even on his two hundredth birthday, there is no ignoring the dead elephant in his living room.
At the same time, to say that Wagner was an anti-Semite, and to say no more than that, is too simple. It is too simple because Wagner was very much a self-contradictory genius, and his contradictions extended to his attitude toward Jewish people.
In other words, Wagner was an anti-Semite, but… And the but was not inconsequential. Continue reading Wagner’s Dead Elephant
Some issues really are “binary.” Take the Judgement of Solomon. Two women each claimed that a baby belonged to them. King Solomon of Israel proposed to cut the baby in two pieces, an outcome the false mother accepted.
Babies are either dead or alive. Under international law states either exist or they don’t. If they exist they either have clear, accepted borders, or they don’t.
There are exceptions and anomalies. But the toughest problems of international politics arise around these simple propositions. Continue reading The Language of International Friendship: President Obama in Israel
Harold Macmillan, the 1960s-era British Prime Minister, once talked about the “cruel dilemma” of the foreign diplomat.
“He is forever poised between the cliché and the indiscretion,” Macmillan said.
Anyone who’s worked in the White House knows that’s true. A Chief of Staff who would normally say, “Do a draft and put it in the briefing book,” suddenly wants six layers of review, calculated to replace with a cliché any indiscretion that might cause a war. Continue reading Flash! Obama Brain Working. Also Heart!