of the commentators, analysts, journalists and establishment talking
heads have professed to be astounded this week that Ariel Sharon
didn't snap to immediately when President Bush, over the weekend,
suggested that Israel should withdraw its forces from the West Bank
"without delay." The phenomenon says more about the naiveté
of most observers and the imperial mindset of the talking heads
– and, I'm afraid, a good deal of the American public – than it
does about the situation on the ground.
all the complex ties of history, sympathy and aid that exist, Israel
is a separate nation, not a province of the United States. Whether
or not you approve of the notion of independent, sovereign nation-states
– and I'm inclined to be critical of the concept and to hope the
era of the nation-state that began to flower with a vengeance in
the 16th century is drawing to a close – that is the current reigning
myth of international relations.
only way it would be likely that a President of the United States
could simply issue orders to another national leader would be if
he were the Emperor of the World. To be sure, the United States
is the dominant power in a largely unipolar world, accounting for
roughly 40 percent of all the "defense" spending in the
world. But for all that the president is still not quite in a position
to bark orders and expect the leaders of other countries to snap
short, the president hasn't quite achieved the level of the Leonardo
di Caprio character in the movie "Titanic," who fantasized
on the prow of the vessel that he was King of the World. He may
sometimes wish he were, and plenty of neocons fantasize (fanaticize?)
in their wet dreams that he should be.
interesting and a little dismaying is that so many Americans seem
to assume almost without reflection that the proper and legitimate
role of the United States really should be to jump in and settle
every feud that might peripherally affect the interests of a few
businessmen and cable news channels. Prior to the decision to send
the ever-peripatetic Colin Powell to the region, the main criticism
the administration got was to the effect that it wasn't doing enough
to bring peace to the Middle East. And this wasn't just from the
talking heads but from viewer and listener call-ins and e-mails.
didn't monitor all the networks and cable channels – besides being
physically impossible it would be just too depressing to try – but
I didn't hear any alternative view presented, with the possible
exception of Pat Buchanan. Despite some disagreements I've had with
him over the years I bless Pat for his willingness to use his notoriety
to speak out on issues of U.S. intervention. But he isn't the only
spokesman for the viewpoint and perhaps not the best spokesman.
inclined to be ever the optimist, but for the first time in a while
I'm wondering whether the American people have finally signed on
to the imperialist agenda. I've long been convinced that most Americans,
unlike many of their political leaders, have no desire for their
country to run a global empire, but would rather it concentrate
on defense and the occasional retaliation against attackers and
however, the inclination to intervene seems to have become more
widespread. Ordinary Americans beyond the Beltway seem almost eager
to have US military and diplomatic power be exercised wherever the
media spotlights a problem or even a potential problem. The impulse
is often simplistic, operating on the assumption that the Americans
can go in, kick a little butt and straighten things out, whereas
the more sophisticated Beltway types understand they're talking
about semi-permanent garrisons in numerous overseas outposts. But
if my impressionistic soundings are correct, it's there among ordinary
American more than in the past, which I find somewhat dismaying.
of the reasons, of course, is that the "mainstream" communications
organs, network and cable, hardly ever bring on intelligent non-interventionists
to argue the case. I work for a large general-circulation newspaper
which expresses skepticism about intervention regularly, in editorials
and columns. We get more approval than disapproval from our readers
(which is not to say we don't receive plenty of indignant criticism)
and lots of calls and letters from readers who express gratitude
that somebody with a printing press agrees with them. So healthy
skepticism is out there.
as long as the major media present only one side of the discussion
– although it is true that some of their gung-ho interventionists
will discuss complexities and warn that setting the world straight
won't be as easy as some might hope – ordinary Americans will be
less willing to express skepticism about imperial adventures. I
don't know what the real sentiment out there is about interventionism
in general – certainly Dubya's approval ratings for managing international
conflict have continued to be remarkably high – but until more skeptics
are heard and seen approval will appear to be somewhat higher than
it probably is in reality. We have plenty of work ahead of us.
is just possible that the current effort in the Middle East will
yield a bit more realism both from the general public and from some
of the commentariat. There, is after all, more remembered history
for Americans here than in Afghanistan. A few commentators and more
in the general public might adopt the sensible attitude that after
30 years that have included numerous intensive agreement-forcing
episodes that the burden of proof rests with those who imagine the
US can dictate or even jump-start a resolution.
will come not only the acknowledgment of difficulty and complexity,
but the preferences of groups with heavy influence in American politics.
The "Israeli Lobby" is not as powerful as once it was
(and was never as utterly dominant as some imagine) but it still
has clout. Those who tend to support Israel will be quick to remind
American leaders that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may well be mistaken
in his determination to continue the military incursion, but he
is the elected leader of Israel, accountable to Israeli voters,
not US diplomats or the "world community."
pro-Israel sentiment is far from universal, either in the policymaking
elites or in the general public. The State Department has long been
mildly Arabist and it seems possible that there will be tugging
and pulling among policymakers as they move beyond pious formulas.
I think Dubya is more pro-Israel than his father and most of his
father's associates were, for example, but he could become exasperated.
And the Muslim population in the United States is larger and more
politically active than it was in previous crises. So even if the
United States government decides to try even more actively to arrange
a settlement, the domestic politics of such an arrangement will
be more complex than many expect.
the American people and their leaders need to consider now is the
possibility, tragic as it might be, that contrary to the conventional
wisdom intensified US efforts might actually make a resolution more
difficult to achieve.
might just happen that Colin Powell will beat the odds and find
a way to bring about at least a temporary cease-fire. But there
is little question that the US decision to step up direct involvement
has created an incentive for both sides to try to achieve as much
as possible – whether it's territory, dead enemies, demoralization,
destruction of infrastructure, strengthening of resolve, whatever
– before kindly Uncle Sam puts his foot down, indirectly leading
likelihood, of course, is that perceived gains will be transitory.
Israeli leaders, for example, hope they are stamping out the ability
to perform terrorist attacks, but at the same time they are almost
certainly creating the seeds of future hostility and terrorist attacks.
The Israeli Defense Forces (as well as the Palestinian Authority
and the various terror groups in the region) are certainly open
to valid criticism.
example, the international humanitarian group based in France, Medecin
sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders, which has provided
medical relief in 80 countries and has been remarkably even-handed
about the politics of disasters it has tried to alleviate, is indignant
about several incidents.
Saturday an MSF team trying to enter the village of Yatta was refused
access for five hours before being able to help at a maternity clinic
and transport two teenagers with broken legs to a hospital. MSF
has faced an increasing number of obstructions from the IDF as it
tries to treat civilian casualties created by both sides in the
current conflict. Whether this interference is illegal under international
law, as MSF maintains, might be an open question. But it doesn't
do Israel's reputation any good.
wishes were horses, my father used to say, then beggars would ride.
We all may wish the United States could fix the Middle East. But
at the very least the burden of proof is on those advocating intervention.
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