By Paul C. Merkley
Professor Emeritus in History, Carleton University
“The ayatollahs will not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons on my watch. A nuclear-armed Iran is not only an Israeli problem, it is a problem for the United States and all decent countries of the world.” – Mitt Romney
“Obama is afraid to stand up to Ahmadinejad…. I have been advocating stopping Iran from becoming nuclear for eight years.” – Rick Santorum.
“I would [move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem] … It will be an executive order the day I’m inaugurated …. [The Muslim countries are not going to sever relations with the United States.] They’re too afraid. I would also say to them, fine, you want to prove to us how much you hate Israel? Prove it. This is nonsense.” – Newt Gingrich
The past sixteen months or so of unremitting Spring in Greater Arabia has left almost everyone in our part of the world staggering with disbelief at the unfitness of the governments of that world to govern other human beings and equally of the unfitness of the people of that world to be governed.
Looking beyond the Arab-speaking world and into the neighboring nations of Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iran we likewise find the Muslim millions tearing each other apart for the privilege of burning our flags and the effigies of our elected leaders, all the time calling for the deaths of every last one of us. Simultaneously, we find our political and military leaders crawling in long-faced apology, proffering credibility to the worst imagining of these mobs and refreshing their enthusiasm for further outbursts of lethal rage. Meanwhile, the Adolf Hitler of our time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calls upon all Muslims everywhere to stand behind his regime as he prepares to confront the Great Satan and his Navy in the Straits of Hormuz, a deed that will clear the path for the Mahdi’s great premillenniel work – liquidating the Jews, “the sons of pigs and monkeys.”
The people of the State of Israel, who, unlike all the rest of us, are embedded in that world and cannot flee, are feeling more besieged and fearful as each day passes. But there is another side to this coin. In our part of the world, there is growing popular appreciation of Israel’s life-and-death dilemma, which, after Ahmadinejad has the bomb, will be our life-and-death dilemma; and this is happening precisely as appreciation is developing of the impossibility of making life more secure by further talk with Arab governments or with the leaders of Hamas and Fatah, who operate out of Ramallah and Gaza as the let’s-pretend governments of “Palestine.”
Over recent decades, discussion of what should be done to appease the enemies of Israel has been dominated by those who blame Israel herself, and Israel alone, for her isolation. I refer here to academic anti-Zionists (whose twin-gurus have for several years now have been John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen W. Walt (The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, 2007), but whose name is legion; I refer as well to the immense public audience commanded by President Jimmy Carter (Palestine: Peace not Apartheid (2006); I refer in general to the accredited experts and advisers on Middle East affairs who have until recently shaped the
Middle East policies of most Western governments including our own and who keep the Palestinian narrative alive in the speeches of politicians and the scribbling of journalists; and I refer to the spokesmen for the ecumenical apparatus of the so-called mainline churches, the foremost champions of the Divestment and Boycott crusade, who preach that Israelis can have peace at once and forever if only they would tear down the security wall, if only they would surrender the borders that emerged from the previous Arab invasions against the borders established by the UN in 1947, and if only they would commit to paying an indemnity to all the descendants of every Arab-speaking person who ever lived in the neighborhood, to his children and to his children’s children, and if only they would bring them all, at Israel’s expense, back on wings of eagles within the borders of what would no longer be the Jewish State.
These “opinion elites” are at long last losing credibility. Only the densest and most ignorant any longer believes that the unhappiness that is on display on the faces of the mobs straining against police-barricades in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria owes anything to the presence of 5 million Jewish persons struggling to pursue daily life while surrounded by some 400 million clamoring for blood.
Screaming mobs have for sixteen months now been demanding the “freedom” that has been allegedly withheld from them, and from them alone, since the dawn of time; but then, when some of them are given the opportunity to go to the ballot box and choose better leaders than the monsters of the past, they have selected by overwhelming margins the disciples of the least freedom-loving movements on earth: the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists, the international partners of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah and Hamas. As the leaders of these movements now move into the seats of power, it becomes clear that their master-plan for a perfect future for the Muslim people is resumption of the war of liquidation of the Jews which they began in 1948.
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The citizens of the United States are now in the midst of their national election. A striking difference between the exercise that we in Canada went through about a year ago, resulting in the election of a majority Conservative government, and the exercise in which American citizens are now engaged is that the former occupied our minds (more or less) for a few weeks, while the latter has already gone on for at least and year-and-a-half and will be going on still for another six months.
