One day before US President Barack Obama touched down here and began to beguile us, flamboyant French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy was reportedly barred from Libya’s Tripoli because of his Jewishness. On the face of it, these two episodes are wholly unconnected. But, on closer inspection, they’re not.
Lévy had been an avid Obama fan since 2004, gushed about him unreservedly and even crowned Obama the “Black Kennedy.” However, there’s way more that ties the two men. Obama and Lévy are both hyper-hyped photogenic trendsetters and charismatic superstars. Foremost, though, both have compelling reason to reevaluate their strongly held maxims.
Both believed in the Arab Spring, in heralding a new free-thinking and broadminded Arab orientation. Each in his own way contributed to what he trusted was a defining historic makeover.
Obama, at the helm of the world’s sole remaining superpower, helped topple old stalwarts like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak with mere words. Lévy, a swashbuckling intellectual with no might behind him, singlehandedly goaded then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy to mount a European intervention to aid the Libyan rebels. It was quite a feat for one individual, no matter how iconic.
Lévy travelled repeatedly to strife-torn Libya, likening its rebels to the Warsaw Ghetto fighters, no less. Sparing no hyperbole, he declared Benghazi “the capital not only of Libya but of free men and women all over the world.”
Here we need to interject that Algerian-born Lévy is by no means one of the garden-variety Israel-bashing leftist Jewish scholars who proliferate in fashionable salons and prestigious campuses. Quite the contrary. Lévy is proudly Jewish and forthrightly characterized anti-Zionism as “the new mutation of the anti-Semitism virus.”
But so entranced was he by the Libyan insurrection, that he chastised Israel for its skepticism about an overhaul of the Arab mindset.
“Exaggerated caution, withdrawal, silent disapproval,” He wrote in 2011, “would place the heirs of the great Zionist dream in an untenable position, one that would be unworthy of their history. I am hard put to see how a country can be proud – rightly so and for such a long time – of being the sole democracy in the Middle East and yet hesitate to welcome its neighbors when they attempt to join it, embracing, at the cost of heroic combat, the values Israel has exemplified.”
Shortly thereafter, Lévy told Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that Libya’s opposition leaders will establish diplomatic ties with Israel should they come to power.
A mere two days later, the self-same rebels released a communiqué that “strongly rejects what has been reported in some media as Mr. Bernard Lévy's comments on the future relationship between Libya and the Israelis.”
It was a slap in the face but Lévy wasn’t disheartened. Likewise, Obama appears not to have been overly disheartened by copious evidence that the much-ballyhooed Arab swing to liberal values was no more than a cynical façade for a takeover by the distinctly illiberal forces of Islamic fanaticism.
During his charm offensive here, Obama spoke of American support for “the Egyptian people in their historic transition to democracy,” seemingly in total oblivion of the very counter-democratic course of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. He further asserted that “the United States continues to work with allies and friends and the Syrian opposition to hasten the end of Assad’s rule.” He just failed to mention that in opposition-held areas, women are compulsorily confined to their homes in keeping with strict Muslim edicts, while public lashings have been adopted as due punishment for an assortment of religious transgressions.
That said, despite his reluctance to confess his critical errors of perception and policy, Obama did indicate awareness that things aren’t truly going to plan. In one candid second, during his joint press conference with Netanyahu, Obama did own up that “obviously what was already a pretty tough neighborhood has gotten tougher.” In other words, much as he’s loath to admit it, he knows that the Arab Spring made things worse rather than better.
In the final analysis, even Obama must realize that America’s only constant and reliable ally in this corner of the globe is the tiny Jewish state, which he studiously excluded from his overseas excursions itinerary during his first White House stint.
All around Israel, synthetic nations, concocted by British and French imperialists last century, have now dismally disintegrated into tribal, religious and sectarian components. The Middle East was reduced to bedlam.
Therefore, the very fact that Obama continues to promote the two-state chimera is unsettling. Given the madhouse chaos of this pivotal region, the cause of world peace would not be served by the introduction of yet more anarchic players in the shape of a sovereign Palestine and an insurgent Jordan.
All that allows Ramallah figurehead Mahmoud Abbas to parade as a peace-partner is the fact that Israel props him up. The same goes for King Abdullah in Amman, who would have been deposed, were it not for Israel. Both are able to posture in the international arena simply because Israel underpins them.
