Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

September 23, 2009

Obama and 'Solutionism' at the UN

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 4:53 pm

Obama’s UN speech defined him as a solutionist. I envy him. I wish I were a solutionist. Do you know the word? I’ve often referred to “the American belief there’s a solution to every problem,” but I didn’t coin the word “solutionism” — although I wish I had.

I’m not sure he invented it, but the first of the some 4000-plus Google entries for “solutionism” (now 5000-plus since Obama’s speech — coincidence?) comes from my friend Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic*, writing about the Mideast. He calls solutionism “America’s national religion”: the compulsion to believe that, with good will and good faith, a solution to everything — even ancient hatreds — can be found. Maybe it’s because we’re too young a country to have experienced ancient hatreds, although we brought a lot over with us. Ancient hatreds will trump good will and good faith every time.

It’s this really very admirable “solutionism” that Obama demonstrated at the UN. The optimistic belief that with good will and good faith there’s a solution to every international problem, just as there’s a solution to health care somewhere in the 500 amendments to the Senate bill.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s better to have a solutionist as president that a bitter misanthropic anti-solutionist like myself. But solutionists are optimists about human nature, despite the evidence in front of their eyes. I know every last shred of optimism about human nature I ever had was shredded ever further by my observation of commenter culture where the twisted face of hatred hides behind the cowardly mask of a screen name.

Seriously though, it just confirmed my feeling that the worst instincts drive out the best, especially when you think no one knows your name. The way a mask — of nationalism, ideology, religion, bigotry and above all else self-righteousness — can conceal and reveal. And we expect the Afghans to all get along? As someone put it, “What planet do you live on?”

The planet of solutionism headquartered at the UN is, in fact, a writhing, seething sea of ancient hatreds. Was it Yeats who said, of the Irish problem, “big hatred, little room”? No solutionist he, although a century later things finally seem to have quieted down a bit.



  1. People have been pondering why evil exists probably since fire allowed the day to be extended. Still no answer, only conjecture.

    Comment by Banjo — September 23, 2009 @ 7:46 pm | Reply

  2. […] Read the entire story here. […]

    Pingback by Pajamas Media » Obama and ‘Solutionism’ at the UN — September 23, 2009 @ 11:08 pm | Reply

  3. Give me a break.

    How can anyone twist and construe Obama’s compulsive disorder to slam his own country and people into the ground as some kind of, “good will and good faith, a solution to everything”?

    Obama made a complete, embarrassing, total fool of himself in front of the world yesterday at the UN. The United States is now without any doubt the laughing stock of planet Earth.

    And what happens next? A weak minded, weak willed, slobbering mainstream media; that has spent almost 3 years straight sucking Obama’s hind quarters like a bunch of crazed and starved hogs want to write the entire mess off as some kind of good intentioned attribute?

    JC on a blood red bicycle!!

    Comment by WTFH — September 24, 2009 @ 3:54 am | Reply

  4. The problem, as I see it, is not that there are no good solutions but that we continue to do the same things that didn’t work and were not solutions in the first place and hope for different results. It’s called insanity or stupidity not solutionism.

    Comment by Thomas_L...... — September 24, 2009 @ 6:54 am | Reply

  5. the UN speach was the worst ever given by a supposedly educated person (a university degree does NOT preclude you are educated), I personally think he is incapable of rational thought much less rational speach.

    it could have been a speach by a tin-pot dictator …where it should have been about america (he is supposed to be representing america) it was about “I” …”me”.

    this speach is not worthy of a high school validictorian.


    below are links which go a long way in explaining where we are and how we got here

    I thought obama was juat a marxist ..he does follow the marxist rule book and he has surrounded himself with marxists (do the trolls know he is marxist and by default they are supporting marxism)

    ..any way after seeing this blog I now see that the marxist part is small potatoes …he is a mental defect …a retard. well at least a narcissist. …and that is bad news for everyone.

    An all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts. Five (or more) of the following criteria must be met:

    •Feels grandiose and self-important (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents to the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
    •Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion
    •Is firmly convinced that he is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special, unique, or high-status people (or institutions)
    •Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation, or failing that, wishes to be feared and notorious (narcissistic supply)
    •Feels entitled. Expects unreasonable or special and favorable priority treatment. Demands automatic and full compliance with his expectations
    •Is “interpersonally exploitative” i.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends
    •Is devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of others
    •Is constantly envious of others or believes that they feel the same about him or her
    •Is arrogant, has haughty behaviors or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted

    …so from that stand point he is doing well for a retard.

    here is a link for the people who think they can engage a troll with a positive result.

    basically that means the trolls are ideological retards.

