Not the Swedish pop group, cool as they were, but the Hebrew word for Papa. As in Abba Eban. 'Twas something to behold, to watch Bibi Netanyahu hold the joint session of Congress in the palm of his hand yesterday. Leaving aside the content for a moment, which is fractious and controversial as ever (but see: John M.'s comment to my recent post on Palestine and the pre-1967 borders. I think his historical reconstruction is exactly right, and as often the case, his comments are better than my blogs. But thinking about this history, you can see why Sirhan Sirhan was called a "Jordanian" in 1968 and a Palestinian later.), it was amazing to see Congress respond to an actual, true-to-life, citizen-soldier, alpha male leader.
And it made me reflect on this propensity of the American electorate always to elect a vaguely epicene, wan, anemic, glad-hander in the mold of Reagan-Bush I-Clinton-Bush II-Obama, guys who are as uneasy in their role as President as they are in their own skin, who "fake" leadership with a lot of pomp and circumstance but lack the essential innards to pull the role off. I think of all this nonsense which has surrounded Obama's fearless leadership in the whacking of bin Laden - look, this was a plan developed by the CIA and the Department of Defense, start to finish. I've always thought the CIA (and FBI) do very good work; it's simply a question of whether anyone wants to listen to them or not. If Bush had listened to the FBI, or to the suspicions of George Tenet at the CIA, then 9/11 would not have occurred. (At breakfast the morning of the attacks, Tenet said to the person across the table from him, "I hope this wasn't the guys who were taking the flying lessons.") Obama's role was to say, "Go," pose for a picture in the Situation Room where he looked engaged, and then deliver a fictional account of the raid on national television.
Netanyahu's brother was killed at Entebbe in an Israeli commando raid where the degree of difficulty was about 4 to 5 times higher than the bin Laden hit. Netanyahu himself fought in the 1973 war in the Middle East. Thus, he brings a heavy dose of gravitas to his presence, the real thing, a real leader leading a country forcefully, powerfully. He does it all: he shmoozes, he kvells, he kvetches, he lightens it up, he gets menacing. He draws clear lines and he lets you know where he stands. None of this leadership by committee bullshit, this constant appointment of commissions to study issues the President wants to dodge, the fear of hard consequences implied in the decision always To Look Forward, Not Backward.
As I say, leave aside the content for a moment, since the question of Israel seems to deprive otherwise sane people of the ability to see straight. Netanyahu brings back memories of the American Dad of yesteryear, the strong patriarch, the protector, the I Like Ike type, where we equated leadership with strength of character and deeply-held principle, instead of electing technocratic dime-a-dance men who serve a corporate agenda first and America second, if at all.
It's nice to see something a little different, something even the nerds and twerps in Congress could grow faint over as they recognized the difference. Not that it will actually change anything; we're just as likely now to wind up with an exciting contest between the red-blooded he-man Tim Pawlenty and Mr. Cool next fall. But for nostalgic purposes, it was nice.
Something else we have to import these days if we want to see the real thing.