Peripherocentrism, Israel and the World


A word I made up some years ago, denoting a philosophy and praxis wherein you don’t want to take on the big problems, so you worry the little ones to death.

Iran is a big problem. The Iran “deal” — why doesn’t anybody ever call it an “agreement”? Perhaps because everybody knows there is no real agreement? — is a little problem.

A very little problem.

The “deal” doesn’t matter.

But all this fussing over it, does.

First, a bit of somewhat relevant disclosure.

My intention when coining this word was not to enrich the English language with one more bit of pretentious jargon. I was living in Washington, DC, a college professor/journalist/think tank pogue of no great significance, and I grew tired of explaining at social events that I was a college professor/journalist/think tank pogue of no great significance. DC is, after all, a place where “But enough about you; let’s talk about me” replaces “How are you?” as an all-purpose greeting, conversation-starter and sexual lead-in.

So I made me the nation’s premier expert on peripherocentrism (a DC activity as common as reading your lover your résumé before each tryst) and president of the AAAA/PM, aka the “A-Quad/PM.” That’s the American Association for the Advancement of Applied Peripherometrics.

Our motto: “If It’s Far Enough Out, We’ll Measure It.”

That solved the problem of cocktail party self-importance. And indeed, it was quite gratifying, how many people had heard of my pioneering work, and had even used my ideas. But it also made me keenly and hideously aware of how peripherocentrism has become the obsessional attitude, the everyday stance and the death warrant of Western civilization.

Current example: the Iran “deal” that no one expects the Iranians to adhere to, or the other signatories to enforce. Even the Nattering Nabobs of Nuclear Nonsense (Thanks for the memories on that one, Spiro; anybody remember ole Spiro?) declare it nothing more than a forlorn “best [available] chance to avoid war.”

It should be made of sterner stuff.

So why should Prime Minister Netanyahu make such a fuss about it?

Some suggest that this particular exercise in peripherocentrism has its purpose, at least insofar as it gets Israeli minds off the Territories, Jewish terrorism, and the like. Others point to flaws in Mr. Netanyahu’s character. I’m qualified to pass definitive judgement on neither. But as a past president of the A-Quad/PM, I may be entitled to note that, historically, Israel has talked about little save Israel, and that, in ha’olam ha’gadol, this may be considered an exceptionally vacuous and self-defeating form of globalized peripherocentrism.

No, Israel. It’s not all about you, any more than it’s all about the jerks du jour who inhabit Washington, DC this and every administration, and who know not the world, only each other and, less often, themselves.

My first distinct, alas, too distinct impression of Mr. Netanyahu came about in 1991. The First Gulf War (known back then only as the Gulf War) was underway. Israel had been ostentatiously proclaiming for months that only Israel defends Israel, and if Saddam were to attack, all options were either on the table or getting up off the floor. Finally, Israel, as a gesture of spiteful recognition that more was involved here than Israel, had agreed, more or less, not to retaliate.

I was watching Bibi on TV, giving an interview from Tel Aviv. I remember nothing of the interview itself. The sirens sounded and the interview had to terminate quickly, so that those involved could get their gas masks and head for the safe room. Those last five seconds before cut-out — Winston Churchill couldn’t have asked for a more delightful opportunity for a brilliant final few words: something Americans could relate to and cherish.

“We’re with you to the end, America.” Or perhaps something more stirring. Or maybe just a sang-froid-ian “Catch ya on the flip side.”

Mr. Netanyahu chose none of the above. Instead, he waved a gas mask in front of the camera, waved it in the faces of America, and said in a decidedly non-grace-under-pressure tone of voice:

“You see what we’re up against? They’re trying to gas us again.”

America, Israel’s greatest friend and patron, had a half million men and women at war. No one knew how things might go. And Mr. Netanyahu found nothing to talk about besides Israel. And, of course, “they.” And gas.

His sincerity was, I have no doubt, total. But it was the wrong thing to say.

Which brings us back to his holy war against that idiot “deal” and its willfully self-deluding supporters.

What might Mr. Netanyahu say to the world, today, that the world could not dismiss as same old/same old from same old/same old? What’s available other than “It’s all about us, and if you don’t agree, we’ll rant and rave and insult you and do all the other stuff that has already lost us so many hearts and minds?

One hint.

Long ago, before all that postmodern junk came to dominate political and military thinking, writers such as Liddell-Hart distinguished four levels of national concern. The first he called “grand strategy.” Specifically, what is/are the abiding national goals and purposes? Beneath that, “strategy” – the military component of grand strategy. Beneath that, and of no relevance here, the operational and tactical levels of the military art.

To condense it into a formula: From 1948 on (and before), Israel’s grand strategy has been the creation, protection and up-building of a Jewish State. As clear a grand strategy in its way as Lincoln’s determination to restore the Union or FDR’s “unconditional surrender” of the Axis. No communication problem there. And for decades the world, much of it, more or less approved, more or less admired Israel’s grand strategy. But that goal has been achieved. A new grand strategy, a new national purpose that encompasses but also goes beyond the old one, is needed.

One that the civilized world, and those struggling to civilize their worlds, can understand and share.

The greatest obstacle: Israel’s self-obsession. Understandable from the Israeli and some of the Jewish point of view. But to the world: peripherocentrism.

Time to face facts. “It’s all about us” makes for poor Hasbara.

Perhaps “We’re all in this together” might work a bit better.

Next: John Boyd

About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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