In today’s Middle East, as always, and in most of today’s world, as always, the choice isn’t between good and evil. The choice is between better and worse. Around here, however, better’s rarely good and worse can be very bad, indeed.
So be it.
Moshe Arens (see previous post) got it right. He had the courage to state an uncomfortable obvious. Now the question becomes: What, if anything, is his former protégé, Prime Minister Netanyahu, going to do about it?
Mr. Arens, a former defense minister and Likud MK, wrote plainly. The Middle East has disintegrated. National borders, crafted by Europeans long ago, no longer mean much. Nor do nations. Murderous Islamism is spreading through the area, and around the world, and the response of millions of Arabs is not to stay and fight for nations in which perhaps they never believed. Their response is to get the hell out of that hell. But wherever they go within Western civilization, they bring the evil with them. Add in the African outpouring — speaking of borders that make no sense — and you have a Völkerwanderung unprecedented since the 1940s . . . or perhaps Rome’s final centuries.
So what’s a Bibi to do?
Among the many criticisms strewn in his wake, one seems especially damning. For all his time in high office, he has accomplished nothing of major significance. He has looked after himself and his cronies (sometimes); he has trashed his real and possible rivals. He refuses to address major foreign and domestic issues, leaving his successors to deal with the mess. He considers himself the leader of all the world’s Jews, but leads them . . . where?
Is the indictment accurate? Perhaps. As an American oleh, uninvolved in politics, I don’t know enough to say. But I will say this:
The current disintegration of the heart of the Middle East, and the likely disintegration of the rest of the region, and the global implications of the spread of Islamism, give Mr. Netanyahu an opportunity to redeem his career, indeed, to become in his final act a statesman of Churchillian proportions.
The challenge: to help craft, perhaps to serve as the center, of an anti-Isis/Islamism alliance that can defeat (not contain) this heinousness, without provoking Israeli internal strife, leading possibly to yet another Jewish civil war.
What might such an alliance, or set of alliances, look like?
You could start with an Israeli/Egyptian/Jordanian pact, leading to an independent Palestine led by some non-Islamist alternative to the present corrupt leadership, security guaranteed by the alliance. Forget Green Lines. The three hundred thousand or so residents of the established blocs ain’t goin’ back. Nor is Jerusalem going anywhere. This would create an irredentist Palestine, no doubt. But for the moment, the struggle against Islamism’s a lot larger that who gets how many dunams of what.
Could Mr. Netanyahu educate/persuade/force the small Jewish minority that would react violently to such a plan? And could he get the majority of Israelis to back him seriously? An American cliché holds that “Only Nixon could go to China.” (Not that the trip had such delicious long-term bennies). But there is truth in the notion that, when it comes to making peace and dealing with those who don’t want peace, conservatives often fare better than their more liberal, and less ruthless, colleagues.
Would the Egypt and Jordan, not to mention the folks now threatened by the Persians, agree? Well, an old retired U.S. Army colonel with decades of experience in this area, likes to say:
“It’s not what the Arabs will tell you in private that counts. It’s what they’re willing to say in public that matters.”
When we hear King Abdullah and General al-Sisi announce their willingness to visit Jerusalem, or something equivalent, and the rest of the region at least stays quiet, we’ll know.
That would be one alliance. A second might be with the man who keeps providing Barack Obama with object lessons in humility: Vladimir Putin. Now, Mr. Putin’s never going to win any congeniality awards. As for Russia’s domestic situation — the people of Russia are going to have to find their own way, just like everybody else. Cutting off their chicken parts and Big Macs won’t help. Neither will endless sermonizing or the pathetically heavy-handed and inept anti-Putin campaign being run by large sections of the American media. Mr. Putin, whatever his failings, is showing himself something of a Bismarckian statesman, aware of perils and opportunities, and also of limits.
He has said what Barack Obama dares not: that Islamism constitutes a clear and present danger to the world, including Russia (which has more experience dealing with Islamists than any country save Israel). He has drawn the conclusion that the United States should have drawn in 1979: letting Islamists of any flavor control territory, people and resources is a bad idea. He has reached what may turn out to be an appropriate conclusion: that Mr. Assad may well be the best that Syria and the region can hope for, just as Saddam Hussein may have been the best the Iraqis could manage. In any event, old-fashioned kleptocratic depotisms are preferable to fanatic Islamist empires.
But need these always be the only choices?
No — provided those (young?) Arabs who wish neither are sufficiently ruthless to make their desires stick, and are backed up by countries ready to do more than lecture and tell them how photogenically wonderful they are.
So. A central Israeli/Egyptian/Jordanian alliance leading, among other things, to an independent non-Islamist (Who wants another ISIS?) within borders reflecting present realities. A further open alliance with Russia, enabling both countries to deal with Middle Eastern and Central Asian threats.
But what of Europe? And of Israel’s “only friend,” the United States.
That’s for next week. Meanwhile, to ask the questions again:
Can Bibi pull it off? Does he even want to?
I suspect, perhaps, that deep down he might. And if so, perhaps the best we all can do is let Bibi be Bibi for a while and see what happens.
Finally today, according to lore and some old texts, Tertullian, one of the more voluble Church Fathers, once proclaimed: Credo Quia Absurdam. I believe because it is absurd.
For the present, I hold to Credo Quia Classificandum. I Believe Because It is Classified. Secret. Lots of secret stuff going on. Always. Much of it’s legitimately classified; much of it isn’t; much covers up incompetence, corruption, illegality and disaster. But I like to think that Mr. Netanyahu wants to go down in history as that rarest of statesmen: someone who left his country, and his world, better than he found it.
My belief may turn out to be absurd. But I’m willing to believe. At least, for a while.
Next: Israel, America and Europe: What if We’re Just Not That into Each Other Anymore?