Friday, August 22, 2003
Sorry Mark, but blaming Bush is the easy way out, and sheds no light on Israel's situation.
I'm going to ask again what I always ask of right-wing Jewish critics of this administration: what, precisely, do you want Bush to do? Bush has cooperated in Israel's policy of isolating Yasser Arafat. Bush has been very clear that terrorism is not acceptable. Bush's support for a Palestinian state is not an innovation; Clinton supported one first. And Clinton was only following Israel's lead; Ehud Barak made it very clear in his campaign for Prime Minister that he favored a Palestinian state (he was disingenuous on the subject of Jerusalem), and Sharon has continued to voice support for such a state as a goal - just as Netanyahu ultimately affirmed Rabin's Oslo process. And even a right-winger like Natan Sharansky - my favorite Israeli politician - has said he thinks the Palestinians should get their own state (albeit only after they have proven their democratic and anti-terrorist credentials). Folks like Mark Levin want Bush to be more of a Likudnik than Sharon. And that's ridiculous.
And meanwhile, what precisely does he want *Sharon* to do? Other than look Bush in the eye and say that Israel is now "going it alone." Levin refers to Israel "toppling" the governments of Iran and Syria. What planet is Levin living on? Israel has *never* toppled an enemy regime. They did not topple the government of Syria in '73, or of Lebanon in '82. They haven't even toppled the P.A. Iran is hundreds of miles away and has a population more than 10 times Israel's, and a land area 80 times Israel's. What does Levin think - Israel can send in the Mossad and knock off a handful of the mullahs and the country will fall, and suddenly be friendly? Israel might conceivably use preemptive air strikes to knock out Iran's nuclear program, though the collateral diplomatic damage would be enormous and it's not clear that the strikes would even succeed (the Iranians have learned from 1981). But "topple" the regime? What on earth is Levin talking about?
In the days of Barak's premiership, I commented that the problem with many Israelis on the left - including many Generals - is that they think they live in California. They think that because Israel is rich and smart and sophisticated that it can take the kinds of risks that America can afford to take. And it's not true. Israel is a small, vulnerable country, and a wild gamble like Oslo can - and did - have terrible consequences. Well, there's an analogous problem on the right: Israelis (and American Jewish supporters thereof) who think not that Israel has America's safety margin but that Israel has America's might. It doesn't. And it can't behave as if it does.
I'm going to say it again: no one in Israeli politics has a clear idea of how to solve the Palestinian problem, and no one really knows what victory would look like. Israel scored a massive victory in 1967, essentially eliminating all of its enemies' armed forces and establishing substantial strategic depth in the Golan, the Sinai and Judea and Samaria. That victory did not prevent war in 1973, and it did not end the Palestinian problem. Avigdor Liberman and the rest of the far right want Israel to reconquer and annex the territories, expel or execute Arafat, and . . . then what? Presumably, they want to rule over more than 3 million Palestinian non-citizens indefinitely. They make noises about the Palestinians becoming citizens of Jordan. Has Jordan shown any interest in collaborating in such a scheme? Or do they plan to "topple" that regime as well and replace it with a more favorable one? And then they whine about the unfairness of the situation. Who are they whining to? Who do these "go it alone" types expect will give them what they think they deserve? Do they expect God Himself to intervene?
That does appear to be the view of Sharon's religious-right partners. Their attitude is admirable in its way: don't think about the consequences, just do right and refuse to surrender what is rightfully yours. But that was not the attitude of the prophet Jeremiah. It is fundamentally wrong to count on a miracle, and if you can't articulate how you are going to achieve your goals, then you are counting on a miracle.
I hold no particular love for Brent Scowcroft, but he's not the President. There are certainly those in America's foreign policy establishment who quietly - or not so quietly - wish Israel would just go away, wish that Harry Truman would not have taken a moral stand and recognized the Jewish state. To pretend that Bush - or even Powell - are in that camp is ludicrous. And to pretend that Nixon - whose support for Israel was driven entirely by the Cold War calculus, and who leaned on Israel fully as much as many other Presidents, including forcing Israel not to destroy the Egyptian Third Army at the end of the October War, thus allowing Egypt to snatch diplomatic victory from military defeat - was a better friend to Israel than Bush is just bad history.
Israel's problems are not the work of the American President. President Bush has done more to improve Israel's strategic and diplomatic situation than any President since Truman - Johnson and Nixon included. There are plenty of things I don't like about the Road Map - I think it was, in fact, a great coup by the Palestinians - but it is a logical consequence not of Bush's policies but of Sharon's. It is up to Israel to decide what victory looks like and how to achieve it. I have no doubt that, if they can convincingly do so, the Bush Administration will back them up.
(Just to be clear, by the way, I think Sharon has been doing a generally excellent job. He's boxed the Palestinians in militarily and, to a large extent, diplomatically in a way that would have been hard to conceive two years ago. You can only lose a war of attrition by surrendering, and Sharon has not surrendered, and has made it clear that Israel will not surrender. That's much more than half the battle. But the other half is much harder, and this myth that someone - whether Bush or someone else - is holding Israel back and preventing her from achieving complete victory is in no way productive.)