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The long view of personal and political issues

Both are hurting now, but time can eventually heal diplomatic blunders, political setbacks and the pain of surgery

“Good Lord! Look at the size of that tumor!”

Not what I was hoping to hear from my hand surgeon as she looked at the MRI of my left hand.

So the operation to remove the benign growth that was taking over my palm was extensive, painful and damaging. It’s been nearly three months, and my poor hand is nowhere near back to normal. It will never be.

There are two ways to deal with this.

One way is to get frustrated over the pain and the limitations. Typing, something I’ve been doing since I was 14, is a minefield of missed keys, errors and misspellings in every line. Even opening jars is a challenge. Using a screwdriver is a right-handed chore now—I used to be ambidextrous. The pain is still pretty constant. So day to day, it’s no fun.

The other way is the long view.

A year from now, most of this will be behind me. OK, so my boxing career is over, but seriously, the limitations won’t be so awful. The pain will be gone. Whatever strength and feeling I have will be what there is. I am, after all, lucky to be able to use my right hand for everything that used to come naturally left-handed. My typing was never that good to begin with, and these days, I don’t need hand strength to pound an old, black upright typewriter. I can correct all the mistakes without using white-out, and no one’s the wiser.

I admit that taking the long view is a bit of a challenge sometimes, but it’s the right way.

That applies to practically everything.

Take Syria, spying, Obamacare and Iran, for example.

President Barack Obama is taking heat for failures in all four areas. He failed to attack Syria over its use of chemical weapons. He failed to prevent spying on US allies. He failed to ensure a smooth implementation of his health insurance reform. And most recently, he failed to hold the line against Iran’s dangerous nuclear program.

A learned friend wrote recently that he supported Obama, but now he’s losing patience over his “chronic inability to get in front of issues, as opposed to respond to them.”

It’s a widely expressed criticism, a widely felt frustration.

So let’s do the “long view” test on those issues.

The problem with Syria, according to the critics, is that Obama drew a red line on the use of chemical weapons, threatened a military strike, watched Syria cross the red line but did nothing. This obliterates the US deterrent power, goes the argument.

The fact is, US policy was surprisingly successful, considering that any American military move would have been counter-productive, uniting all parties in Syria against the American imperialist aggressor. Since the Iraq fiasco, hate of America has reached heights in this region that guarantee that wherever the US leads, movement will be in the opposite direction.

So look what Obama accomplished. Not only did he manage to frighten the Syrians, he frightened the Russians enough to get them to force Syria to give up its chemical weapons. Wasn’t that the object, unattainable through military force alone? It’s said that the most effective military operation is the one that proves unnecessary. That’s what this was.

So a year from now, Syria will be without all or most of its chemical weapons and without the means to produce new ones.

The scandal over the revelation that the US has been spying on its allies is puzzling. It should be common knowledge by now that everyone spies on everyone. There’s only one rule, violated in this case—don’t get caught.

A diplomat and I often discuss sensitive matters. When we get into those areas, he moves his cell phone out of earshot. He assumes, rightly no doubt, that someone is listening, even if it’s switched off. Western intelligence agencies trade clandestine information—but clearly not everything, so each country has to make up the differences for itself. It’s been that way since time immemorial.

So a year from now, this artificial spying scandal will be forgotten, and perhaps the most famous spy in custody, Jonathan Pollard, will finally be free.

The rollout of Obamacare was, is, a disaster. The health care website crashed, misdirected, mistransferred, mis-everything. There’s a danger that the fiasco might deter young, healthy people from enrolling, skewing the premiums and sinking the system.

A year from now, the rocky start, while regrettable, will be forgotten. Millions of Americans who were uninsured before will be covered. If the deal is good, young people will sign up. Just as Social Security and Medicare were contentious at the beginning and are now considered bedrock of American policy, so Obamacare will become part of the landscape, and people will wonder what the fuss was about.

Iran is the trickiest of these, because it’s still in flux, and it’s hard to mark where the one-year “long view” test should start. Critics, especially in Israel, worry that just when Iran was feeling the pinch of the sanctions, the West is going to let up without dismantling Iran’s nuclear program.

The counter-argument is that it’s better to bring Iran into the international fold and regulate what it’s doing than to isolate Iran and aim for the unattainable goal of razing all its nuclear facilities to the ground.

Also, some scholars have noted that since 1945, no one has actually used a nuclear weapon, and that lends strength to their contention that possession of nuclear weapons imposes a sensible foreign policy rather than the opposite. That applies to the US and its Western allies, of course, but it’s worthwhile noting that nuclear powers include un-Western and unstable Pakistan, which has also kept its nuclear weapons in the garage.

Of course there are limits to this long view method. It looks into the future, and nothing out there is certain. A year from now, though I consider it unlikely, Syria could produce a full arsenal of chemical weapons from a hiding place, Western nations could retaliate against the US for its spying, Obamacare could crash and burn and Iran could test its first atomic bomb.

My brother illustrated the limits of the long view approach when I observed that if this operation on my hand is the worst thing that ever happens to me, I’ll be just fine.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “It won’t be.”

About the Author
Mark Lavie covered the Middle East as a foreign correspondent for more than 40 years.