InFocus, out of bounce

I recently attended a discussion of Jewish and general foreign policy issues staged by Jewish Policy center in Manhattan, and would like to share some thoughts—to be honest, mostly critical of what i heard there and also read in the ‘InFocus’ magazine, despite—let me state right away—being a republican and considering myself a ‘neoconservative’. So, here we go.

Let’s start with what was discussed the most at that event—Iranian nuclear threat, and Obama administration’s presumed desire to weaken its stand on the Islamic Republic, perhaps at the expense of Israel(and possibly of other regional allies). There’s an old expression that ‘politics is the art of possible’. While it’d be great to get everything we want while making no concessions at all, it’s hardly possible in near future (though in the end, i personally believe, the values and model we usually call ‘Western’ or ‘democratic’, will prevail in all or almost all countries—what matter is figuring out right steps at right times, towards that goal). So, given this expression, everything, even the Iran problem, has to be viewed from every possible corner, weighing out possible gains and losses. And given the increasing assertiveness of Russian current regime towards Europe, one possible strategic step to thwart that conduct may be to come to some sort of terms with Iran. Iranian gas and oil are extremely dangerous alternative to Russian ones, and at least such scenario needs to be considered.

To be honest, i sometimes get the feeling that many folk on our ‘Jewish street’ are afraid of possible thaws in US relations with Iran and some other nations, not only and maybe not even so much due to legit fear of this trend putting Israel in viable security and other dangers, but simply cause we’re so used to the ‘special relationship’ with America, that we fear losing it. While Jews on great many occasions have shown outstanding compassion and participation in other peoples’ plights, there’s also a tradition of feeling our exceptionality, which sometimes makes us kind of jealous when Jewish suffering takes backseat to that of others. Current situation with Ukraine is one such example, as is, perhaps, Syrian one: while perhaps it’d be in Israel’s long-term interests to temporarily stay aside from world headlines, and allow US, EU and other major players to carry out broader-scaled approaches, we’re doing exactly opposite. Ultimately, Ukraine’s drift towards Europe is in Israel’s interest too, as is any nation’s drift towards democracy, tolerance, transparency and so on, and towards this goal, in my opinion, a deal with Iran which would allow its oil and gas to compete with Russian or Arab resources, making Ukraine and all of Europe less dependent on Putin’s blackmail, is in Israel’s interest as well. Sometimes, it makes sense to take into consideration some fairly remote country’s interests, when caring for those if Israel(moreover that Ukraine has one of largest Jewish populations both now, and historically, and as the state of all Jews, Israel has responsibility towards those of Ukraine, among other).

Now, on to the Iran nuclear threat itself. Let’s not forget a few facts: a)this program was started all the way back under the shah, who was supposedly(though rather dubiously) a friend of US and Israel. b)Having nukes had not prevented USSR from collapse, or North Korea from mass hunger and other internal problems. c)’Islamic nuclear bomb’ already has existed for about 15 years in Pakistan, never been used though, even with hostile relationship with India, internal terrorist struggles and so on. d). Internal situation in Iran itself, with people voting repeatedly for reform-minded presidential candidates, grand ayatollah Khamenei’s health issues, coupled with recent death of the even older head of the ‘Experts council’, dire economic state and many other issues, allows certain hope for eventual serious change inside the country itself. Sure, i was disappointed that we didn’t press harder for change in Iran during ‘green revolution’ 5 years ago—but there was no guarantee that such pressure would work, especially given support Ahmadinejad had got from Kremlin, with then-Russian president Medvedev shaking his hand and congratulating with ‘victory’ while violent protests raged all over Iran. And for that matter, the rifts even between Ahmadinejad and Khameneni also eventually came to light, as the former was essentially more of a national-populist, and the latter a more ‘classical’ religious conservative.

