Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

Losing an empire

 


America’s loss of dominance was inevitable. Its standing from the late ‘40s through the ‘50s could not last.

The power derived from being the sole country on its feet after the most destructive war in history. The American economy thrived as a result of pent-up purchasing power from wartime full employment, the genius of sending demobilized troops to college, the skills they acquired, the economic boom associated with the babies they made, and the additional genius of foreign aid in the context of the Cold War that made the U.S. No. 1 in a western alliance that reinforced the American economy as a result of what happened in much of Europe and Asia.

America’s decline, relatively to all others, came about partly due to the redevelopment of others, financed and encouraged by the United States.

There have also been American mistakes.

The first big one was Vietnam. That may have been inevitable and excusable in the Cold War context, but the results were bad. Responsibilities must be shared by JFK and LBJ, leaving aside JFK admirers who said he would have pulled out. Maybe. But who can know?

Errors just as big, if not bigger, were the GWB follies of Iraq and Afghanistan. Not the initial bombardment of Afghanistan, deserved as a result of 9/11, but the aspirations to reform Iraq and Afghanistan whose results prove colossal naivete. 

An earlier error, at least partly responsible for 9/11, were the efforts of Carter and Reagan to mobilize Muslims against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Most likely the Afghans would have frustrated the Russians on their own, but American activities, with money from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East, helped to inspire what became the ethos of 9/11 and all the other fighters against the heretic West that became the war of terror.

Now the errors of the Obama administration, reacting against the follies of their predecessors. Much too much an emphasis on human rights and democracy for a region where the religion and cultures are not appropriate for norms admired by the better class of Americans and Europeans. Prominent in a considerable list of bad moves were the abandonment of the moderate Mubarak for the appearance of democracy associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, bombastic declarations and then waffling and giving the lead to Russia with respect to the chemical weapons of Syria, reacting against the sanity of the Egyptian military to rid the country of a burgeoning Islamic regime, all the while fastening on the corrupt Palestinian leadership as the key to a new Middle East. The Palestinian president has so far overstayed his term in office by almost five years, and his two sons are said to be among the richest of Palestinians, thanks to Dad.

Among the results, Forbes now records Vladimir Putin as the world’s most powerful figure, ahead of Barack Obama. Saudi Arabia is rethinking its subordination to the U.S. Benyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas are cooperating to frustrate American efforts at making peace, and the Egyptian military government is warming to the overtures of Russia as supplier of equipment, advice, and other cooperation, along with a wise promise not to meddle in Egypt’s internal affairs.

Involved in the wisdom of previous empires was the tendency to let clients manage their own problems. Those designing the education of America’s leaders left that out of the curriculum. 

Netanyahu and Abbas are not proclaiming their cooperation, but it exists nonetheless. Both are sounding extreme. They are behaving as can be expected from politicians dependent on their constituents. What they are saying and doing seems likely to end the peace process short of anything close to what Obama and Kerry demand. Optimists hope that things will revert to Palestinians and Israelis getting along imperfectly, with continued improvements in quiet cooperation and the economies of both. Pessimists fear that Obama-Kerry have paved the way for another Palestinian uprising and Israeli responses that will destroy what had been built over almost a decade of minimum U.S. insistence on otherworldly aspirations.

Also in this period, China’s economic miracles are wooing American consumers with cheap clothes and gadgets, and Russian energy supplies are fueling its position on the Eurasian continent. American and Western European economies are doing okay, especially if you do not look too closely at the middle and lower-middle classes. America’s wrestling with the onset of modern health care is on a rocky part of its road, made inevitable due to the weight of profit-making insurance companies. Those rocks in the street could doom the Democratic Party in the next elections, but the Republicans may have to get rid of their ideological madness in order to profit from Democratic follies.

The latest sign of U.S. foolishness is announcing that it is Israel destroying weapons in Syria. This may be a minor blip in ongoing cooperation along with tensions. However, it seems unnecessary, and may cost the Obama-Kerry team some of what it wants from Israel in those negotiations. A quote from a ranking Israeli that was the big front-page headline of a middle-of-the road newspaper: “The United States is causing us problems.” 

As Washington ought to know, there aren’t many politics without tit-for-tat.

There are sure to be thousands, maybe millions, who will say that everything is Israel’s fault. It should not have come into existence. Or if necessary to provide a home for Jewish survivors, it should have limited itself, and folded into a nearby Arab nation. If it had to defend itself in 1967, it did wrong by not giving up everything occupied immediately. Since then it is all the fault of settlements.

Maybe. But here we are. It’s impossible to remake history, especially after the American errors noted above that continue to have unpleasant effects on all of us.

Part of where we are is due to the Palestinian response to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. Conditions—including Palestinian rejectionism—pushed Israel to withdraw unilaterally, and Israelis are still quarreling over the wisdom. 

But again, here we are. Can’t remake the past. And the Palestinian response to that withdrawal is working to preclude anything like that on the West Bank.

Israel will continue to build in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, as well as the major settlement blocs on our side of the wall constructed against Palestinian terror. Some other points may be open for negotiations. 

What is necessary is realism, primarily from Palestinians and Americans, with Europeans expected to go along. If all the well-intended stop making things worse by demonizing Israel and demanding what the Middle East’s lone democracy is not likely to accept, both Israel and the Palestinians can return to the status quo ante, and work together at getting along and improving things for both of us.

Oops. I forgot. Can’t undo history, including the recent damage laid at the feet of the American administration.

It will not be easy, and perhaps impossible, to ratchet down peacefully from a misguided peace process.

Back to America’s posture in the world: It is too early to project the loss of prominence. Dominance is already gone. It would help to stem further erosion if political activists can find something between the madnesses of Obama, Kerry, and Hillary Clinton on one side, and the Tea Party on the other. 

Given what we know about the likely continuation of present conditions, optimism would be dangerous.

Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

 

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