Great power? Sovereignty? 

 
Nice words, but more appropriate as the targets of a cynic than as a description of reality.
 
Reality is another word that should cause us to wonder.
 
In ancient Athens, Plato wrote about shadows on the wall. Those who see Judaic sources as competing with Greeks' contributions to civilization can cite what is attributed to David, “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!” (II Samuel 1:27)


Jewish tradition rejects those who מתייוונים, or act like Greeks. Opposition to Greek culture, as well as Greek rule, is at the heart of the Chanukah story. Leaving aside the multiplicity of gods, however, Greek concerns for understanding the physical and social universes form the essence of modern education. The vast majority of Jews outside of the ultra-Orthodox communities are as much Greek in their culture as Judaic.


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The Book of Ecclesiastes mixes Greek and Judaic themes, and illustrates the mutual dependence of two primary sources for our culture.


Charles de Gaulle made his own contribution to today's theme with, "The cemeteries of full of indispensable men," which we can adjust to read "indispensable people" for the sake of contemporary mores.


All of the above says that it is easier to claim influence than to wield influence. And that whatever influence one does exert is likely to be severely limited in time and extent. 


Or, as it is common to ask, What have you done for me lately?


All that is relevant to the meeting between Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, and how it is possible to view the frustration of each to influence the other.


No history of America during our lifetime should evade the heavy and frustrated investments in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Somewhat less attention--in line with lesser investments--might be devoted to Barack Obama's Nobel Prize winning effort to bring democracy to the Middle East, and his often repeated aspiration to produce a Palestinian State.


Bibi's critics show no concern for moderation in talking about his several years' efforts against Iran's nuclear program, and his later focus on the agreement whose creation the US chaired. 


Barack's critics, for their part, see no reason to save on the adjectives employed for that agreement, including how it has been implemented to date in letting the Iranians monitor themselves, and what the Iranians insisted would not be included. Prominent in the latter is Iran's continuing effort to develop intercontinental missiles, which have no apparent purpose other than for carrying nuclear warheads.


One of the latest blasts of governmental sentiment came from Vice President Joe Biden on the eve of Bibi's meeting with Barack. It illustrates the Vice President's job of doing what the President doesn't want to do himself, and Biden's reputation for losing control in the presence of a microphone. Click here for what has appeared several times on Israeli media.


Some will say that Israel deserves Biden's temper tantrum, given the madness of Bibi appointing a director of information who is on record for shrill nastiness toward leading Americans as well as toward Israel's own President.


Others may say that Biden tailored it for his audience, i.e., a convention of Reform Jews, most likely to be loyal Democrats and shrill critics of Bibi.


Notable in the clip is the loud applause for the Vice President's lecturing of Israel, using language and a tone of voice beyond what my first grade teacher ever directed toward me.


Some here may see it as the best reason for affirming Baratz's appointment, with the applause by Reform Jews for Biden's intemperate remarks justifying a further delay of generations before Reform Judaism gets the recognition it demands from the Israeli establishment. 


Whatever happens to Ran Baratz is not likely to affect either the future of the United States or Israel.


Iran, Palestine, Israeli settlements, how American and Israeli technical and military personnel deal with one another, and the Islamic State are weightier subjects, However, the development of them all is likely to reflect such a variety of influences that no single individual or action will be crucial. 


Barack Obama has expressed yet again his aspiration for a Palestinian State, describing it as something that is right for its own sake and essential for Israelis' good life. Yet now he concedes that the time is not ripe. Bibi has signaled that Israel will make some accommodations to Palestinians in the hope of tempering their violence, but he has pointedly avoided any mention of limiting settlement. The head of Jewish Home, without whose support Bibi has no government, proclaimed that Israel will not reward terror with concessions.


Politics is nothing if it is not multi-dimensional, and subject to a large number of influences.


Some governments are more influential than others. In the world of democracies, however, it is not easy knowing who controls any single government. Both Bibi and Barack have considerable leverage over their governments, and what their governments can accomplish, but neither can determine major policy without significant inputs from others, and both must reckon with major constraints from international sources. 


The Cold War has come back into play. The decisive Putin of limited morals has done better than multi-valued, decent, and ambivalent Obama in Ukraine and Syria. Yet Russians are unhappy about sanctions and the fall in the price of energy. They are also concerned--along with Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Philippines and the US--about the power and appetites of China. Russian worries focus on the underpopulated, resource rich expanse of Siberia, as close to the center of China as to that of Russia.


Tom and Jerry cartoons provide as good a lesson about politics as Plato, the Biblical David, or Charles de Gaulle. Mouse outsmarts cat is not only the stuff of cartoons for kids. Some degree of standoff in domestic and international politics is more likely than anyone's outright victory. Those of us brought up on the image of World War II and unconditional surrender got a bad start in life. It usually doesn't happen that way. Moreover, the realities of international politics--and needing both to counter the Soviet Union--led the US to nurture both Japan and Germany rather than to subjugate them. 


Influence there may be, but control is elusive. One predicts at a risk of reputation. But how much is the reputation earned by any of us really worth? De Gaulle would agree that cemeteries are filled with people who have acquired impressive reputations.



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