In 1933 FDR hinged his first inaugural address on his "firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
Binyamin Netanyahu should inaugurate his second administration with this exact sentiment, stated as boldly and as unambiguously. Unlike the morale issues of Depression-era America, in our case irrational fear is an existential threat.
Successive governments have been crippled by fear. This already manifest fear - contagious as it is - might also overwhelm Netanyahu's psyche and infect the new Likud-led government. We have every cause to fear the establishment's transmittable fear. We'd be crazy not to fear it. The danger of fear in high places reasserting itself is too palpable to pooh-pooh.
Fear has come to dominate our zeitgeist ever since Oslo - perhaps itself born of the fear to defend our interests, if need be, in defiance of a world that keeps turning against us. Our two most recent military showdowns - 2006's Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead - illustrate the fiascos which fear-engendered inhibition produces. In both campaigns we patently hadn't achieved much of anything. We demonstrated impressive firepower but failure of will to follow through effectively enough to inflict instantly recognizable defeat on the enemy and amend the bad situation which forced us into the battlefield to begin with.
Things look abysmal even without factoring in the thorough diplomatic trashing and disastrous image-tarnishing to which we were subjected. When the deafening din died down, the enemy was left standing upright and ready to fight another day. We didn't eradicate or even significantly reduce its rocket arsenals. Indeed, both Hizbullah in the north and Hamas in the south continue to arm themselves. Hamas, moreover, also continues its intermittent barrages on civilians, with the international community chillingly indifferent and evidently taking no notice.
Action in both cases didn't spring Israeli hostages. In the fighting's aftermath both Hizbullah and Hamas still held out for the entire ransom. Though battered and bruised, they were the ones who strove to dictate terms and impose their will on us and not vice versa. So, with neither Hizbullah nor Hamas prostrate, who's the winner here?
IT'S NOT that the country under Olmert/Livni couldn't win. It was afraid to. We were turned into the unhappy real-life equivalent of the unnerved athletes in a uniquely effective episode of TV's animated Batman series. Aptly entitled "Fear of Victory," this classic features the recurrent villain Scarecrow, who slips star sportsmen an adrenalin-activated fear-toxin. As they gear themselves up for competition, they get scared of winning. Scarecrow then bets against them, sure that, despite these champions' legendary abilities and proven experience, they cannot succeed.
Hamas, Hizbullah and their Iranian/Syrian masters similarly bet against this country, sensing that it's intimidated against going the whole hog and actually trying to crush them. They're not blind to the paradox that the more hi-tech, scientifically advanced and militarily-sophisticated we become, the weaker our leadership's resolve. In the psychological combat zone, the Arabs make mincemeat of us - time and again.
The last thing we should do is belittle our antagonists. They are way shrewder than us and see right through our poses. They remember our spirited stand in the face of their terrorist onslaughts in the 1970s. They remember our refusal to bow to extortion when they hijacked planes and buses, invaded homes and captured children in schools and baby crÃ¨ches. We were willing to risk casualties but not to yield and thereby enhance terrorist incentives to take more hostages.
ARABS MUST now be so buoyed by the perverse spectacle of Israelis demonstrating against their own government to free Gilad Schalit. This hostage after all wasn't kidnapped by official Israel but by our enemy. That enemy must be delighted that "useful fools" press its demands for the full exorbitant payoff. Hamas henchmen must be mystified that Israelis clamor to release captive enemies back into the arena to butcher more of us. We've become a timid, compromise-addicted lot. The long-term outcome of the life-and-death conflict foisted upon us no longer takes precedence.
We once mocked terrorist bluster. Today we listen to Nasrallah or Mashaal with trepidation and seek ways to appease them. They know our mind-set has mutated. They know yesteryear's Israelis expected daring commando responses to terrorist outrages, yet today we hesitate to venture out-of-the-box lest we incur wrath abroad. They know that our fallen, once regarded as heroes, are today counted as victims of avoidable slipups. They are aware of the numbing risk-aversion of our politicians, who fear media carping and commissions of inquiry more than genocidal foes.
Above all, our enemies know that they managed to get politically-correct Jews to perceive themselves via the lenses of Arab propaganda. We even resort to the vocabulary of its distortive narrative. In our own school curriculum, we acknowledge that slanderous narrative's depiction of our independence as a Nakba (catastrophe). Like them, we describe their terrorist aggression against ordinary people as an intifada (valiant uprising), a cease-fire as a hudna (a deceptive truce) and a lull as a tahadia (temporary respite of convenience).
We blabber about "occupation" without asking by which line Arabs demarcate areas where a sovereign Jewish existence might possibly be accepted. Is it the 1949 line? 1947? None at all? Does "occupation" refer only to territories we have held since 1967 or also where Jews settled in 1870?
By adopting the other side's verbal icons, we buy into its thought manipulation. Without bothering to understand the cultural context and definitions of the jargon we obsequiously borrow, we play the Arab game and forgo the justice of our cause. In this region especially, self-deprecation doesn't improve one's negotiating posture.
On the eve of the Annapolis conference, for instance, PA "moderates" under Mahmoud Abbas vehemently refused that the two-state formulation specify Israel as the national state of the Jewish people. It became an absolute nonstarter. Fearing commotion, Olmert and Livni backed down. The upshot: Israel is tolerated provisionally as some pesky transient evil, with an indeterminate ethnic identity which could be Arabized in future.
IN THESE PSYCHO-POLITICAL circumstances it would be very gutsy to aim to win instead of insecurely trying to conciliate an in-your-face uncooperative "peace partner." Netanyahu is now tasked with the mission of inducing Israelis to lose their fear of victory, assuming of course that he himself isn't afflicted by that peculiar fear.
If FDR spoke of "efforts to convert retreat into advance," Netanyahu's unparalleled challenge is not to allow collective defeatism to convert advance into yet another retreat. It's now up to Bibi. No Batman will rescue us from the Scarecrow of our own making.