We are certainly living in interesting times. Are they better times? Pivotal times? Much depends on 2022.
If listening to Donald Trump makes your head hurt, if free speech strikes you as good, and if you want Israel to survive, here’s a rundown of some reasonable things to wish for.
That bad players be defeated
It certainly looks like Russia is threatening to invade Ukraine. To the east, China saber-rattles at Taiwan. It’s astounding that countries which are so territorially large can be so greedy (and hypocritical – Russia actually accused Israel of expansionism); it’s so ridiculous as to suggest something deeper is very wrong.
And so it is: Russia and China are two profound civilizations that have never seen a day of decent government. In China’s case it dares present its dictatorial (yet supposedly meritocratic) system as a better model to the chaos of the West (and a few saps are gaslighted); in Russia’s it is simply too arrogant to care.
No one has the energy to fight wars with either one, but neither should they be rewarded with unfettered trade and a pass on gross violations of human rights. A good old-fashioned cold war may be needed with both; it would help clarify that principle still matters, and we should be prepared to pay a price.
And then there is Iran, another advanced culture hijacked by reprobates. It was a mistake to pull out of the nuclear treaty with Iran and President Biden rightly wants to restore it; but if this proves impossible on terms at least equal to before, Iran should be mercilessly squeezed with economic sanctions.
Europe should made by every means available in diplomacy to go along, and some sort of deal might be achievable with China as well (we cannot give it Taiwan, but Pakistan – perhaps!). The Iranian people will thank the world for this one day. The best possible outcome for them – and for the region, and the world – is a collapse of the criminal, kleptocratic theocracy in Tehran.
That Bennett should convert
About 20 years ago a minister in Ariel Sharon’s cabinet told me that the new prime minister (and longtime champion of the settler movement) was secretly a leftist. The idea was that Sharon understood the demographic disaster Zionism will face through integration with the West Bank and Gaza. I was skeptical – and I turned out to be wrong.
There are two kinds of right-wing leaders. The Yitzhak Shamir kind sticks to their guns no matter the circumstances, whatever the consequences. The other, when faced with reality, chooses pragmatism; that happened with Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz, even Avigdor Liberman.
In some cases they sheepishly imply previous positions were tactical; but one suspects they simply failed to think things through in their rush to attend Likud Central Committee bar mitzahs. “Sometimes, you make mistakes,” is how Olmert explained his one-time support of settlements to me.
Few believe Naftali Bennett can be drawn along this second path. But I am not too sure. His intelligence is as profound as his kippa is petite, and he must have noticed that he has no future in the Right. He is undoubtedly a Zionist, and he must have noticed the population figures.
Bennett has a chance to play a huge role in Jewish history by helping bring about what is needed – a partition – despite the collapse of the Israeli Left as a brand. Yair Lapid, even as prime minister after 2023, will do nothing of the sort without approval from Bennett. Helping Lapid achieve this would ironically make Bennett a national leader more than the premiership ever could.
But he would need persuading, which is where the next item comes in.
Expansion of the Abraham Accords
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s one accomplishment was a big one, and the Left’s indifference to it is petty and absurd. The countries of the Gulf are not democracies (Bahrain’s abuse of the Shiite majority is most unbecoming); but neither are they bad players like Iran or Russia.
These countries have much to offer Israel; Israel has much to offer them. If Saudi Arabia were to join the Abraham Accords, this would give Israel a true jewel in the crown of its acceptance in the region; for Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman, it would be a chance to achieve forgiveness after two very big mistakes of his own: the calamitous Yemen war and the killing in Turkey of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
While we’re at it, the US should invite Kuwait to join as well. Such a handsome dowry might nudge Bennett toward doing the right thing on the Palestinians.
An American Big Bang
Ah, but the US is distracted. People are talking seriously of civil war. What to do?
The Republican Party is currently the most dangerous political grouping in the developed world, dedicated to: fighting efforts to mitigate COVID and global warming, voter suppression and gerrymandering, opposing healthcare guarantees, banning abortion, and maintaining the right of every nut to buy a rifle.
On the world stage they are isolationist and against free trade at present; if the world needs a fair cop, it may as well look to Mexico. And yet – due to a distorted electoral system as well as incompetence by the Democrats – the Republicans might retake Congress in 2022 and restore Donald Trump to the White House two years later.
America desperately needs a political Big Bang. Its founding principle would be that reasonable conservatives who want none of the above would be welcomed into what should emerge as a forward-looking centrist party. Their concerns about fiscal prudence and tradition can mostly be accommodated. Put simply, Mitt Romney has more in common with Joe Biden than with Trump, as does most of the conservative punditocracy, from George Will to former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens.
This would require the next item.
Cancellation of cancel culture
The Democrats would have to part ways with that aspect of the current leftist zeitgeist known as wokeness. They cannot attract reasonable conservatives nor appeal to most Americans as long as they are attached to ideas like these: that America’s history is a mainly a racist enterprise, and meritocracy is a racist concept; that ethnic or gender group identity should determine an individual’s position and prospects; that avoiding offense should trump free speech, and campuses should be “safe spaces” as opposed to places of debate; that riots are OK and police should be “defunded”; that people should be considered guilty if accused, and careers should be terminated at the drop of a Tweet.
All this stuff is an affront to liberalism, mainly good for returning Trump to power. If I were a white supremacist, I’d be rooting for people who are offended by non-use of LatinX.
That information will learn to be expensive
And who is offended by non-use of LatinX? Mostly the US media, which seems to have lost the plot on account of the collapse of its business model. About 25 years ago the media made a huge mistake by throwing everything online, creating the “information wants to be free” pathology (which ignored the opposite other half of the quote by the writer Stewart Brand – that it wants to be expensive).
With the disappearance of classified ads and print product, that left advertising as the primary revenue stream; it too has largely floated away, to social and search. There is really no way the media can survive as a business without users paying for it. Whether by subscriptions, day passes, micropayments or bundles, let’s hope in 2022 they do. You don’t need Google to know that there is no free lunch, unless you steal or it’s gifted.
Last but not least:
That a cure is discovered for COVID-19.
The writer is the former Cairo-based Middle East editor and London-based Europe/Africa editor of the Associated Press. He is also the managing partner of the New York-based communications firm Thunder11. Follow him on Twitter: @perry_dan.