Three American Presidents must share at least part of the responsibility for the chaos currently destroying large parts of the Middle East, and threatening Israel, Europe, and the United States.
Ronald Reagan sought an advantage in the Cold War by recruiting Muslim fighters, providing them money and munitions to use against the Russians in Afghanistan. He contributed to the stirring of fanaticism among Muslims which moved from targeting Russians and their Afghan allies to killing one another on account of what they think occurred more than a millennium ago.
George W. Bush and Barack Obama share the guilt in bringing down Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi, and their regimes, not replacing them with anything viable, and leaving when American costs and casualties became inconvenient.
The three Americans must share the blame for millions of deaths, and several times as many turned into refugees.
The contrast is sharp between those short-sighted, ignorant, or criminal actions done by US Presidents since 1980, and American accomplishments years earlier in Western Europe and Japan.
American money and personnel did a great deal to put Western Europe and Japan on the road to functioning, humane, and stable regimes. South Korea was shakier, with a period of tough dictatorship, but it has joined the club of the wealthy, stable, and democratic.
Explanations for what happened in the Middle East should include the nature of Islam, Reagan's ignorance of Afghanistan in the 1980s was followed by Bush's then Obama's failure to comprehend the power of Islamic sects, tribalism, and other factionalism of Iraq and Libya.
With Europeans, American conquerors of the 1940s shared religion and values, if not language and all the nuances of national cultures. Western Europe and Japan had histories of stable, well-functioning governments, which could be rebuilt and set free by Americans with the assistance of locals who wanted something better than their previous regimes.
Vietnam contributed to the actions of American Presidents. Reagan wanted to get back at the Communists for the catastrophe in Southeast Asia. He contributed to the Russians' equivalent of Vietnam, both with respect to the large number of casualties and the absolute failure of their war aims.
American innocence of the world, blind idealism, and imagining that they could move dismal places in the direction of democracy, despite Islam's antagonism to individual freedom, had something to do with GW Bush and Obama campaigns in Iraq and Libya. Also in both cases, the memory of Vietnam prodded them to minimize American casualties, and damn what happened to ungrateful natives.
Israel was also guilty of misplaced aspirations that bear some resemblance to the American follies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Like the Americans, the Israelis bit off a lot more than they could digest in the first Lebanon war that began in 1982. The IDF went to Beirut and beyond, and stayed in a southern "security zone" meant to protect Israel for 18 years.
Israeli's ignorance of a foreign culture appeared in Ariel Sharon's failure to get the cooperation that he thought the Lebanese Christians had promised, as well as in the change of Lebanese attitudes toward Israeli soldiers. Lebanese initially greeted the IDF with flowers when Israel invaded for the express purpose of punishing Palestinians who were causing problems in Lebanon as well as for Israel. Lebanese quickly tired of the foreigners, and the country became Israel's Vietnam.
Israel recovered and reformed its ways. Not, perhaps in the manner desired by those who think it uses disproportionate force, and oppose settlements in the West Bank. However, military operations since 2000 have been harsh but short lived retribution for attacks against Israeli civilians, with early withdrawal and no hint of occupation or remaking foreign societies.
Israel's policy in the West Bank is not occupation but settlements separated from the Palestinian population. Security personnel cooperate with Palestinians against Islamic extremists who are mutual enemies. When Israeli forces enter Palestinian areas for pinpoint operations, they leave quickly, within hours or less.
An official Israeli view of settlements, not accepted internationally, is that the territory at issue is "disputed" rather than "occupied." Israelis divide between those who oppose settlement, those who support the maintenance and development of established settlements, and those who want expansion of settlements throughout the West Bank.
The Israeli-Palestinian series of armed conflict have been tiny in time or casualties compared to what Americans and other Muslims have been doing.
But why the great commotion about us?
My guess is that it has more to do with us being Jews than with the Palestinians having--or promising--anything like an admirable society or regime worth nurturing.
There are many decent Palestinian individuals, but they resemble other Muslim societies in failing to build a regime that functions in a responsible manner.
Israel's media has been celebrating an IDF accomplishment that says something about us and our neighbors. Military personnel destroyed a tunnel that reached under Israel from Gaza, 40 meters underground, protected by cement and serviced by electric and air lines.
Hamas claims it was an old tunnel, unused. The IDF reports that it was the work of two years, and used cement and other building materials let in to Gaza for the reconstruction of civilian buildings destroyed in 2014.
Other tunnels have been collapsing and killing those digging them. The IDF isn't saying, but commentators are speculating that the destruction it is the work of Israeli technology.
Monday evening we sat down to watch a popular discussion program, but it was pre-empted by coverage of a bus exploding on the other side of town.
That may signal the end of relative quiet, and renew the enthusiasm of Palestinians for violence.
There is some public support for the soldier who killed an inert Palestinian, already severely wounded after trying to kill Jews with his knife. Estimates range from one- to five thousand people gathered at a demonstration in behalf of the soldier, with media positions to the left or right of center affecting their estimates. Whether one or five thousand, it wasn't much by Israeli standards. Two popular singers initially announced that they would perform at the demonstration, but then cancelled.
The military judge has expressed doubts about the prosecution's case, and released the accused from confinement so he could spend Passover with his family. It'll be a while before we know the outcome of the soldier's trial in military court.
The leader of the Labor Party (now calling itself Zionist Union), Yitzhak Herzog, told a party gathering the "We must stop giving the impression that we love Arabs."
Party colleagues and others, both Jews and Arabs, are asking what he means.
One of Herzog's political competitors, Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home chirped in response, "We don't hate the Arabs of Israel."
Should we ask Bernie Sanders what he thinks?
We wouldn't want to disturb his Passover Seder.
חג שמח לכלכם
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem