The Region: Why the optimism, you ask?

There is every reason to believe that the Middle East will remain as controversial, tumultuous and crisis-ridden in the future as it has in the past. But there is also room for hope.

By BARRY RUBIN
September 19, 2010 22:20
4 minute read.
US envoy George Mitchell meeting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

311_Bibi and mitchell. (photo credit: Associated Press)

 
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Possibly the question I’m most often asked by readers is: How can you remain optimistic (or can you help me be less pessimistic) given all the problems you talk about, the bad news you cover and the mistakes you expose and explain? How can you hold out hope when you document how the mass media is so clueless and Western leaders are so... well clueless, while the enemies of liberty are so energetic and determined?

Take the Middle East alone. There is every reason to believe that it will remain as controversial, tumultuous and crisisridden in the future as it has in the past.All of the long-term problems remain: slow social and economic development; repressive dictatorships nowhere near becoming democracies; the Arab-Israeli conflict, though diminished; traditional ambitions for conquest and domination; militant ideologies; ethnic conflicts; and so on and so on.

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On top of these factors are new problems.
Revolutionary Islamism is confident and growing, seeking to overthrow the government of every Arabic-speaking state as well as wiping Israel off the map.

There are internal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran is racing toward obtaining nuclear weapons.

OOPS, SORRY! This is supposed to be about optimism. So why, despite all these things, am I optimistic?

There are several parts to the answer that apply best to the Middle East but also to the world generally:

• The mistakes and shortcomings of our adversaries. Precisely because they are so extreme, they cannot long hide their ideology and methods. For example, Yasser Arafat could have negotiated a Palestinian state and $25 billion in compensation in 2000 and then used that as a basis for round two of the conflict with Israel. Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran and Syria could pretend to be moderate far more effectively and make deals to enhance their power, as well as to reach out to more potential allies.



• The rightness of our cause. I believe that democracy, moderation, peace, compromise, a reasonably regulated free enterprise economy and freedom are not merely good ideas but the most effective structures for achieving a stable, prosperous and successful society.

• A fundamental faith in the peoples of the West to understand reality and employ common sense and enlightened self-interest to save themselves. The same is true in the short-run for many other peoples and in the long-run for the rest.

• The courage of dissidents in the world’s dictatorships, something I’ve had the privilege to witness firsthand on many occasions.

• A more localized one is that I live in a country, Israel, which is actually doing pretty well in many respects, with a strategic situation far improved in recent years.

• Finally, a point that also applies everywhere on the globe, notably North America and Europe, is historical precedent, which should never be used blindly but can be employed with care that the parallels are accurate.

SO HERE is a case in point. In February 1968, an Italian professor wrote Bertram Wolfe, the ex-communist who was now an anti-communist expert on the USSR, in despair. More and more people were turning to the far Left wrote Prof. Bogdan Raditsa, and he was close to giving up.

Wolfe replied: “I have long shared your gloomy view of what we are accomplishing by our efforts to swim against the current.

I too have been moved to something close to despair by the ignorance of our leaders, the softening of the brain in their advisers and counselors and the state of affairs... I can offer only crumbs of comfort...

“I have lived for many years now and done my work with three images from classic legend possessing my mind. The first image is that of Sisyphus. I struggle and toil to push the stone up the hill, and just as I reach the summit, [Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev smiles or [columnist] Walter Lippmann or whoever pronounces some idiocy and whang! the stone rolls down again.

“The second image is that of Cassandra who had the double misfortune of foreseeing and foretelling the truth, and not being believed by any one. The third image... is Tantalus... When he bends down to drink of the waters of peace, they recede leaving him as thirsty and tantalized as ever. Then we start pushing the stone again.

“In any case, history is always open, so keep... arguing with... communists, teaching young history students and writing what you have to write. Whatever happens the world will be somewhat less bad for our having striven to keep it from getting worse. In the meanwhile, those of us who strive have each other.”

A LITTLE over two decades later, communism collapsed.

May we not have to wait, toil, tell the truth and brave the adversity for so long! But if necessary we will. Or, as it says in Pirkei Avot: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at www.rubinreports.blogspot.com

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