    Comment by George S. — September 24, 2009 @ 7:23 am | Reply

  6. an ‘optimist’? He sees only what he wants to see, and completely disregards/denys anything that contradicts him.

    There are none so blind as those who will not see.

    Comment by ked5 — September 24, 2009 @ 7:25 am | Reply

  7. Often enough the correct answer to an large and dynamic problem is that there is no correct answer at this time. ‘Insufficient data to form a high probable solution’ is less chaotic than ‘do something now.’

    Comment by JED — September 24, 2009 @ 7:43 am | Reply

  8. I baffled why anyone would think this president wants to solve anything. Especially for America’s benefit. Oh sure he thinks imposing his statist’s will on us is all for the good–that would be HIS good, the good of all his cronies. That’s the only thing he wants to solve. How to as fast as possible convert the US from an entrepreneurial system to one where peasants scratch in the dirt to provide luxuries for the elites. Oddly akin to the old USSR that failed so spectacularly.

    Comment by Kate Rafferty — September 24, 2009 @ 8:03 am | Reply

  9. Equally disturbing is the isolationism that lurks behind the solutionism.

    It is quickly becoming clear that President Obama’s foreign policy has a simple but astonishing goal: to rid us of both enemies and allies.

    The policy of appeasement of our enemies has been painfully obvious. In facing Iran, North Korea, and now a newly revanchist Russia, Obama has offered goodwill, apologies, and concessions, in the expectation that these will appease them and ensure good behavior in the future. It didn’t work for Chamberlain and it is unlikely to work for Obama. But there it is.

    The flip side has been less obvious, but it, too, is emerging. Israel has received more of Obama’s pressure and condemnation than any of the nations that seek to push her into the sea.

    The “moral equivalence” approach, where the smallest failings of democracies are equated to the greatest atrocities of tyrants, has been seen before from the left. But here we have something even worse: harsh condemnation of Israel for adding bedrooms in the West Bank without even a balancing concern about Palestinian shelling of Israeli homes.

    During the campaign, Candidate Obama was asked to name America’s closest allies; he slowly reeled off Britain, France (yes, France), and Canada. He did not mention Israel. It was excused at the time as a mental oversight.

    And ghosts of the far Democratic past are reminding us that we have seen this before.
    “Elder Statesman” Jimmy Carter blasts Israel as an apartheid regime (when not busy condemning Republicans of blanket racism). And Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski yesterday suggested that the US should shoot down Israeli jets if they cross US/patrolled Iraqi airspace on a mission to destroy Iran’s fast-developing nuclear weapons program. Shoot them down!

    This reminder of the Carter foreign policy inclinations should be enlightening. Remember that the present brutal, fanatical, genocidally Jew-hating Iranian regime came to power during Carter’s (and Brzezinski’s) watch (in 1979). As was the case with the late, lamented (by some) Saddam Hussein’s brutal aggressive regime in Iraq (also in 1979). And who can forget the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (also in 1979) and Carter’s effective response?

    Indeed, there is much to learn from the Carter/Brzezhinski foreign policy. But these particular gentlemen never learned it, and anyway ought to have been shamed into perpetual silence on world affairs long ago.

    Yet Obama continues on in the same path – outreach to enemies, pushback to allies. Why?

    There are two possible answers. One is cowardice, the other ideology.

    Now, cowardice (like racism) is a hefty charge, and not to be thrown around lightly. It amounts to being nice to those who are itching to fight with you, while venting your frustration on those closest to you. It is the pattern of the Bully, and there are few things uglier. (And for the record, I don’t think this is the motivator here.)

    The other explanation is ideology, specifically the ideology of isolationism. We generally reserve the label for Republican policy in the 1920’s and early 1930’s, but it appears equally applicable here. Back then (and it continued well into the Roosevelt years) we intentionally distanced ourselves from our allies in the recent World War. We rejected all efforts to respond to aggression overseas. And we limited our active diplomacy to high-minded disarmament schemes.

    So this stuff is nothing new. But back then it was properly condemned as “turning our backs to the world”, while today it is seen as the highest kind of international outreach, the noblest level of diversity. “All nations are equal, and we love you all equally. So don’t expect us to take sides in any of your petty quarrels.”

    It is of course not just Israel who is on the receiving end of this two-sided doctrine. The retreat on missile defense in Europe is being seen properly in most places as craven appeasement of Russia, who objected to anything that would limit Iran’s western “outreach” or reinforce the independence of Russia’s former colonies in Eastern Europe. But the message was two-fold: Russia must be appeased, but similarly Poland and the Czech Republic must be reminded that we have no stake in ensuring their independence. Poles and Czechs, like our other allies, are on their own.

