Two questions come to mind on reading about the latest release of secret material by WikiLeaks:
Will this provide the same push to anti-war activists as the Pentagon Papers in 1971? Will anyone notice that the ugliness associated with the Americans and their allies dwarfs the charges levied against Israel?
These questions compete with what I am asking myself about a recent speech by Israel''s President Shimon Peres, in which he asserted that Israel cannot exist without the United States, and that Israel must help the United States as well as expect help from the United States.
Does the speech justify the suspicions about Peres'' use of an office meant to be non-political? Is there anything worth pondering in this old activist''s latest shuffle to the left?
On the first set of questions, initial commentary is saying what should be apparent to anyone who has followed the serious media about Iraq and Afghanistan. The latest releases by WikiLeaks portray once again that war is hell, and that innocent Anglo-Saxons should have expected nothing different when they sent hundreds of thousands of troops into the swamp of Middle Eastern sectarian conflicts. Simplistic rhetoric about democratizing Iraq or bringing a decent order to Afghanistan should have been known as nonsense, along with any aspirations that western troops could do more good than harm in places that their leaders did not comprehend.
Saddam Hussein is dead, but at the cost of how many deaths? Taliban lost its control of Afghanistan shortly after 2001, but by 2010 it has a strong foothold in much of the country and is stronger than ever in Pakistan.
And if those elements of the big picture are not enough, WikiLeaks is providing ugly details wrought by Americans and their western allies, as well as by Iraqis and Afghans who sometimes were allies and sometimes enemies.
I already know what some American friends will say, because they have said it before: America''s faults do not excuse Israel''s.
What they are saying between their words is that Israel is an easier target. The United States has so far been too big and powerful to attack in the United Nations and among the NGOs that get much of their money from American contributors. Israel''s own investigations into allegations of unjustified attacks on civilians can never satisfy its rabid critics. Their allegations pale before those reported by American documents released by WikiLeaks, both in overall magnitude, and in the details of intentional cruelty and sadism charged against Israelis when compared to what Americans have documented about themselves in Abu Graibs and elsewhere, and what WikiLeaks is showing about American tolerance of the sadism shows by their Muslim partners.
The material also documents direct Iranian involvement against American efforts in Iraq, and leads one to wonder yet again about the wisdom of Barack Obama''s effort to engage with Tehran.
Is the United States the country that Israel cannot exist without? And how much should Israel risk in going along with what the American president feels at any moment about the right way to deal with the Middle East?
Peres'' latest venture into high policy may get lost in the noise generated by WikiLeaks. Nonetheless, it recalls the "anybody but Peres" sentiment that led to the election of Moshe Katsav in 2000. With Katsav accused of rape and sexual harrassment, Peres already 83 when the election came around again in 2007 and supported by the leading party in the government, he needed two rounds of voting to produce a majority among Knesset members.
Since then supporters and critics have argued as to whether his international standing contributes enough to the country''s fortunes to compensate for the domestic controversies stirred by his lofty, but tendentious ventures into controversial issues.
Is Israel more dependent on the United States now than it was on Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in 1948, or Britain and France in the 1950s? Israel has never been alone. Israeli''s parents and grandparents earned every bit of the financial reparations and military aid that Germany has provided from the 1950s, but that, too, should not be left out of the calculation.
Israel has always sought allies and partners where it could find them. The list includes overseas Jews, friendly governments who helped even while offering rhetorical support or votes in international forums to their Muslim needs, and far flung clients of its agricultural, technological, and military expertise.
The United States has, without doubt, been the most prominent patron since the 1970s. However, with the United States up to its neck in bad wars and economic problems, and the White House showing occasional flakiness, Israel must cultivate support where it can find it.
Widespread concern about Muslim inroads and aspirations indicate that substantial elements of Europe may move closer to Israel. Concerns about Iran have made the governments dominated by Sunni Muslims less inclined to view Israel as their prime enemy. Personal stories of friends sent to meetings in places that are formerly unfriendly to Israel reinforce media stories that dependence on any one country is far from total.
Even if the United States is at the head of Israel''s list, the question that Peres has not answered is, How far must Israel go to adhere to whatever is the latest pressure from the White House or State Department?
He has spoken in general terms about helping the United States defuse the Palestinian issue so that the United States can help with the more important issue of Iran.
A total freeze on construction in the West Bank and Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem?
Israel''s government has been down that road, and shown that it can say, "No."
Israel''s Jewish leftists leftists who cannot elect more than a half-dozen of themselves to the Knesset have no limits on what they can describe as essential to the country''s future. They have been quick to seize on Thomas Friendman''s echoing of White House policy to urge a continuation of the settlement freeze. Some are also applauding Jimmy Carter''s latest foray into the region, and his assertions that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are Palestinian.
It''s been a long time since Jews wrote their stories of slavery in Egypt, the conquests by Babylon, Rome, and all the rest. Currently it is the American empire that heads the list, and English is the international language of choice. German was the language of Theodore Herzl: "In Basel habe ich den Judenstaat gegründet." (In Basel I founded the Jewish State.)
A small people must be attuned to multi-culturalism and flexibility. While English is the dominant second language
in Israeli universities, Russian and Arabic are prominent, and one hears bits of French and Spanish. There are also courses in Chinese.