From here, it looks like my American friends are facing a choice between Jimmy Carter and Sarah Palin.

Barack is Jimmy, nebech in chief with respect to dealing with the important region of the Middle East. Like Jimmy, Barack has a naive hope for democracy among the countries with no cultural foundations for democracy, and is antagonistic to the one country that is as democratic as any in the West and the closest to being a reliable ally of the United States.

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(nebech is one of those Yiddish terms hard to pin down. One source uses the terms fool, ineffectual,clumsy, and pathetic.)

Mitt is too much like Sarah. He may have a better grasp of history and geography than the pretty lady from Alaska, and had a record as governor of Massachusetts, but he has signed on with the Neanderthals in his party. Opposition to public health care and other features shared by decent, modern, and respectable democracies puts him in the category "anybody but them" created when John McCain chose his running mate.

The problem is that the alternative is too much like Jimmy.

This region is important not only to those living in it. Oil and gas, along with religious fanaticism potentially coupled with weapons of mass destruction define its importance. There are a billion Muslims, with an increasing number of them living in Western Europe and the United States. Many maintain their insularity and fanaticism over the course of generations. 9-11 represents one bridge between places like Saudi Arabia and American immigrants. Major Nidal Malik Hasan, formerly of Ft Hood, is another. Britain, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark have their stories.

The ongoing violence against that banal filmlet should be sufficient indication of what Moshe Arens said repeatedly, that the Middle East is not the Middle West. There are signs that Americans are taking note. However, there are voices within the administration holding to the same naivete that the President expressed in Cairo and later, i.e., we have not tried hard enough. . . . perhaps greater pressure on Israel, and intervention on the side of the good guys in Syria will fix things.

Hillary''s expression of juvenile amazement ("How could this happen in a country we helped liberate?") is the best example of Americans who think that the Middle East is like the Middle West. Pity the rest of us--as well as my American friends--that she is nominally the advisor in chief of the commander in chief on matters of foreign policy.

Culture matters. Religion is an ingredient in culture. In case you haven''t noticed, those Muslims screaming, burning flags, breaking windows and killing do not resemble the decent Episcopalians of Indiana and Ohio.

Perhaps some of the rampaging is not so much religious fanaticism as animosity toward American power, arrogance, and interventions. Some of us are old enough to remember "Americans go home" from Western Europe of the 1940s, even while it was being saved by Americans from fascism, communism, and starvation. A Muslim friend, who I know to be moderate on things religious, has used one of the nastiest terms in Arab culture,"Crusaders," to describe American actions in this region.

American officials and commentators are piling on Prime Minister Netanyahu for insisting that the administration define red lines with respect to Iran''s nuclear program.

It is true, as Netanyahu''s critics say, that red lines limit options where a government must have flexibility. However, that is only for red lines publicly announced. One can assume that Netanyahu asked for greater specificity in private communications, in order to have assurance that the United States was serious about preventing Iran''s development of nuclear weapons. The administration''s campaign to ridicule Netanyahu, by suggesting that he was demanding a public announcement of red lines, adds to the conclusion that the Obama administration is not serious about stopping Iran. Need we find more reasons to think of Barack Obama as Jimmy Carter?

A prominent trait of culture is its resistance to change. Americans have been insular and parochial, with a certainty about their superiority, since the Pilgrims and Puritans settled in became my native state of Massachusetts. The slogan of the Revolution against taxation still shows itself. Need we cite the Tea Party''s self-assigned label, along with its opposition to mandatory health insurance and other features of modern democracies?

One should not exaggerate the ease of reforming the United States. Breaching the power of profit-makiing health insurance companies and making basic coverage universal, extensive, and hassle-free may be the equivalent of finding a way to end slavery in the 1850s without a civil war.

More important for me--with better mandatory health insurance than anything imaginable in the United States--is that Americans at the peak of the current administration seem unable to abandon the notion that Middle Easterners can be dealt with like Middle Westerners. Rational discourse coupled with reasonable incentives of cooperation are not the ways of populations that swear by the Protocols and persecute Christians.

What can happen as a result of American insularity, ignorance, and stubbornness?

Note that I wrote "can" and not "will." I am dealing with possibilities and not predictions. The possibilities are many, and there are no good reasons for anything close to certainty. Each of the following can be broken down to variations in detail.
  • Increasing sanctions imposed by the United States and other Western countries, that serve to produce change in Iran, perhaps by severely worsened economic and social conditions that the regime cannot withstand
  • Further cases of sabotage directed at Iran''s nuclear program, that serve to postpone and perhaps deter its development of workable weapons
  • Israeli military action, with who knows what degrees of effect, and a capacity to produce a wider conflict involving American military bases and energy exports from the Gulf
Among the least attractive possibilities is Americans led by their innocence and a simplistic humanitarianism to think that the most pressing problem of the Middle East is the carnage in Syria.

It is not my intention to praise Bashar al-Assad. However, there is a point to the view articulated by Russian officials that a regime has a right to defend itself against rebellion. I know that world norms have changed over the last century and one-half, and such a statement as follows will be viewed by many as sacrilege. Nonetheless, Assad so far remains far from the carnage that Abraham Lincoln invoked to protect the American Union.

It is tempting to work against the Assad regime, but the ramifications are not clear. Apparent from the reporting, claims, and rumors are a variety of uncoordinated opposition groups. They are receiving enough assistance to keep going (what some call insufficient dribbles of money plus light and medium weight munitions) from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf States, along with one or another kind of aid from the United States government and western do-gooders. Among the contenders for power are Muslim extremists, some under the umbrella of al-Qaida. What emerges from the best intentions of assistance may be no better, and even worse than what the Assads have provided, especially for the non-Muslim Syrian minorities .

Americans are investing a great deal of effort in planning for Syria''s future. One hopes that the folks in charge are as cautious as the New York Times.
"Mindful of American mistakes following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, (the State Department and Pentagon) have created a number of cells to draft plans for what many officials expect to be a chaotic, violent aftermath that could spread instability over Syria’s borders . . . "
Our Israeli mandatory health insurance is far better than the best assessments of what Obamacare promises, and other social services are thankfully closer to European than American norms. Sure, our taxes and what we pay for gasoline are above those tolerated by the mass of Americans who deserve the label of libertarians (and considerably above the levels demanded by Americans who pride themselves in the label of libertarian).

I do not envy Americans their presidential choices. Barack Obama looks much better for things domestic, but comes with the baggage of Jimmy Carter on the world stage. And there--sad for the rest of us--is where the United States is dominant. Mitt Romney may be wiser about things international, but he comes with those who thought Sarah Palin should be Vice President.

Here we have Bibi Netanyahu, at least until the next election, and quite possibly beyond. He may not be the ideal politician, but a half-century in the business has convinced me that there is no such thing. He ranks far above any available American alternatives in understanding this region. He is not America''s puppet. But there are strings.


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