The ‘dayenu’ school of foreign policy

A Passover-themed foreign policy.

Notes are removed from the Western Wall as the site gets cleaned for Passover (photo credit: HILLEL MEIR/TPS)
Notes are removed from the Western Wall as the site gets cleaned for Passover
(photo credit: HILLEL MEIR/TPS)
A high point of the Passover Seder is the jubilant song “Dayenu” (“it is enough”), fortuitously sung just before an enervating sense of lethargy, induced by prodigious caloric intake and an excess of holiday ritual, begins to set in. The song poses 14 good deeds that God could do for the people of Israel, each of which would be enough. To illustrate, if God did X that would be best, but if he actually only did Y, it is enough, dayenu.
The following is a proposal for a more contemporary version of the traditional song, presented with all of the modesty warranted. It is also designed to serve as the basis for a new school of foreign policy thought, which will take its place alongside the better known “realist” and “liberal” schools. The new school will be known hereinafter and throughout the generations as the “dayenu school.” By coincidence, the new version, much like the original, has 14 stanzas.
If Iran agreed to forgo its quest for nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and regional hegemony, that would be best, but if all sides adhered to the 2015 nuclear deal and a follow-on agreement was imposed to ensure that Iran can never acquire nukes, and we then turned to the other, secondary dangers Iran poses, dayenu.
If Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states stopped procuring nuclear reactors and chose other means of addressing their legitimate energy needs and diversifying their economies, that would be best, but if the US-imposed conditions designed to ensure that these “civil” nuclear programs do not morph into military ones, dayenu.
If Israel and the Palestinians made the concessions necessary for a two-state solution, Palestinian Arabic had a word for “yes” and Israel ceased its self-destructive settlements, that would be best, but if Israel has to separate from the Palestinians unilaterally, to ensure its future as a Jewish and democratic state, dayenu.
If the Trump administration brokered peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and made effective use of dramatic inducements, such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, to reward the sides for compromise, that would be best, but if all that could be done this year to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary was the embassy move, dayenu.
If the “Arab Spring” had led to economic reform, better governance and democratization, that would have been best, but if Arab dictators just stopped slaughtering their people, focused on improving their lot and maintained regional stability, dayenu.
If the Sunnis and Shi’ites overcame the schism that is the primary driver of the Iranian-Saudi rivalry for hegemony and of the violence in the Middle East today, that would be best, but if a shared fear of Iran keeps pushing the Sunni states toward greater accommodation with Israel, and they “come out of the closet” about the relationship, dayenu.
If Egypt democratized, while maintaining its stability, conducted economic reforms vital to addressing its devastating poverty and ensuring that it does not become a failed state, and openly embraced Israel, that would be best, but if it just maintains the peace with Israel, remains in the US camp, defeats the insurgency in Sinai and keeps up the pressure on Hamas, dayenu.
If Saudi Arabia transformed its medieval society, diversified the economy and used its influence as the Keeper of the Holy Places and a petro-empire to promote Muslim reconciliation with the West and Israel, that would be best, but if it just avoided becoming an unstable and radical state, and its external behavior remained moderate, dayenu.
If Turkey continued its century-long pursuit of democratization and Westernization, remained a staunch NATO ally, restored its strategic ties with Israel and helped remake Syria, that would be best, but if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan just stopped turning Turkey into an Islamist dictatorship and viciously denouncing Israel, and avoided direct conflict with the US in Syria, dayenu.
If North Korea ceased its mad dash toward a nuclear arsenal capable of hitting the US, threatening South Korea and providing missile and nuclear technology to rogue states such as Iran and Syria, that would be best, but if US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just stopped comparing the size of their “buttons” and kept a safer distance from the nuclear precipice, dayenu.
If Russian President Vladimir Putin would just accept that Russia is not a superpower anymore, truly seek to reduce tensions and allow domestic freedoms to unleash Russia’s creative potential, that would be best, but if he just stopped trying to sabotage American democracy and subjugate his neighbors and ceased support for the genocidal dictator in Syria and radical theocracy in Iran, dayenu.
If China continued its rise as an economic – but not military – colossus and worked with the US to shape a peaceful new global order, that would be best, but if it just continued to combine economic liberalism with political authoritarianism, stopped gobbling up islands and did its best to avoid a direct clash with the US, dayenu.
If Israel realized its potential as a “light unto the nations” and its American ally its own as a “shining light on a hill,” that would be best, but if the US was only able to do something, almost anything, to stop the slaughter in Syria, and Israel managed to avoid a war there with Iran and Hezbollah, dayenu.
If Israeli and US leaders demonstrated moral rectitude and statesmanship, and charted forward-looking futures for their two promised lands, that would be best, but if they only stopped lying through their teeth and tried obeying the law for a change – hey, guys, it is inconvenient but it applies to you too – and we got through the Trump and Netanyahu years alive, dayenu!
The author, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser, is a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center and the author of Israeli National Security: A New Strategy for an Era of Change.