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Once upon a time, not so very long ago, a nation with a mighty army and moral certitude felt itself endangered. So it went to war against another country, convinced that to wait would be to invite attack. And it went to war united in the cause.
The nation sent its jets and missiles, believing it could quickly stun its enemy into defeat. Buildings fell, craters opened, bridges tumbled. Surely no lesser country could survive such an onslaught.
Only later, only when the foe proved more difficult than expected, did the nation put its soldiers on the ground. The soldiers were too few and too late, some skeptics warned, but the nation's leaders assured the citizens that all was going well. They announced great victories, with hostile towns and cities captured, with the resistance sent scurrying into hiding.
If the soldiers and officers in the field saw something different, that difference was little noted, at least at first. When they told of being stretched too thin, of being sent into battle without proper armor and gear, their warnings were drowned out by the sound of celebration, by the expectation of imminent triumph.
Gradually, over time, the picture began to change. The enemy was not disappearing, not surrendering, but reappearing after every blow, still bristling with arms. The people in that country, instead of welcoming their liberation, turned against their invaders in spirit, if not in act. They understood their present suffering as the doing of the foreigners more than of the militants in their midst.
Meanwhile, soldiers came home wounded, or were shipped home dead, and their friends and families saw nothing in exchange for that sacrifice. There was less security in the nation instead of more. There was more treachery facing it instead of less.
And on the home front, unity fractured into discord and blame. When the grieving survivors of the fallen brought their anguish to their leaders, they were ignored. The leaders insisted the plan had been right, and they insisted the plan would work.
All along, there were other doings in the capital. There were tales of financial scandal, charges of sexual misbehavior, rumors of cover-ups, all involving men close to the leaders of the nation, the leaders of the war.
There came a day, eventually, when the citizens revolted and their leader finally began to take heed. He deposed the former ally who had devised the strategy and tactics of the war. He listened, at last, to people who would not simply say yes. But during all the misspent time a different enemy had grown stronger, taking advantage of the wasted war.
THE STORY I have just told you, of course, is the story of America in Iraq. It is, in particular, the story of last week's midterm election and its aftermath.
President George W. Bush's Republican Party lost control of both houses of Congress. The day after, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld either jumped or was pushed out of the cabinet. Now, with 140,000 troops bogged down in Iraq, the United States looks ill-prepared militarily and ill-tempered politically to face the coming reality of a nuclear-armed Iran.
But this parable applies, sadly, to Israel as well. Israel in the aftermath of the stalemate, if even that, against Hizbullah. Israel with Haim Ramon and Moshe Katsav in place of Tom Foley, Dennis Hastert and Jack Abramoff. But Israel, too, with all the architects of the summer's unwon war still in place.
One thing we Americans have learned to expect from President Bush is an unwavering course. Which some might describe, not wrongly, as a reluctance to accept certain inconvenient facts. So it seemed remarkable that even this most constant, or obstinate, president would finally see the necessity of sacking the defense secretary who had sent all the jets and missiles and never enough troops, who had emboldened the very foes he had promised to vanquish.
And while the president himself did not face a direct ballot on his performance, the results last week amounted to what would be called in a parliamentary system a vote of no confidence.
So let me just say, from this distant perch, and with all my Zionist ardor, that it appears curious and strange to see every leader in the summer's war still ensconced in his position.
I am old enough to remember the demise of Golda Meir after the 1973 war, one that ended with decisive, albeit costly, victory. How is it that this summer's war, inconclusive at best, finds nobody falling on his sword?
I have no answers, of course, being so far away. I have only lingering, uncomfortable questions. And I think that a lot of American Jews, behind zippered lips, behind public solidarity, wonder along similar lines.
There is supposed to be a moral to every story, a lesson to every parable, but maybe sometimes things just don't make sense.
The writer is a professor of journalism at Columbia University.