I was honestly appalled by a debate participant’s remark that ‘Iran is a despised and hated country in America’. Sure, wounds of the hostage crisis are hard to heal, but are we to take this to mean that no amount of sacrifice done by the 2009 protesters, no amount of Iranian immigrants, including vocally protesting their country’s regime, and no amount of support given to those Iranian expats by people like John Bolton, who hosted one such protest 3 yrs ago, is to excuse that stigma? Sad if so, sadder if it comes from a member of Jewish nation, who have had a great historical connection to Iran.

I also was quite taken aback by the amount of what one ‘dissenting’ QnA session participant called ‘Obama-bashing’, at the event. Yes, the state of US-Israel relations is currently seriously damaged; yes, the terms used by the anonymous State department official towards prime-minister Netanyahu, is, as president Obama usually says, ‘unacceptable’—but let’s keep in mind a few other things, including a lead-up to this spat. Had Obama administration been a true ‘enemy’ of Israel, would it use veto power in UN against anti=Israeli resolutions? Would it include it in ‘Iron Dome’, which served greatly to save thousands of Israelis from Hamas attacks this summer? Would it supply important ammo to IDF? Would it have from its first days members like Rahm Emmanuel, an ardent Zionist who volunteered for IDF during 1st Gulf war?

The war of words between the administrations reminds the eternal question of what came first, chicken or egg. Was it the aforementioned anonymous insult of Bibi? Was it the remarks about state secretary Kerry’s peace efforts by Moshe Yaalon, which in turn drew ire even of Avigdor Liberman—a man who some suspect of no less than being ‘a Kremlin agent’, yes he publicly stated in that rebuke that ‘We have no other strategic alternative to alliance with US’. Or was it perhaps open support of Romney by Bibi during election-2012? And to be honest, while supporting Israel with all my might and soul, i can’t help wondering whether there is no ground at all in Kerry’s own words, that the continued building of settlements in West bank and East Jerusalem, may actually do more to harm already near-dead peace process, than to help it or security of Israeli populace.

Now, on to some broader issues, in particular those regarding NATO and some of its members. I found outright ludicrous and very symbolic of regrettable state of mind of significant part of both Jewish and general conservative camp, the idea of ‘removing Turkey from NATO’. first of, i don’t know if such procedure is even possible. Second, Turkey under however controversial moderate islamist president Ergodan, has done some outstanding reforms, totally in line with Europeans standards and demands, both in economy and political system, and pushing the main Muslim member of what is still more or less of a unified alliance of free nations away from Western integration, is just gonna by definition push it the other direction—towards outright islamization, or else, shall Erdogan’s camp lose power, quite possibly into the hands of Kremlin, as some left-leaning political movements in Turkey are more sympathetic towards Putin’s policies, however misguidedly.

Nor is it fully true that Turkey’s indifferent in the ISIS situation. Yes, they refused so far to put their own troops into that fight, but then again, Erdogan has always been cautious in foreign policy, especially regarding Sunni Arab world, with which he, as any Turkish leader would have to, must maintain friendly attitudes. That may explain, as well as fear of empowerment of Kurdish movement inside Turkey proper, his opposition—unfortunate but understandable—to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But he has allowed, in a stunning reverse of attitudes, fighters from Turkish Kurd forces, to march through Turkish territory, to enter Kobani and stave off ISIS advance. As for ‘Gaza flotilla’, had Erdogan really been as hostile to Israel as he is often painted, we’d probably be witnessing greatest sea battles since Midway. Thankfully, the current Israeli-Turkish ‘freeze’ is nowhere near, and won’t be.

To return to the issue of «Obama-bashing’, it’s curious to note that for some ardent anti-Americans, he is as much a ‘warmonger’ as Bush, Reagan and all or near all other US presidents. He supposedly ‘started Libya war'(never mind that actually it was Europeans that took lead there, while US dragged its feet), and what’s more, did so after receiving Nobel peace prize; he wanted to bomb Syria last year, but due to low public approval, had to wait a year and then use ISIS as a pretext and a ‘Trojan Horse’ to finally intrude into Syrian affairs; he, as i mentioned above, shipped ammo and shielded Israel from UN censures, and so on. As that joke goes, the best and most encouraging stuff about Jews can be read in the most Antisemitic newspapers; by the same token, one who especially heavily weighs down on Obama and his foreign policy, should probably turn to some ultra-patriotic Russian, Islamist, Chinese and other similar resources, to somewhat cool off their anti-Obama zeal.

