We should think about the implications of what we do. Bad things may come from good intentions.
On the other hand, predicting the future with anything close to certainty should have limited appeal.
There are lots of variables, factors, and phenomena that interact with what we do.
All those things in our neighborhood, and the infinite number of others further away, operate according to their own inspirations and their interactions with us and others.
If someone out there thinks it possible to take everything likely to be important into consideration, he/she is either smarter, more optimistic, or dumber than the norm.
Among the new things that have happened lately, may be important, and demonstrate the problems in prediction, are
- Saudi Arabia's prompting of the Arab League to define Hezbollah as terrorist
- Vladimir Putin's announcement that Russian forces are leaving Syria
- The likelihood that it'll be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the White House
It would be possible to write volumes on each of these, with each volume except that about Hillary beginning with the assertion that probabilities had been against them.
The Putin that gave us a new map of Ukraine seemed fixed as an imperial fixture in Syria.
For Saudi Arabia to so openly declare a political split among what had been the classic opponents of Israel should have Yassir Arafat spinning in his shroud, and generations of Jewish worriers either doubting reality or rethinking their view of the world.
Hillary has been the favorite among Democrats for some time, but Donald seemed a far outlier until he started winning primaries.
What is unusual in the Democratic primaries is the dominance of a woman, and the absence of anyone younger than 70 or near 70 among the prominent candidates.
It's looking like 69 year old Hillary will be running against 70 year old Donald.
Perhaps Ronald Reagan (until now the oldest person to be sworn in, and he was a month short of 70 at the time) set the norm for old people to be serious contenders. Yet he was at least partly ga ga in his second term. (Some would say in his first term.)
It's a tough job, most likely too tough for oldies. But probabilities do not determine what happens.
No one should try to assess any of these changes with confidence, or try to define what they mean for the immediate or distant future.
Putin is pulling out some forces, but his planes continue to bomb, despite a cease fire. We can guess that he is trying to avoid another dismal adventure like Afghanistan, just like his American counterpart is doing what he can to avoid another Vietnam or Iraq.
No one should expect hearing anyone close to the Saudi monarchy singing Hatikva. They are not Zionists, but are Sunni Muslims engaged in an uptick of chronic conflict with Shiites, shedding blood against Iranians and their clients in Yemen and Syria. Hezbollah is Iran's client, so the friend of Saudi Arabia's enemy is Saudi Arabia's enemy.
The Saudis are not admitting it publicly, but we hear of meetings and cooperation with Israeli officials. It's a lot different than when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was the first Jew publicly acknowledged to be allowed into the Kingdom.
The American election is a long way from these fingers, so what comes next is from a distant outsider.
Neither candidate seems likely to be a great President. However, Americans haven't had one of those since whoever you want to choose, according to ilk.
The hope for Americans, and the rest of us dependent to one or another degree on the US, is that governmental institutions will continue to operate as the founders hoped. For details, start with the Federalist Papers, especially #10 and #51.
Presidents can't initiate very much by themselves. They need Congress and a slew of high ranking officials who can delay or distort Presidential desires. However, President can decide by themselves what they will not do.
This remains an important power of the individual President, as shown by Barack Obama's decision to not do very much with respect to Syria, the Islamic State, or anything associated with them.
Pessimists see Hillary as flaky, and Trump as a potentially dangerous wild card.
There are reasonable people who smell the scent of things very ugly in Trump's campaign, his brazen platform style, and the violence provoked between opponents and supporters.
It's enough to make Hillary look good to individuals who spent years ridiculing her performance as Governor's wife, President's wife, politician, and Secretary of State.
Among the explanations for Trump's success are the dissatisfaction of many Americans with the weakening of America's role in the world under Obama; a fiery style that attacks the status quo and attracts people who generally stay out of politics, and at least a bit of racism coming after Obama, and in tune with what Trump has said about immigrants and Muslims.
Campaigns being what they are, neither of the leading candidates are making clear what they will do or will not do once they get to the White House.
Chief among what is complicating predictions, especially for those living in, interested in, or fearful of the Middle East, are those two other happenings mentioned above.
There is something akin to a new Cold War, with competition between Russia and the West. Ukraine is an open sore, and Syria may be finished as a single country controlled from Damascus. Putin has said that he'll withdraw, but not entirely, and his record with respect to Ukraine is not encouraging.
Sunni and Shiite Muslims have been at each other's throats for more than a millennium, with the recent bloodshed a significant uptick.
Israelis worry about both of these matters, insofar as a major hot spot of a new Cold War and intra-Muslim warfare is right over the border. Some of the Arabs living among us have joined the fighting, and others are itching to get into it. Americans also should think about these issues. We can say with some confidence that neither Russia nor the Middle East will go away, and will be on the agenda of whoever gets to the White House.
Somewhat below the force level of the above are proposals to keep individuals converted to Judaism by non-Orthodox rabbis out of Israel's kosher ritual baths, and to stifle the government decision to extend the area alongside the Western Wall and allow non-Orthodox men and women to pray as they wish.
We all have our problems now, and we are likely to have others as who knows what develops.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem