Bubba, the fiscal swamp, after Gaza... the list goes on and on.
- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
Fiscal cliff? What fiscal cliff? Congress has taken the week off for Thanksgiving. Middle East calamity? What Middle East calamity? The president is traipsing around Southeast Asia in a number of countries that haven’t been urgently important to the United States since the 1970s.
To read the newspaper, you might conclude our leaders in Washington have their priorities all wrong. But then comes the news that, according to Jill Kelley, America’s most influential real housewife of Tampa Bay, both our CIA director and the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan took time out of their busy schedules to seek her help stopping the threat posed by Bubba the Love Sponge.
Mr. Love Sponge, for those of you who have missed this glittering chapter in America’s national security history, had announced earlier this year that it was his intention to deep fry a copy of the Quran in animal fats. Apparently, according to the estimable Ms. Kelley, whose three visits to the White House last year almost certainly rank her ahead of many members of Congress or ex-presidents, the potential consequences of the repulsive shock jock’s bit of performance diplomacy would have been devastating for America’s standing in the Middle East. (While that is certainly true, you can’t help but wonder whether policies our leaders apparently are more comfortable with, like invading people’s countries, blowing up their villages, and killing their friends and family might be even more inflammatory.)
Fortunately for America, we have the honorary consul from South Korea, Miss Inviolability herself, Jill Kelley, just one touch of a speed dial button away from our national security brain’s trust. Generals Petraeus and Allen were able to reach out to her, as they had done in the past when other Floridian nitwits had threatened harm to the Quran. She called the mayor of Tampa, to whom she asserted she was acting on behalf of the generals, and sought his assistance bringing the hammer of justice or at least good taste down on the Love Sponge, a man who until recently had been Tampa’s most best-known resident and cultural leader.
As an aside, prior to this bizarro incident in America’s War on Terror, Bubba had most recently made his way into the headlines when it was discovered that his then wife was the sex-tape partner of aging, former wrestler and reality show star Hulk Hogan. Thus it came to pass that the CIA sex scandal and the Hulk Hogan sex scandal somehow merged into one, both part of the seemingly permanent oil slick of sleaze that now floats on the surface of American society.
Do not despair, however. It is no accident that this vignette has drifted into view on the eve of Thanksgiving. It allows us to be thankful for our vigilant public officials and for public- service minded citizens like Mrs. Kelley, who are there to protect us from the blowback caused by the stupid publicity stunts of third-rate radio personalities. It also allows us to be thankful that Florida exists because if it did not, incidents like this might happen just anywhere at all and get in the way of the serious business of this country. It is also deeply funny — the kind of thing God cooks up to put comedy writers in their place, reminding them that there is no one more hilarious than Him when He puts his mind to it.
That said, we have much more to be thankful for. Families, top the list of course. And friends. And good health, if we are fortunate enough to have it. But we can add two other things to the list.
The first has to do with the fiscal cliff. Most of the time, if Congress is not doing anything, you can assume it is because our revered lawmakers are trying to do something but failing. In this particular case, I think Congress has felt comfortable going home for Thanksgiving because they know that they can work a deal to avoid hammering the economy by going over the fiscal cliff. They can make a few minor concessions and then do what they do best and punt the big issues to a distant future that seems impossible for them to imagine (which is anything beyond a couple weeks). They know that even if they were stymied and the market tanked, they could cut a deal the next day. And they will. We won’t fix anything material this time around. But we also won’t go over the fiscal cliff. Rather, by punting we will do something worse: sink further and further into a fiscal swamp that will get us not in one instant, but slowly and inexorably.
OK, maybe that’s not something we can be unequivocally thankful for, so let me attempt to conclude on a more upbeat note by saying that the president’s decision to continue on to Asia in the midst of a war in Gaza is encouraging on several levels. First, it shows the president is confident he and his team can manage the U.S. role in this conflict from wherever they are, as any modern administration should. Second, it sends an important message that the president is still committed to focusing on the big issues of the future rather than those of the past. Finally, it shows that the White House understands that Gaza is a short-term initiative by the Israelis. They felt, after absorbing far more rocket blows than any other nation would have, that action was required. The Israelis know that to be successful, efforts of this sort must be measured in days, not weeks or months.
Gaza will soon be over, and we will all be thankful for that. But the longer-term question will be whether Israeli leaders understands how the situation around them is shifting, and along with it America’s attentions and needs. If they do-and it is likely take a future government to accept this-then they will realize that the United States is no longer the country most important to their future. Nor is it a changing, undependable Egypt. Nor is it a fragile Jordan. The country most important to the future of Israel is Palestine. Unless it emerges secure and economically viable, Israel will never know true security. That means building, not bombing their neighbor-the one path toward giving all the peoples of that battered corner of the world what they would most like to be thankful for: real peace.