It's the essence of healthy politics.
The status of balance derives from the ever presence of competition. There have always been individuals, groups, political parties, and governmental entities (nations, localities, governmental agencies) that want more at the expense of someone else.
If it's always been, it's likely to always be.
Paradise is a great idea, but impractical.
To paraphrase a popular Israeli song of some years ago, The Messiah has not arrived. And he has not telephoned to explain the delay.
There is nothing new in this view of politics. James Madison wrote about it in the Federalist Papers, with an emphasis on domestic enmities and what became the separation of powers, checks and balances.
Metternich and Henry Kissinger (some say that Kissinger is Metternich's clone) are among those who advocated balance as the essence of healthy international politics.
Balance is a general principle, but does not translate into clear prescriptions for what to do here and now. It is also difficult to judge how out of balance is any particular situation.
Compared to previous decades, the era since World War II is one of acceptable balance. It has come at high cost, most obviously 60 million or so deaths associated with World War II and the virtual bankruptcy of Europe. Since then the costs of maintenance have been less, but significant. They include the losses of the US and others in Korea and Vietnam, Russia in Afghanistan, a number of little wars, and now the upsurge of radical Islam.
There are no ends to the quarrels about efforts to maintain the balance.
Among the tantalizing questions is what Bush the elder thinks about what Bush the younger did in Iraq. This after the elder accomplished something, but not everything, in reigning in a dictator, admittedly savage, but one keeping the lid on a complex nation. Largely due to Bush the younger, Irag is now chaos and generating chaos elsewhere.
Currently the greatest argument seen near these fingers concerns the efforts of the US and others to balance expansive aspirations of Iran. By some views that large, oil-rich, and powerful country is ruled by religious madmen who know no limits not forcefully imposed on them. We are hearing from the American President that balance achieved through diplomacy is the way to run the world. Heads of just about every other government are saying Amen, which one suspects is motivated by the desire to sell goods and services to Iran and buy its oil.
Israel is justifiably an unhappy outlier in this effort at balance, and illustrates the nature of the concept.
Balance never pleases all. At various points in history there have been small countries, ethnic minorities, and individuals who have suffered by the balance achieved by those more powerful.
Still to be determined is how much Israel will suffer, and how small and weak it is as an outlier.
Being quarreled here and elsewhere is the judgment about Prime Minister Netanyahu and his efforts to affect the efforts of others to balance the aspirations of Iran.
About to be tested is his capacity to employ the balances built into American government by James Madison, against what some see as the flaky innocence of Barack Obama.
It's been a long time since Madison and his colleagues fashioned the traits of Congress and the Presidency. The world of Barack Obama bears little resemblance to that of George Washington. The powers of the presidency have grown considerably at the expense of Congress since the US emerged as a world power. They are difficult for Congress to oppose, especially with respect to international politics, even after having been whittled down in the context of Vietnam.
On just about everyone's agenda is the surge of radical Islam, and one's views as to whether it is being supported or opposed by Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. So far it is mostly a threat over the horizon of great powers in Europe and North America, as well as Russia and China, but isolated incidents in all those places assures it a place on the agenda.
How high on the agenda? How clearly can it be tied to Iran, given the separate conflict between Sunni and Shiite Islam, the threats of both Sunni radicals and Shiite radicals against one another as well as against the west?
Most readings of the agreement with Iran conclude that narrow efforts to control its nuclear weapons have taken precedence over concerns with other nastiness coming from Iran, with considerable weight assigned to those in each country wanting to do business with the other.
Think of business having more weight in conceptions of balance than the concerns of Israel, as well as those of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and other Sunni states.
There is no shortage of domestic squabbles in each of the countries whose leaders are worrying about Iran.
Prominent in Israel is the gas deal. Prime Minister Netanyahu supports an arrangement that he claims has been balanced by years of study and negotiation. His team also recognizes that the gas was found by one of the few companies with capacity willing to deal with Israel in the context of what had been--and still is--the enmity toward Israel of most countries that are energy producers and the companies beholden to them. Against Bibi are political competitors and activists demanding action against the profits anticipated by those who invested. Alongside them is a State Comptroller's report which characteristically highlights a number of gaps between how things were decided and how they should have been decided in an ideal world.
Even juicier is the Attorney General's follow up on a State Comptroller's report about the management of the Prime Minister's residences.
Here we see efforts to balances the appetites of those who get to positions of power.
The AG has ordered criminal investigations, so far only among the professional staff, but we're wondering when the cops will eventually get to Mrs and Mr Netanyahu.
Americans, as always, are arguing about a number of issues. Candidates are warming up and collecting money in anticipation of an election not all that far away.
Whatever is decided in Congress about Iran will not come as a result of arguments isolated from lots else.
Like much in political analysis, the notion of balance is so well known as to be trivial.
Yet it's a triviality the continues to trouble. We can measure it not only by the quarrels in Israel and the US, but by the warfare across Syria and Iraq, and the occasional explosions of motor vehicles and suicide bombers wherever they do their duty.
The Messiah hasn't brought us peace. And He hasn't phoned to say when He will arrive.
We're stuck with balance, and watching those more powerful than us struggling with its imperfections.