Onto other topics. An article in INFocus mag, surprisingly critically describes the results of NATO’s post-Cold war work. I am not sure where this attitude comes from: the alliance has secured peace in Balkans, ultimately—despite original slowness and disagreements—came together over the Libya crisis(as for current tough situation with islamists controlling parts of the country, it dazzles how is this NATO’s fault if there was no ground operation).

As response to the already mentioned ‘dissenting’ question about the origins of current Iraq problems, the reply was made that while its original goals of removing Saddam’s regime were accomplished quite fast, the war eventually went poorly, which turned people off of it. This needs some analysis. While i always most passionately supported this operation, as i do every or near every ‘power’ action by US, i see some flaws that brought about this —though by no means final or indisputable-failure. An important part of our free society’s ideology is the idea of ‘instant gratification’, which expects fast results from any action. US had never been in a war lasting longer than 4-5 yrs before, that is why even the absolutely righteous even in the eyes of most leftists campaign in Afghanistan, eventually wore the country down. What then of Iraq, where we went based on assumptions rather than clear facts of Saddam working on renewal of his WMD arsenal, and where we sent the lowest number of troops that was suggested by advisers, with then Army Chief of Staff general Shinseki even lost his position, as he was proposing a much larger force?

This is one of the biggest dilemmas of free society: how fare are we ever ready and willing to go, to what sacrifices and strains to resort, to achieve our goals? Sure, we’re not Stalin-era USSR where undivided loyalty to power and its policies, whatever they were, was demanded of every citizen, but there needs to be certain culture of dedication, especially in soheres directly requiring hard and possibly even ultimate sacrifices. If we’re not ready to go entire distance to victory, maybe we really should not aspire to be world’s megapower, and find someone to hand this role over to. But since no adequate candidate for this exists, i guess US still has this load to carry, in foreseeable future. And for that, leadership, even one we support, must be forthright and honest: if the amount needed to totally secure a win in a war is 180k troops rather than 120k, we must know that.

One more point: the possibility of Israel-Arab cooperation against various terror threats. I’d say that a)wildly different states can very well be not only allies but even friends—Israel was once quite close with Communist China and even Pakistan, Western Allies stood side by side with USSR against Nazi Reich, then there was the most peculiar ‘alliance of capitalists and communists against socialists, initiated by Nixon and Kissinger in order to drive a wedge between Mao and Brezhnev; examples abound. b)As far as i know, Qatar and Saudis are denying vehemently being proliferators of Islamic terrorism, in particular with ISIS, Hamas and Al-Qaeda. As long as we, at least on surface, are allies, we need to give our partners at least some benefits of doubt. Fact is, even the form of ‘top-to-bottom’ Wahhabism prevalent in Saudi Arabia, is quite different from the ‘populist’ one of the terror and other radical movements, including such as Hamas. This is why actually, Saudi authorities and armed forces have been engaging in most severe, and largely successful, anti-terror operations. Nor is even such ardently theocratic and monarchist country as Saudi Arabia totally ‘lost’ for democratic cause: there have been some cautious but important moves there, in the right direction.

Finally, onto the upcoming election. While rooting for the GOP, i am worried that a)it will fail to recapture Senate, due to its self-limitationist attitudes, putting so much emphasis on ‘illegal'(mostly Latin) immigration, alienating artistic and intellectual community rather than trying to build bridges back towards them, and many other shrotcomings. Hence, putting all eggs into one basket, that of Republican party, for our Jewish and Israeli interests would be a mistake. Building bridges is always harder than burning them, but it’s sometimes the only thing that can save the situation. Otherwise, we risk truly being alienated and losing almost all influence and relevance we still possess.

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Автор Алекс Якубсон

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