While this American process is not well understood by Canadians, the bottom line is that it provides to virtually every citizen in the land an opportunity to take part in the choice of the candidates who will face off in the national election in November. The process begins as contest among a long list of would-be Presidents and ends as a binary contest. It begins as a retail process, requiring candidates for the highest office in the land to travel and to speak ceaselessly to thousands of audiences. In the first tier of the process, which began, this time around, in June of 2011, these are audiences that fit into local halls or large living rooms. By the time it is over, in June of 2012, the largest halls in the nation will be needed.
Within this time frame, the issues that occupy the minds of the candidates will have shifted, in part because the news of the day will have shifted, but also because the cross—examination of all of those candidates at all of those open meetings will have shifted the interests and even the loyalties of the electorate. The candidates cannot control these realities. This time around, the process has brought back to center stage a certain number of “social issues” that the media elites have been telling us were settled in the minds of all people of good will: these include abortion, the definition of marriage, public funding of schools at all levels, the place of religion in the schools and in the public arena, et cetera.
A major surprise is that foreign policy issues are bulking much larger than in any national election of recent memory, so much so that all the candidates are talking about the need for re-examination of all the premises of foreign and security policy that have been in place since Eisenhower. And without doubt, a major contributor to that revolution is the so-called Arab Spring – a phenomenon that was not even on the horizon in 2008.
The decades-old policy of placating Arab governments, saluting their Presidents as beloved leaders of their people, pouring billions of dollars on their heads without asking for any accountability, was morally bankrupt from the beginning, as most of those who actually exercise the policy would end up admitting in their memoirs; but now the whole world can see that it is financially bankrupt as well. As American taxpayers face the possibility of the literal bankruptcy of the government of the United States, they are keen to unload all the costs associated with keeping in place Arab regimes that are beyond rescue.
In this light, there is nothing that any American politician can gain by going on with the fiction of parity between the Israeli and Arab narrative about Israel. Most people are reaching this conclusion even as it is discovered that Israel’s most dangerous local enemy (and it is a cluttered field!) is Iran, the regime which achieved humiliation for the United States in 1979 by locking up members of the American Embassy and ultimately collecting ransom (disguised as adjustment of other claims), the regime which carries most of the responsibility for keeping alive most of the terrorist forces in the world, the regime that stokes the flames of anti-American, anti-Western anti-Christian and anti-Jewish spirits wherever they exist, the regime which is today brazenly defying the United Nations by proceeding lickety-split towards completion of a nuclear capability
* * *
In recent days, the government of Israel and the government of the United States have offered contradictory assessments of the likelihood of Iran’s “going nuclear soon”. General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who answers to the President, has sedulously under-girded President Obama’s escapist policy by offering to the press his opinion that Ahmadinejad is “a rational actor.” The leading Republican figures in the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have met recently with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem and have come back denouncing President Barack Obama for attempting “to put daylight” between America’s posture and that of Israel over the threat from Iran.
All of these circumstance work together to make the inter-connected themes of “Israel” and “Iran” the commanding issue on the foreign policy side today. This is happening just as the American public has lost interest in press releases coming out of the White House, as all the forces of twenty-four hour news are focused on the contest for the Republican nomination. (There is no Democratic contest this year because an incumbent President is never challenged.) And the unusually volatile nature of the Republican contest now bids fare to keep in force this virtual monopoly of public attention by the Republicans down to, and perhaps right through, the Republican convention this summer. This situation is bound to keep before the public the understanding of Middle East realities which the Republican Party shares with the government and people of Israel. This has never happened before.
* * *
Anyone who has watched any of the debates among the Republican candidates of these last few weeks will know that for each candidate the name of the game is to discover, and then to magnify, differences between his policies and those of the other candidates, so that the public will understand how terrible would be the consequences of choosing the wrong candidate. It is interesting, therefore, that on this issue – and so far as I can see, on this issue alone – there is no “daylight” at all between and among them. It must be a great consolation to the Israelis.
The American public is thoroughly disillusioned with the exercise of trying to find merit in any part of the Arab/Muslim indictment against Israel. This is the reason for the new note in the debate about American policy in the Middle East – namely, that in light of the looming anarchy throughout the region, Israel’s predicament is now the predicament of all of us all.
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