On Tuesday, 11 August 2015, Ha’Aretz (English language print edition) ran as its above-the-fold headline:
Netanyahu to Democrats: I won’t tell you how to vote on Iran Nuke deal.
If I were an American seeking to delegitimize Israel, I would blast that headline all over the Internet, and everywhere else.
“So Bibi has graciously condescended to tell his Congressional servants that he won’t command them on this issue. No doubt, he has other servants who will do it for him.”
Now back to the subject at hand: something Israelis don’t understand about Americans. And it deals with more than foreign potentates wearing out their welcome.
When my wife (also a writer) and I made Aliyah in 2010, one of the things we hoped to accomplish was to “reach back” to America and maybe explain a few things about Israel in ways Americans could understand and approve. God knows, Israel’s not doing such a good job on its own. But we never imagined that we might have to explain America to Israelis.
After all, Israel’s the 51st state and Israelis already know everything they need to know.
Except when America stops behaving with due deference and submissiveness.
And Israelis wonder, Don’t they know their place?
Unfortunately, they do. Or at least, they think they do. Or at least, they think that knowing their place also means actually having that place. Or that knowing their place can substitute for having that place.
Whatever, the verbal convolutions, there’s something Israelis need to know about Americans, as we have been and very likely still are. Their endless capacity for manufactured self-delusion. And their fickleness when the delusion ceases to gratify.
So before talking about Israel, let’s talk about Russia.
In his War Message of 2 April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson assured the Congress and the people that Russia has “been always in fact democratic at heart” and that the expiring Tsarist regime “was not in fact Russian in origin, character or purpose.” And now that those pesky Romanovs were headed for the dust bin of history, the Russian people would naturally and majestically embrace their predestined democratic future.
Didn’t quite happen that way. But Mr. Wilson’s erudite myopia set the pattern for the next century, of seeing what you want to see in Russia (and in other countries and leaders), and more importantly in the Russian peoples, and using the delusions so obtained for domestic purposes.
As long as convenient.
One delusion in particular merits attention here. All through the Soviet decades, Americans told themselves: “The Russian people are great. If they could only get rid of that damned communism, we’d have no quarrel. We’d be great friends.”
Translation: They’d be just like us.
Again, didn’t quite happen that way. When the Soviet Union collapsed, we congratulated ourselves on how we weren’t congratulating ourselves. Then we sent them food and advisers. The food mostly ended up on the black market, but at least it got eaten.
The advisers? Well, any economist worth her metrics could have told you how rapid privatization and instant democracy would play out in a country with no significant democratic history; where business had long been a criminal activity – and there lived a population traumatized by decades, no centuries, of trauma, oppression, privation and abuse.
And maybe, just maybe, they didn’t want to be like us.
A good and decent, enduring people, the Russians. But governed once again by criminality and oligarchy. Oligarchs and criminals. Crime and corruption and chaos . . . and a Russian people who wisely chose non-totalitarian authority over pseudo-democratic anarchy, in the person of Vladimir Putin.
Vladimir Putin pulled Russia back from the abyss. And it infuriated Americans — those, at least, who babbled self-righteously about the matter — mightily. Whether Mr. Putin & Friends have stayed too long, may be asserted. What is not open to debate is that, were he to die or retire today, he will have left his country better than he found it. Far better than it might have been.
Not a claim that Barack or Dubya can make.
And Americans know it.
But Americans, at least those who are paid to shape American opinions, paid perhaps in part with Russian expat and anti-Putin money . . . those folks are doing their best to hide it, elide it, twist it and pretend it never happened.
This latest anti-Russian PR campaign began years before the Crimean event. Whatever the future holds for Russia economically, and in Ukraine, the campaign won’t let up.
We were told how wonderful all those idealistic, telegenic young urban liberals were, what with their faxes and social media and demonstrations and all. We knew exactly what they were against. What they were for, and how they intended to get it, were left somewhat vague.
Still, they were the all-purpose Good Guys. Vladimir Putin? The man you need to learn to love to hate.
Hasn’t quite happened.
Some years ago, we were practically ordered to plaster our T shirts and auto bumpers with “We Are All Pussy Riot Now.”
We were warned in apocalyptic verbiage that Russia had designs on Samovia, and it was our sacred duty to support that free and proud people. Forget Pussy Riot. Let it now be: “I’m a Samovar, Too.”
We were urged to march every time the New York Times or Fox News reported or hinted at some Russian high crime and misdemeanor, foreign or domestic, whether murderous or trivial. Get out the hate, America.
Perhaps, not enough money behind it. Yet.
And perhaps that’s what it’s all about. Money. The money, once again, to form American opinion, to morph it from relatively benign indifference to implacable — but also non-compelling — hostility.
As mentioned in earlier posts, the Pentagon’s June 2015 National Military Strategy of the United States and subsequent high-level testimony, decreed Russia the world’s pre-eminent peril. The same document also noted that although neither Russia nor any other state seeks “direct confrontation” with the United States . . .“ today, and into the foreseeable future, we must pay greater attention to challenges posed by state actors.”
Translated into honest English: That’s where the defense money is, fighting admittedly non-existent national threats, especially after a couple decades of failed R & D, preposterously overpriced new weapons and other acquisitions, unrequited nation-building, and all those satchels of crisp new Benjamins delivered to all those warlords in exchange for, shall we say, bopkess.
Pentagon money. Also, no doubt, all those billions America has graciously accepted from all those Russian oligarchs and mobsters, many of whom don’t much care for Mr. Putin. Money that America is now busily (and quietly) recycling into high-end Manhattan real estate and other necessities of life among the favored.
Pentagon money. Oligarch money. Perhaps also Russian and other monies sent America’s way by Mr. Putin’s full-time non-well-wishers, designed to win friends and influence the influencers.
But while money alone can explain what’s on offer, money alone can’t guarantee that the American people will buy it. If Mr. Obama and his minions actually believe that pumping up a non-existent Russian threat can hide the fact that Mr. Obama’s ceding regional dominance to Iran, accepting Iranian support of global Islamist terror, and betraying both Israel and the other states in the Gulf region . . .
If Mr. Obama honestly believes that demonizing and opposing and hurting a Russia desperate to find its own way to a post-Putin creative and prosperous stability, just so America will ignore the global disaster he’s perpetrating . . .
He may be on to something.
Next: The Mindset of Non-Binding Containment