As soon as Israel pulls out, Hamas or kindred Islamic fundamentalists will take over. Only Israel keeps them at bay. Coercive pressure to create the Palestinian state that Obama so ostensibly yearns for, will not only harm Israel but will inescapably lead to the downfall of Israel’s purported interlocutors, chiefly Abbas (whose mandate from the voters expired years ago). The resultant mayhem will, just as inevitably, knock Jordan off balance.
Abbas anyhow, lacks courage to make a deal, which would in effect mean relinquishing the currently claimed right to inundate Israel with millions of so-called Arab refugees. Abbas cannot end the dispute with the Jewish state.
His predecessor Yasser Arafat, who didn’t lose Gaza and who wielded incomparably more clout than Abbas, feared to accept then-premier Ehud Barak’s egregiously generous offers in 2000. No wonder Abbas rebuffed an improved offer from Ehud Olmert in 2008. For Arafat’s successor, theatrical poses aside, striking a bargain is tantamount to actual suicide.
In a way, Obama gave Abbas an out in 2009. By pressuring Netanyahu to impose a ten-month moratorium on Jewish construction beyond the 1949 Armistice Line (a.k.a the Green Line), Obama supplied Abbas with a pretext to avoid even the semblance of seeking a modicum of accommodation.
Obama’s settlement freeze had swelled into Abbas’ permanent precondition. He cannot be seen as demanding less than the American president. Unwittingly, Obama has sabotaged his own pet project. He should have understood that Abbas cannot deliver.
For all of Obama’s peace preaching, a Palestinian state is not a remotely viable option because no Palestinian leader can sign on the dotted line – and that’s without even dwelling on the minor matter of squeezing Israel into an indefensible nine-mile waistline. Israel’s densest population centers would be exposed to daily battering that would make all the rocket barrages unleashed on our south by Hamas and on our north by Hezbollah look mild in comparison.
But, more often than not, public figures find it advantageous to cover up gaping flaws in their sales pitches. It’s detrimental to be seen as backing down from pious pretense and buoyant pledges to fix the world. Some fallacies, especially of the hope-stirring sort, are difficult to ditch.
Sunshine and cheer are seductive and therefore confer political perks aplenty on those who can dispense them with aplomb. Take our own indefatigable president Shimon Peres. “Peace is not only a vision but a possibility,” he intoned confidently to an appreciative Obama.
It was music to Obama’s ears. Despite everything which the Arab Spring dished up – coupled with the lethal damage he wrought to his own first-term attempts to kick-start meaningful Mideast negotiations – Obama still extolled the virtues of finding a “resolution to this issue,” i.e. the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Such resolution, Obama responded gladly to Peres’s cue, will “enhance Israel’s security” and help Palestinians “channel their extraordinary energies and entrepreneurship in more positive ways… The entire region will be healthier… So I’m going to keep on making that argument.”
We’ve of course heard lots such mantras before. This time, though, Obama was refreshingly cognizant of exactly how he sounds. As a result, he felt bound to stress that he says what he does “not only because of some Pollyannaish views about ‘can’t we all get along and hold hands and sing Kumbaya.’”
Regardless of how ridiculous her upbeat disposition may prove to be in the merciless glare of our Mideastern daylight, Pollyanna is always enticing – even though reality gallingly vindicates ever-irksome dire predictions. It’s natural. Optimism is sugary and promises all manner of lovely things to come. Realism (scorned as pessimism) may be bitter and warn of grim consequences that nobody wants to hear about.
And so despite his disclaimer, Obama still puts on Pollyanna airs and belts out a sappy peace-‘n’-love rendition of the stale two-state Kumbaya. Despite what he knows, or at least suspects in his heart of hearts, the show must go on.
Similarly, Lévy can’t publicly backtrack from his well-intentioned naïveté. “Have I become an undesirable in Libya?” he asks in a Daily Beast op-ed. “You can’t quite persuade yourself that ingratitude is the vice of great nations or that your friends may simply have been using you for as long as you remained useful to them.”
Nonetheless, while denying he had travel plans, Lévy isn’t sure that officials “within the Tripoli city government,” don’t indeed regard him as undesirable. He attributes this to the “the war between the two Islams,” but he concludes: “you feel strengthened in your resolve to carry on, both at home and in Libya, alongside your true Libyan friends.”
No matter how hard and insensitively reality slaps given delusionists in the face, they still compulsively persist in their charade. The world may be a tad unkind, but the optimistic sham of unwavering trust in human goodness is too good to give up.