    Similarly in the America’s, we reach out to Venezuela’s Castro clone Chavez while distancing ourselves from strong ally Colombia. In Honduras we stand up for the rights of a budding Chavez clone to make himself president-for-life. Everywhere the same: outreach to anti-American regimes, pushback to American allies. The goal? To make them all just “other nations”.

    I cannot imagine any policy less wise than spurning your best allies while embracing your worst enemies. And any ally that relies on the word of America today appears headed for a fall.

    Comment by Hans Moleman — September 24, 2009 @ 8:50 am | Reply

  10. It was definately different. So full of promise and Obama a bit naive perhaps? I think he is gambling..and the stakes are high indeed, if it works..he saves billions and it just might help fix the recession but if he fails…then it does not matter I think, he thinks…he has nothing to lose.

    But for me, this speech was not as amazing as the one I heard our president make in Nov 2002 when George Bush declared the UN irrelevant. As a student of history, that speech still makes me think. Some were astounded by it but generally, it was forgotton by the vast majority within days…but little did we realize its implications. That speech was amazing…to witness.

    Comment by Poor Citizen — September 24, 2009 @ 9:18 am | Reply

  11. Obama’s presidency has rapidly morphed into a sitcom. And a bad sitcom at best. In this one you end up laughing at the writers rather than jokes. I don’t care how many centers of higher education Obama has attended. His grasp of the world, and his sense of history are just slightly greater then my pet clam. Just.
    In the old days, it was taken for granted that the President had the best interests of the country at heart. His job description included being spokesman for and defender of American interests.
    Not so with Obama-san. And, boys and girls, that has nothing to do with the color of his skin. It has to do with his extraordnary shallowness and his self-adulating narcissism. That this individual, with no experience, nor record of achievemeent, lacking any meaningful knowledge of or grasp of history, is ostensibley the leader of the free world is a bad sick joke. And it bodes ill for the free world.

    Comment by genghis — September 24, 2009 @ 9:29 am | Reply

  12. The problem with Obama is not that he is too optimistic about human nature. He is too confidant in his power to shape it to his ends. As usual in these cases…

    Comment by Regina — September 24, 2009 @ 9:51 am | Reply

  13. “Don’t get me wrong: it’s better to have a solutionist as president that a bitter misanthropic anti-solutionist like myself. But solutionists are optimists about human nature, despite the evidence in front of their eyes. I know every last shred of optimism about human nature I ever had was shredded ever further by my observation of commenter culture where the twisted face of hatred hides behind the cowardly mask of a screen name.”

    As a matter of fact, solutionists, as you call them, don’t believe in human nature, they believe in social determinism. Anyone who accepts the Thucydidean idea of a human nature that transcends time and place is, like it or not, a conservative.

    Perhaps your resistance to the idea you might be one of us at heart explains why you see bitterness and misanthropy as the only viable alternatives to our current President’s increasingly feckless performance in foreign affairs.

    I humbly offer these observations for your consideration as evidence of my inherent hatred, racism, cowardice etc.

    Regards –
    Mary McLaughlin

    Comment by marymcl — September 24, 2009 @ 10:26 am | Reply

  14. Opting out of the Senate where she had a stage to promote her self-interest was a big mistakes. But the lady has made many big mistakes. Ignoring her choice of soulmate, she stumbled repeatedly while First Lady (Hillarycare, Great Right Wing Conspiracy in a pink outfit no less,etc)and throughout her Presidential campaign which was inept. Her penchant for dumb utterances (i.e. visiting war torn Eastern Europe under fire, namesake Edmund Hillary,etc). And she is devious and manipulative, but, then again, they all are. She’s certainly a cut above Joe Biden, and probably would have made a decent centrist President. It was her misfortune to run against Obama, and ours too.

    Comment by caroline — September 24, 2009 @ 11:50 am | Reply

  15. My, my . . . sure are a lot of ranting yahoos on the comments section.

    Actually Obama is an intelligent, reasonable, educated man pursing a rather centrist course. (No single-payer for health care, no quick retreat from Iraq, etc.)

    This after the great buffoon Bush managed to botch two wars, alienate the U.S. from the world and fail to catch Bin Laden. This, yes, on top of having to nationalize the banks. (Have someone explain to you what socialism really is, yahoos.)

