The Middle East without solutions, part I
I am Jewish. Which means I don’t even trust my own opinions about Israel. I usually grapple with them for a long time before I discuss them in public. I come from the reform branch of self-hating Judaism. I am a self-doubting Jew. When it comes to the current crisis in Gaza, however, the matter ...
I am Jewish. Which means I don’t even trust my own opinions about Israel. I usually grapple with them for a long time before I discuss them in public. I come from the reform branch of self-hating Judaism. I am a self-doubting Jew.
When it comes to the current crisis in Gaza, however, the matter seems crystal clear to me. An Iranian-backed terrorist group that has failed to serve even the most basic needs of its own people has conducted a missile campaign against a neighbor with whom it must have a better relationship if it is to survive. It has launched more than 10,000 missiles into Israel. Not only is Israel’s response warranted, it is proportional and when this campaign is over as it will soon be, not only will Israel be better off but so too will be the Palestinian people if they seize the opportunity to embrace new leadership whose policies serve them rather than the hegemonic aspirations of a government in Tehran that is not even terribly well-loved by its own people.
When I was in graduate school I had a nightmare roommate. Although he was a Jewish boy from the New Jersey suburbs just like me, there were differences. To begin with he looked vaguely liked Ryan O’Neill and I looked vaguely like Henry Kissinger. The roommate was popular with women, an athlete, a writer and worst of all, he actually knew what he wanted to do in life. He was fascinated with the Middle East, worked with the Israeli embassy and was getting a master’s in international studies. At the time his name was Michael Bornstein. But soon after school he went off to Israel and the next thing I knew he was a paratrooper and had changed his name to Michael Oren.
Mike is now a nightmare ex-roommate. I have written a couple of books. But he has written two great ones, The Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East and Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present. (I mean how many guys get away with two colons in one title?) He also still vaguely looks like Ryan O’Neill and I look even more like Kissinger. We don’t agree on everything. He is a Zionist and pretty hard-line on most matters pertaining to Israel. I am not. I am an American and my primary concern is America’s national interest. These days he is back in uniform, which suggests that Israel has created a new geriatric assault unit but is actually because he has great contacts with the Western media and he is serving the IDF as a press liaison officer. In some respects, his job is tougher than some of those involved in cleaning out Hamas. Most international media are so biased in their coverage of the conflict that you would think that Hamas’ missile barrages were a legitimate form of political expression and they bore no responsibility for their deliberate and cold-blooded strategy of turning the Palestinian people who voted for them into human shields. When the indisputable fact that Hamas is supported by Hezbollah and Iran is presented in the press, even by mainstream journalists, it is offered as an "Israeli" point of view. (Remember the 2006 Lebanon campaign. I bet if you asked around, most people would tell you Israel started it and lost. Both points, of course, are wrong.) Mike’s useful perspectives on the conflict have in the past few days appeared in The New Republic, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal and are worth a look. He’s an antidote to the increasingly powerful Anti-Israel Lobby (which will be the subject of a future entry on this blog).
A few weeks before this conflict started he and I were chatting about the outlook for the region. We were discussing likely strategies for the new Obama Administration. Mike offered a perspective that proved that in moving to Israel he had actually moved healthily away from the American mainstream in one key perspective. He said, "the problem with Americans is that they are always looking for solutions. Sometimes when lasting solutions are not possible, at least not in the near term, you have to find alternative approaches." While I do not think this means we should give up looking for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinian people, the Obama Administration would be well-advised to take a step back and consider what can reasonably be achieved in the next four to eight years…and what among those things are the optimum outcomes for the United States. We can’t risk going back to old think or old formulas that are demonstrably exercises in futility.
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