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Shadi Hamid

Shadi Hamid

Posted: March 21, 2010 03:24 PM

Will Passing Health Care Reform Affect U.S. Foreign Policy?

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If the health care bill passes -- not in the mood to jinx such things -- what effect, if any, will it have on US policy in the Middle East? Most Arabs don't care about US health care reform, but Arab officials, opinion makers, and media elites are certainly aware it's sucked a great deal of President Obama's attention. To the extent Arab leaders have outmaneuvered Obama, it is, in part, due to two interrelated factors: they believe Obama has been distracted, and, secondly, Obama has actually been distracted. So, if the bill passes, they will perceive it as the big victory that it is. This is where perception and spin will matter a great deal. If Obama and those around him are able to spin health care reform as a definitive sign of what we may now call "the Obama resurgence," then the administration will gain some much-needed momentum, allowing it do some serious recasting of its deteriorating image abroad.

Obama -- to the surprise of many, myself included -- has been weak on narrative. As of a couple week ago, the emerging narrative, at home and abroad, was that he was weak, aloof, and lacked the courage of his convictions. Now, a new narrative is being created, and it's been interesting to watch it gain currency in real-time. Marc Ambinder seems to have both captured and propelled the new storyline (one that appears to have little grounding in objective reality):

And it fortifies, indirectly, the argument that Obama is uniquely courageous: his stubbornness in the face of public opinion, in the face of advisers who begged him to move on, in the face of a revolt from his base, is based upon his own conviction that what he's doing is the right thing to do, primarily, and upon electoral politics secondarily.

(Does anyone still doubt that passing health care was in Democrats' electoral interest?). Ambinder continues: "But don't ever, ever call the guy a wimp." This is the new storyline. Obama the tough guy. And now Obama the tough guy -- rather than the dour, feckless Obama of two weeks ago -- will be conducting U.S. foreign policy.

 

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