There are two possible conflicts on the table in Washington. One is with Iran and the other with Syria. The Iran conflict is the one that Washington doesn’t want. Its most likely trigger at this stage is an Israeli assault on Iran’s nuclear program. Like most of the wars centering around Israel, this one is existential and of no interest to the philosopher kings in D.C. who wage wars with the grand purpose of making the world a better place.
Washington does not particularly care whether Iran gets nukes or doesn’t get nukes. It cares about History. With a capital “H.” Libya got bombed because it was on the wrong side of history. Syria is about to get bombed because it’s on the wrong side of history. There are people in the administration like Samantha Power who would like to bomb Israel for being on the wrong side of history, but they don’t think that even J Street and Peter Beinart could spin that as a pro-Israel move.
Being on the right or wrong side of history is one of those topics that primarily interests Islamists and nation builders on the right and the left who subscribe to a progressive version of history. Things don’t just happen, they happen because a country and a people are riding the history escalator up or down, to the top floor of the mall of the world where the cultivated stores like Starbucks, Nordstrom and the now defunct Sharper Image are located, or the bottom where K-Mart, Payless and Gap take up space.
The Arab Spring was on the right side of history because of its transformative qualities. Supporters of it were on the right side of history. Opponents of it needed to be bombed if they were Arab dictators or disinvited from the right cocktail parties if they were merely columnists and analysts. And at the end of it all through the sublime majesty of democracy and people power, the Middle East would look exactly like Europe, but with a more exotic cuisine.
Israel has always been the hedgehog in the soup of Arab democracy, agitating them, empowering their rulers and causing them to distrust Western benevolence. Now Israeli jets threaten to spill the soup of the Arab Spring by bombing Iran, which may reinforce support for Syria, which will hold up the Arab Spring and halt the progressive escalator of history.
Washington needs the Syrian war to happen, and it needs to keep a conflict with Iran from happening. The great diplomatic problem of Israel has always been that its leader insist on viewing conflicts in practical terms. Israel does not fight wars to make the world safe for democracy, it fights wars because there’s someone shooting missiles as it. This is an unacceptable reason for a war in a postmodern world where wars are fought to preserve the international order, protect civilization, make the world safe for democracy and prove that human rights violations will be punished by the duly constituted body of international jurisprudence.
Self-interest is Israel’s original sin. It was the sin that countless titans of the left from H.G. Wells to Lenin berated the Zionists for. Instead of contributing to the welfare of mankind and participating in the international brotherhood of workers, they went off to rebuild a country that existed only in their holy books and stirred up all kinds of trouble doing it. And since they have kept on stirring up trouble, not in the name of some grand idea, but out of their tawdry interest in defending themselves.
With angry Muslims boiling in European cities, Koran touting terrorists blowing up the modern infrastructure of the world’s capitals and turmoil roiling the hundreds of millions of Muslims who still haven’t managed to get refugee status in the UK or the US, the progressive vision is in big trouble and the only solution is to somehow stabilize the situation. Democracy is the only panacea that the progressive prescription plan covers.
Israel’s insistence on a purely existential view is dismissed as selfish and narrow-minded when the Middle East is headed toward a brave new world where nukes no longer matter because no one is angry anymore because there are no more dictators and democracy is everywhere. While the Israelis see the Middle East as basically static, the progressives see the Middle East as constantly on the verge of a great leap forward to a new more enlightened age.
As a result any affinity between the neoconservatives and Israeli leaders was always going to be limited. The neoconservatives were impressed by Israel’s modernism, but they assumed that it could be copied over to their neighbors and came to resent Israel as an obstacle for not playing a more meaningful role in their grand theory of history. While outwardly the progressives see Israel as very modern, they reject it for not possessing the most vital element of modernism. Transnationalism.
While Israel has more than its share of leftists, its animating philosophy is an ethnic nationalism that is repugnant to the transnationalist. They can find no meaningful globally applicable philosophy that defines its success. Like Japan, Israel is a self-contained wonder. It is a nation, not a philosophy. Its identity is rooted in an infuriating recent and ancient history. It is modern in defiance of the progressive understanding of history– which is why its technology, its human rights and its basic decency are dismissed.
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