    One can support Israel while having some real doubts about Netanyahu’s course. I certainly know many Israelis who think catering to the settlers is a disaster.

    I keep it simple: your rage at Obama is not simply misplaced and out of line, it’s telling. It says something about you.

    The last seven years have been a debacle, an awful time for America. The G.O.P. then nominated a man in his seventies and the least qualified, most risible vice-presidential candidate in our history.

    Ronsenbaum may be right that there are no clear cut “solutions”. But Obama is clearly a huge improvement, this despite the sputtering venom he inspires in so many morons.

    Comment by One very embarrassed registered Republican — September 24, 2009 @ 11:54 am | Reply

  16. Obama soldiers on in his naive efforts to make nice with the islamists. Did he walk out on Aminajiahad and the other clown from Libya as did Canada? I don’t think so. This guy is going to beat even Jimmy the peanut as the worst ever US president

    Comment by Michael T — September 24, 2009 @ 11:58 am | Reply

  17. If Obama was really a “solutionist” (awkward word, he’s really a “resolutionist”, because he is always spouting rhetorical resolutions that he knows will go nowhere) he would grab Amedinajad by the mutty scruff of his dirty neck and toss him out of the room, rather than allow Susan Rice to issue a tepid scolding of Holocaust denial.

    Comment by charlie finch — September 24, 2009 @ 2:33 pm | Reply

  18. […] Obama and ‘Solutionism’ at the UN, by Ron […]

    Pingback by *Obama at the UN, a collection of responses: « The Quantum Conservative — September 24, 2009 @ 2:48 pm | Reply

  19. I can only conclude that obama is insane. When the government forces you to pay for something, it is a tax. When the united states is at fault for freeing the Italians, Germans, French. English, Japanese, Filipinos, Panamanians and many smaller nations then how can it be guilty of the stupid chargers that obama accused it of. He must be insane! How do we handle an insane president? He has offended all of our allies and sucked up to all of our enemies. His insanity is ruinning our country. We need to have him committed.

    Comment by nobozons — September 24, 2009 @ 5:34 pm | Reply

  20. If you’re from New York, just keep saying to yourself Barack Obama=David Dinkins and Israel=Crown Heights and you’ll get the idea where this is going over the next 3 1/2 years.

    Obama, like Dinkins isn’t bad as much as he’s detached and fearful of challenging the more vocal parts of his base when it comes to their pet issues. And when it comes to foreign policy and the Middle East, there’s a large part of his base that sees Israel as a bigger problem than the Palestinians in the Middle East. They’re the ones who made the president’s U.N. speech sound the way it does, and as long as most of the people who felt affronted by it vote Republican — i.e. are not part of Obama’s voting coalition — he’s not going to see the need to challenge his side on their anti-Israeli views.

    Better just to let them have their say, even if they’re having it through your mouth, and just kick the can down the road and hope nothing really bad happens between now and 2012 that suddenly forces you to choose between your pro-Palestinian supporters and Jewish voters who provided Obama with both their votes and major financial support last year, which is what happened with Dinkins after Crown Heights and was one of the reasons why he lost his mayoral rematch with Rudy Giuliani in 1993.

    Comment by John — September 24, 2009 @ 6:12 pm | Reply

  21. The poster at #15 pretending to be a Republican needs to go back to acting school and work on his character some more.

    Sorry, pal, but that was a pretty transparent effort. All the snarky little DailyKos talking points are showing.

    Comment by marymcl — September 24, 2009 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

  22. Rosenbaum, check Gillray’s cartoon depicting the Congress of Vienna activities after the Waterloo battle – after that you can try a re-write of your solutionism thing –

    Pretty descriptions for ugly realities -yeah, “solutionism” what would the UN do without showing up to vote for resolutions, politicking, then again voting non-binding resolutions and plans, then promoting Somalia and Lybia in the Human Rights Watch, etc., etc –

    Yet, photo-ops & grins aside, promises and arrangements leaked to the press, the ugly reality is still, untameable there – the planet is too small for so many people, the resources are not enough for so many nations, and we have entered in the age of unsovable conflicts.
    The djinn in out from the bottle – there is no way to stop Iran, because Ahmadinejad himself cannot control the local political strife caused by the cultural and social dynamics at work in Iran.

    As another facet of this situation, is Obama who acted like a fool in giving the Russians what is not theirs in exchange for a hypothetical manifestation of an influence that they simply don’t have over Iran – and here we are.

    Again, Gillray’s drawing illustrates well the today’s UN activities –

    Comment by misanthropicus — September 25, 2009 @ 6:55 pm | Reply

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