The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but shallowness is also part of the mix.
This is one of those notes that is sure to provoke responses that I have become anti-American and too narrowly fixated on Israeli perspectives.
I''ll deny the first charge and admit to being primarily concerned with the place where I''ve spent the second half of my life.
Some of my best friends and favorite relatives are Americans, but that shouldn''t keep me from expressing my dismay with the policies and comments coming out of the White House and from those aspiring to its residence.
It is also timely to admit that I admire my Apple gadgets, and that some of the medications that keep me younger than my years came out of American laboratories.
Several items in the most recent media have led me to assert once again that naivete at the highest levels of the American government and politics are causing trouble not only for us, but also for Americans and many others.
One is the gratuitous remark of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the credibility of Russia''s parliamentary election. Not so long ago I blasted Ms Clinton for saying that Israel reminded her of Iran for its treatment of women and saying that its democracy was under threat due to some proposals made by Knesset members.
Now she may be correct about the nature of democracy''s procedures in Russia, but saying things that led Vladimir Putin to accuse her of inciting Russians against him and reminding her of Russia''s nuclear weapons is not the way to manage America''s foreign policy.
A first year student of political science ought to recognize that Russia is not quite a democracy, built upon a culture that is as different from the Anglo-Saxon and Western European heartlands of democracy as it is possible to be and still remain connected (in some of its geography) with the European continent.
The gaffe is more important than a momentary friction between national leaders. It contributes to a rivalry reminiscent of the Cold War that disturbs efforts to deal reasonably with issues of more than regional importance in Iran and Syria.
Israel''s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is getting flack here and elsewhere for giving his imprimatur of Kashrut to the elections in a filmed meeting with Prime Minister about to be President Putin. Lieberman''s comments may not earn him a high grade in that introductory course in political science, but they may add their bit to Israel''s efforts to soften Russia''s postures on things important to Israel. Russia is by no means in Israel''s pocket, but neither has it supplied its most advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.
A review of Condoleezza Rice''s memoir reminds us that Democratic administrations have no monopoly on simplemindedness that complicates the Middle East. It quotes her as applauding George W. Bush''s moral principles while criticizing colleagues who "mocked his impatience with nuance. . . It was what I loved about George W. Bush as president. . . What was right mattered.”
Rice was part of the team that entered Iraq at least partly to bring democracy, and sought to make Afghanistan a well governed country with rights for all its people. The reviewer of her book in the New York Times summarizes her as "Eurocentric, informed by her specialty in Russia and fed by the triumphalism of a sole American superpower . . . blinded . . . to problems the second President Bush would have to confront, like the very different dynamics of the Arab world and the cost of imperial overstretch."
Newt Gingrich earns a place in this diatribe by a clumsy effort to appeal to American Jews. Calling the Palestinians a self-invented nationality that is nothing more than a remnant of the Ottoman Empire may gain him a few votes, but it won''t help Israel if he becomes president. Ahmed Tibi, M.D., who is arguably one of the brightest Members of Knesset as well as being an outspoken Palestinian nationalist, described Gingrich''s comments as racist and derived from a hatred of Arabs, insulting to an entire nation and deserving of a place in the dustbin of history.
Gingrich has a claim on a PhD in history from a decent university. He climbed high in politics and may not be at the end of his road, but in academia he didn''t get further than an institution far from the Ivy League.
He may be technically correct in asserting that the Palestinians are an invented nationality, but so are Americans, Jews, Germans, and every other nationality made up of different peoples who claim a nationality. The Palestinian invention may be more or less recent, depending on one''s view of politics as much as scholarship. Sounding like Golda Meier circa 1969 ("There were no such thing as Palestinians") does little to help any of us.
American idealism has its appeal, but the world is too complex for the lessons taught wherever George W. Bush, Condolezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Newt Gingrich, or Barack Obama learned their morality and history. International politics requires a sophisticated pursuit of self interest that does more good than harm. Among the indictments of American leaders are
- Intervening clumsily with fantastic aspirations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan
- Preaching democracy in places hardly suited for reform, and undercutting blemished, but stable governments in places like Egypt, Syria, and Libya where stability may be the highest value that can be achieved
- Spoiling whatever incentive existed among Israelis for reaching agreement with Palestinians by insisting on a cessation of building in neighborhoods of Jerusalem that have been Jewish for more than four decades, and before then were mostly barren land
The physician''s credo--Do no harm--is also appropriate for policymakers, especially those who run--or aspire to run--the most powerful of countries.
Realism is no less important than idealism. We can hope for the best from whoever governs the United States and influences a great part of the world, even though history cautions us not to count on it.
As Grandma said, God helps those who help themselves.