Some years ago my wife bought me a book by James Carville and Paul Begala entitled, “Buck Up, Suck Up…And Come Back When You Foul Up: Twelve Winning Secrets from the War Room.”
This 2003 book was a humorous, joyful read about politicians who overcame difficulties to find great success further on down the road a piece.
Carville is alleged to have come up with the mantra: “It’s the economy stupid.” Whether he really said that is a different question.
However, the concept of overcoming travail is a long and winding road in terms of political fortunes.
George Washington had not been a particularly successful general. Other than hanging on and helping to invent guerilla warfare, there is not much to be said about Washington’s prowess as a military leader. He suffered numerous defeats during the French and Indian Wars even before he became a general. During the American Revolution he was forced to abandon Long Island and New York, a defeat which stuck in Washington’s craw until the end of his life. The esteemed general thought that the war would end only if the Revolutionaries could retake New York. No such thing happened and thanks to the French, the end of the war occupied due to the defeat of the British fleet at Yorktown.
Nevertheless, Washington went on to a great and esteemed career. He was often referred to as “Your Excellency,” and most early Americans thought that he would serve as President until he died. There were even those who wanted to crown him King of the new United States. James McCulloch and other historians have pointed out that Washington’s greatness was walking away from the presidency after only two terms. At the time that Washington served, the two term limit on the presidency was not yet ensconced within the Constitution.
In spite of Washington’s failures, he succeeded brilliantly as President, mostly because he respected the democratic principles of the Founders, of which he of course was one.
Fast forward and you have two presidents who were not ready for war; Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. Both of them overcame the apathy of the American people, the insular nature of American political opinion, and the strong desire by the voters not to become involved in the problems of other people way overseas. Most leaders would have been tossed out on their ears after Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt, however, turned it into a brilliant moment of leadership. He rallied the people, fought a war that cost millions of lives, and defeated Nazism. Some historians blame Roosevelt for the fact that the Soviet Union seized half of Europe, but that is a debate that will never end. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, there were no public trials of military leaders who should have known that the Japanese were coming for us. Even those who saw the blips on the radar screen simply thought that they were American airplanes on their way from the west coast of the United States.
Even more remarkable was the story of General McArthur who was forced to leave the Philippines declaring that, “I shall return.” McArthur’s defeat in the Philippines was probably worse than the disaster at Pearl Harbor. Nevertheless, McArthur went on to have an exalted role during World War II and was on the deck of the USS Missouri when the Japanese surrendered after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. McArthur did not meet his comeuppance until President Truman fired him during the Korean War.
In the State of Israel, the fate of Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu is all but sealed. No one whom I have talked to believes that he has a political future. He will be kept around until the war against Hamas is won, and he may not even last that long. Israelis do not have a high degree of tolerance for bumbling or incompetent leaders, no matter how popular they may have been in the past. More importantly, the State of Israel cannot afford incompetence in high places. Israel can ill-afford mistakes, with only 6.5 million Jewish citizens and a country with 10 million people. Israel is surrounded by 500 million Arabs, and that does not include Iran which is not Arabic but is Muslim. They work hard for the spilling of Jewish blood.
I am not a believer in armchair generals or politicians. Only Israelis, who have the right to vote, and that includes Arabs, Jews, and a variety of others within the country, have the right to select their leadership. Not all Israeli Arabs are Muslim, although a great majority are. There are Christian Arabs also who vote in Israeli elections. However, it seems quite clear that the Israeli voting public is ready to give someone else a chance.
In a parliamentary system political longevity is difficult. Once a Prime Minister loses the majority of parliamentary members, the government will fall and new elections will be held. At this moment, Bibi is secure but that moment will not last long as pressure builds on the Prime Minister’s coalition to bring an end to the war and bring the hostages home. Israelis do not have a lot of toleration for the killing that goes with war. Notwithstanding all of the nonsensical propaganda against Israel, Israelis hate the shedding of human blood, believe that it is a violation of Jewish law, and seek Shalom Bayet (peace to the house) with their neighbors. Israel does have a peace treaty with both Jordan and Egypt. The gates of peace may have begun to swing open with other Arab nations as well.
Unfortunately, the Arab world has not been ready to take on Jihadist terrorism within its midst. While ISIS is waging war against Iran, blowing up Iranians within their own country, Iran would still rather have its proxies like the Houthis in Yemen attack US shipping and spill Jewish blood, rather than to fight the disease known as Muslim Fundamentalism. Each of these counties has the right to make their own decision as to their priorities. Likewise, the United States needs to make a priority of isolating dangerous rogue regimes which undermine American security and wage war against our most important allies.
While Benjamin Netanyahu’s day may be passed, he needs to be given the resources necessary to win the war against Hamas. He needs to secure the northern border against Hezbollah, an organization funded and supported by Iran which has effectively taken over both Syria and Lebanon, to the north of Israel.
Great leaders, someone once wrote, do not create great followers, but rather they create other leaders to take their place. Netanyahu needs to think about and work for the next day, when a smart well trained leader can take his place.