We've known for a long time that politics combines theater with serious business. How much of each can vary from place to place and within each place by circumstances?
Israeli pundits are having fun with recordings of Netanyahu's hyperbolic promises and subsequent behavior. The prime minister has lost ground with the voters, but the same polls that show sharp decline in support for his conduct of the Gaza operation are showing that he is the only game in town. He has two or three times the percentage supporting him than other contenders for the big job.
Perhaps Israelis have learned to accept and discount Bibi's bluster, to enjoy their decent level of existence, and to ignore the prime minister when he claims responsibility for all that is good.
Somewhat more frightening is the record of Bibi's American equivalent. It's hard to measure these things, but it appears from his public comments that the American leader is far removed from a realistic assessment of important things. What makes that more frightening than an Israeli's bluster is the power of the United States to act or not, with results of great good or harm.
Obama's record includes demanding, and perhaps expecting democracy and equality in the Muslim Middle East, discarding a moderate leader of Egypt while asserting that he was an extremist, seeing the mechanics of a third world election as more important than the essence of Islamic passions in the elevation of the Muslim Brotherhood to the control of an important Muslim country, and delivering three-quarters of an impassioned speech against Syria's use of chemical weapons while the final quarter of the speech said that he would not do anything.
The most recent Obama wonderment is saying that the US does not have a strategy for dealing with Daish et al. He has sent his ponderous Secretary of State John Kerry on an international tour to gather support from a joint operation, largely among countries that have learned to distrust the Obama administration. Given the record, we can expect him to shuffle away from anything serious.
Historians and others will quarrel about the contribution of Obama's Nobel-winning speech to Arab Spring, and its metamorphosis from hopes for democracy to the realities of barbarism.
Mainline Israeli commentators have been ridiculing the lack of judgment in the Obama administration, focusing on the obsessive concern for a formalized peace between Israelis and Palestinians when it should have been clear that neither were ready; seeing Qatar as an appropriate mediator between Israel and Hamas; and now dithering about what to do in response to the escalating ugliness of what is politely called Islamic extremism.
Competing with all of this in a continuing performance is the role of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Staying in office five years after the end of his term exceeds the political comedies typical of the third world, where at least the semblance of election occurs as a device to claim legitimacy.
One wonders what is more worthy of cynicism: Abbas's travels to meet the leaders of the world, kissing cheeks, reviewing honor guards, or proclaiming what it is doubtful he can deliver? His recent description of Khalid Marshal as a "peacock" after a meeting when each was claiming how much they could do for Gaza is worthy of some praise, but neither Abbas nor Mashal is likely to provide Palestinians more than individuals and families can acquire through their own hard work.
We should all learn something from the Palestinians. Politics is out there and cannot be avoided, but cynicism may be an essential component of mental health.
At the same time, we should not overlook the essential task of comparison. It's a lot better on this side of the poorly defined borders with Palestine. When the Israeli government orders our children, grandchildren, or those of our friends into action, it is important to go along. We--and those younger folks risking a great deal more--will not get everything promised, but it would be a lot worse if we did not cooperate.
One must admit that judgement is difficult.
Iran is a case in point. Should we remain convinced that it is set to prepare nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, see signs for hope in what some claim to be its compliance with international demands, take heart from the US reinstating certain sanctions, applaud Iran's contribution to the military campaign against Daish in Iraq, or dismiss that as nothing more than Shi'ite mobilization against Sunni forces?
We should remember that politics is the most civilized way of settling disputes. Its essence is argument prior to voting, either by the masses in an election or by those who have acquired office and the responsibility to make policy.
Among the legitimate subjects of dispute are which candidate to select? what policy to support and has the incumbent screwed up enough to be thrown out of office?
Also to be remembered is that the cynic's handbook for politics has no chapter on heroes. The authors may have searched for examples for such a chapter, but found none worthy.
It is not pleasant for Israelis to realize that we are on the borders of civilization, that many see us as part of the problem rather than part of the solution, and that the purported leader of the free world is wondering if a looming disaster is a problem worthy of action.
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