Center Field: Leaders’ credibility chasms

All the cringing and hand-wringing surrounding America’s targeted killing of Iran’s top military commander Qasem Soleimani is sickening.

Women hold pictures of Iranian Maj.Gen. Qasem Soleimani during a funeral procession and burial in his hometown, Kerman, on Tuesday.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Women hold pictures of Iranian Maj.Gen. Qasem Soleimani during a funeral procession and burial in his hometown, Kerman, on Tuesday.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With each week, the global hypocrisy epidemic grows. People keep cultivating their blind spots, consciously narrowing their vision, not broadening it.
We see it in too many leaders ready to say anything to stay in power. We see it in their followers reduced to enablers. And we see it in their opponents, who forget how slavishly they supported their leaders when in power, while trashing the leaders they hate just for the sake of trashing.
All the cringing and hand-wringing surrounding America’s targeted killing of Iran’s top military commander Qasem Soleimani is sickening. You want to criticize it? Fine. But why call this master terrorist a “foreign official,” as Ilhan Omar did, or a “diplomat,” as some Europeans did? You want to defend separation of powers? Fine. But acknowledge how many drone hits president Barack Obama authorized without congressional approval first.
Democratic Trumpaphobia runs deep. One imagines that if Adolf Hitler himself returned from Hell, started mobilizing another Nazi army, and Donald Trump authorized a hit on him, many Democrats would mourn this “struggling artist’s” untimely death.
Closer to home, last week’s Jerusalem Post column “A Palestinian Mandela and an Israeli de Klerk” had the intriguing subheading: “Interesting comparison can be made between players in the local scene and these historical figures.” The writer is a friend and a thoughtful, passionate, provocative activist whom I always learn from even when we disagree – which is frequently. I hoped his column would offer some hope, some faith, that there’s a Palestinian Mandela ready to lead his people toward compromise.
Instead, the column praised the jailed Palestinian terrorist mastermind Marwan Barghouti for his “principled positions” and “integrity” – while skipping over the inconvenient facts about Barghouti’s guilt in heinous murders.
The writer wrote abruptly, cryptically, “Marwan was caught by Israel in 2002,” without mentioning Barghouti’s green-lighting the shooting of Georgios Tsibouktzakis, a Greek Orthodox monk whom reporters described as an “innocent” victim because Barghouti’s men mistook him from afar as a bearded black-and-white clad religious Jew – as if that would have justified the crime. Barghouti was also convicted for organizing a lethal shooting near Givat Ze’ev and the Seafood Market attack in Tel Aviv, which killed three Israelis, including a young Druze police officer, Salim Barakat.
The New York Times also whitewashes Barghouti, having labeled him a “Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.” That’s like describing Bashar Assad, Syria’s mass murderer and poisoner, only as an “ophthalmologist.”
The column would have been more compelling – and convincing – had it confronted the complexity and explained how this killer apologized or evolved, or by remaining unapologetic might have the street cred to negotiate. But skipping over the inconvenient facts, ignoring the great obstacle Palestinian terrorism poses to peace, join the assault on truth and integrity that’s the great tic of our times.
AS FRUSTRATING as these examples are, I acknowledge: the duty of the opposition is to oppose. By challenging the powerful, questioning conventional wisdom, these fanatically cranky critics are fulfilling a democratic role, even with their blind spots. The greater danger remains the failure of when leaders fail to lead – and the inevitable consequences.
Even while defending America and Western civilization by authorizing the Obamaesque surgical strike on Soleimani, President Trump demonstrated once again why democratic leaders must not be demagogues, buffoons or bullies. At this perilous moment with Iran, Americans need a president to rely on, a president to trust. Yet Trump has spent four years blowing up his own credibility, demonizing opponents, acting like the president of the UTA, not the USA – the United Trumpers of America. He’s worked hard to guarantee that his opponents won’t trust him.
With the stakes so high, it’s inexcusable that this president let his credibility sink this low. It’s political malpractice. True, the impulsive, immature, bullying dimensions to his personality emboldened Trump to green-light the Soleimani strike. But those qualities undermine his ability to convince Americans that he killed the right man for the right reasons at the right time.
Trump’s self-sabotaged standing with so many Americans offers yet another warning why Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to retire is so dangerous, too. How can this man, who has long exceeded his “sell-by date,” sell to the Israeli public any fraught national security decisions the Israeli prime minister might have to make? Who can trust Mr. “I’ll never seek immunity – until I seek it and peddle it as the bedrock of democracy”?
Such rhetorical outrageousness, such amoral shamelessness, may keep you in power – although the Israeli public already fired you twice in the last two elections. But it deprives many citizens – and soldiers – of their faith in you when you need to exercise that power in life-and-death situations.
That’s the argument the Israeli opposition must keep making until March. A loyal Bibi supporter I know resisted every argument I made at a Hanukkah party about why Bibi must go. Then I said, “I used to admire Bibi’s ability to wake up, day after day, thinking, What’s good for Israel? It’s clear that now he’s just waking up, day after day, thinking, What’s best for me?”
That gave him pause.
That’s all that every citizen needs to do. Whether in power or out, whether pleased with a particular move or not, the occasional pause, the occasional nod to consistency, the occasional attempt at integrity, are essential – as a leader, as the opposition, and as a citizen in these fragile yet remarkable, collective, self-driving machines called democracies.

The writer is the author of The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology, The Zionist Idea. A distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, he is the author of 10 books on American history, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.



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