There’s a long and honorable legacy in the Jewish tradition of universalism, humanity, pacifism, and a generally forward-thinking, enlightened worldview. Of this legacy, Philip Klein of The Washington Examiner is not an heir; and his latest assembly of talking points and clichés is a testament as to why. With that mawkish machismo that so frequently defines wannabe militarists and warmongers, Klein (or an Examiner editor) titled his piece “Why Jews must fight.” As I read this stirring call to action, I couldn’t quite hear timpani drums. But I’m pretty sure I caught Jerry Bruckheimer, far off in the distance, screaming, “Action!”
Klein’s piece rehashes the recent events in the US-Israeli-Iranian melodrama, most pointedly Prime Minister Netanyahu’s heavy-handed and dunderheaded gift to Obama of the Book of Esther, a Biblical tale in which Jews in Persia stave off annihilation through righteous self-defense. Likudnik apologists like Klein went gaga for this move by Netanyahu. (It spoke directly to their conviction that, really, what difference does a millennia or two make? A Persian’s a Persian’s an Iranian.) It’s comforting to absolve oneself of all responsibility by imagining the enemy to be a representative of eternal, enduring, Forever Evil.
And make no mistake — Klein absolves Israel. Here’s how he describes President Obama’s relationship with the state thus far. I think you’ll catch the mind-numbing propaganda, but I’ll bold it just in case:
Sadly, Obama has given Israelis little reason to trust him. When he entered office, he sought engagement with Iran, while scolding Netanyahu for letting Jews build homes in the Jerusalem area in the same neighborhoods as their families. He supported sanctions only after being forced to by Congress. Three years later, diplomacy has failed and sanctions aren’t slowing Iran’s nuclear program.
Obviously the bolded is an egregiously dishonest way to describe the routine shirking of international law and dispossession of other families. As to diplomacy having “failed,” it’s not simply too soon for Klein to have reached that conclusion — it’s absurdly too soon. Less than 48 hours before Klein’s article went live came reports that Iran had decided to once again let UN inspectors examine their nuclear sites, in and of itself not a watershed, but potentially a significant step toward reopening negotiations. This morning, Supreme Leader Khameini (the only one person who calls the shots in the Islamic Republic) broke from precedent and praised Obama’s open hand:
Iran’s top leader Thursday welcomed comments by President Barack Obama advocating diplomacy and not war as a solution to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, a rare positive signal in long-standing hostile transactions between Tehran and Washington.
The report on Iran’s state television quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as praising a recent statement by the U.S. president saying he saw a “window of opportunity” to use diplomacy to resolve the nuclear dispute.
Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters in Iran, told a group of clerics: “This expression is a good word. This is a wise remark indicating taking distance from illusion.”
It is one of the rare cases in which Iran’s top leader praised an American leader.
If the goal is to stop Iran from acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear weapons without the United States potentially engaging in a fourth military campaign in the Muslim world during the past 10 years (and this is not even counting drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, or Pakistan) then this is definitely good news. However, if the real goal is to exorcise some unwarranted and anachronistic inferiority complex, to flex muscles, puff out chests, and bellow “Never again!” then these developments may not be so welcome.
And it’s this portion of Klein’s piece — which merely echoes Netanyahu’s repeated statements — that make me wonder if the latter, lesser motivation isn’t indeed driving the saber-rattlers, consciously or otherwise. He writes,
The choice facing Israelis is grim. Soon — some say within months or even weeks — the Iranian nuclear program will advance to the stage where Israel will no longer have the military capacity to prevent Iran from going nuclear.
As the Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick put it, at that point, “Obama will effectively hold the key to Israel’s survival. Israel will be completely at his mercy.” ….
Put bluntly: Israel cannot let its security hinge on Obama’s election-year rhetoric, especially if he gets re-elected. This is a reality that Netanyahu seems to recognize, something he implied by giving Obama the Book of Esther when they met and strongly articulated in his speech to AIPAC on Monday.
But here’s the thing: as tough and Churchillian as it may feel to say that Israel can let no other entity outside of itself decide its fate, it’s nonsense. Not only because Israel is a nation roughly the size of New Jersey whose military and economic existence is predicated, like nearly all nations, on its relations with the rest of the world; but because no nation gets to be the lone author of its future. The Economist is right on this when it writes,
News flash: Israel is not master of its fate. It’s not terribly surprising that a country with less than 8m inhabitants is not master of its fate. Switzerland, Sweden, Serbia and Portugal are not masters of their fates. These days, many countries with populations of 100m or more can hardly be said to be masters of their fates. Britain and China aren’t masters of their fates, and even the world’s overwhelmingly largest economy, the United States, isn’t really master of its fate.
Being a citizen of the United States, I’m not one well-served to throw stones at a nation for reacting to existential fears and anxieties by lashing out at an unnecessary (if not perhaps undeserving) adversary. But one would hope that after a decade-plus of continuous, gruesome, ruinous, and pigheaded war Americans would have learned a lesson. While it’s safe to assume from their overwhelming support of the neo-isolationist Ron Paul that those people who actually have to fight these wars are 10 years wiser, Klein’s piece is ample evidence that some remain unreconstructed.