Obama and the Politics of Ritual
Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington this week and danced the minuet with Barack Obama. They held a handkerchief between them and at AIPAC they came together. And once Obama's Jew-charm ceremony was completed, they danced apart. The talking heads from the left and right side of the audience commented on the dance, the partners as a couple, and as individuals. There was George Soros' J Street, which immediately commented on Obama's grace, and there were the Zionists, who understood that Obama could dance well but not as a partner.
Over the next several days, the number of commentators about the dance grew as did the complexity of their observations. But the reality was something that complex society refuses to acknowledge: when it comes to politics, ritual is as much a part of life in the modern world as it is in primitive society. We just refuse to recognize that our complicated rituals, forever reinterpreted and reified into agonizing convolutions, hide the most simple and obvious things. We too have our equivalent of the potlatch, and this was one of them.
Netanyahu danced the dance, but nothing has changed. Benjamin Netanyahu will not go down in history as the Israeli prime minister who let the second Holocaust take place. Netanyahu will bomb Iran. His red line has been crossed. His window of opportunity is rapidly closing. Obama can chide him, cajole him, threaten him, and be nice to him, but nothing has or will change. As it was before Netanyahu came to Washington, so too is it after he leaves.
Hezb'allah will launch thousands of missiles. Hamas will fire rockets. The UN will meet in emergency session and fire off resolutions. The Arabs will spill more of their bile. Muslims will riot in Europe. There will be talk, but only talk, of regional war. Rabbi Michael Lerner's Tikkun website will condemn Israel. The New Israel Fund will issue some fatuous statement about Iranian culture. Iran will still be bombed.
No state can yield its survival to another, especially one run by the man who embraced Syria as a hope for peace and Iran as a rational actor, a man who has been so wrong about every twist and turn in the Middle East that he makes Thomas Friedman appear prescient.
Obama is not concerned about Israel. He is concerned about winning re-election. An Israeli attack will push up oil prices and crash the American economy's fragile recovery. American voters always know how to vote their pocket books.
If Israel were obliterated, Obama would exude the same concern Franklin D. Roosevelt showed when Jan Karski, of the Polish underground, explained to him what was happening at Auschwitz. Roosevelt blew smoke rings from his cigar and dismissively told Karski to tell the Jews of Poland that all they need to know was that America was going to win the war. For Obama, who bows before Muslim tyrants and thinks Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan is the most important leader in the Middle East, Israel's obliteration wouldn't be worth a smoke ring.
No American administration is going to go to bomb Iran. America is war weary. The adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have been manifest failures. The intrusions into the politics of Libya, Egypt and Yemen have brought forward not the proponents of democracy but the highly organized advocates of Shariah. America can contain Iran, and a nuclear Iran is not a threat to America.
Nuclear proliferation in the Persian Gulf could be an economic boon to the economies of Europe and America. Instead of just selling arms to the oil rich Gulf States, we could sell tons of expensive machinery designed to produce atomic weapons. If World War II pulled us out of the last depression, just think of what nuclear proliferation could do for this one!
Obama's pledges are not worth anything more than were John Foster Dulles' pledges made to get Israel to leave the Sinai after the 1956 war. Lyndon Johnson would not honor those pledges when Egypt -- in violation of the agreement with Israel 00 cut off the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping in 1967. If Egypt now abrogates the peace treaty Henry Kissinger brokered with Israel, America will not enforce the terms on Israel's behalf. George H. W. Bush did not enforce the cease fire of the 1990 Gulf War as it affected either the Kurds or the Shia of southern Iraq. The Vietnam Peace Treaty was worthless except to permit America to save face and withdraw its forces. America induced the Hungarians to revolt and sat by idly as the Russians slaughtered them.
Nations have interests, not commitments or friends. America under Obama and Israel do not have shared interests. Obama does not care about Israel's democracy any more than he cares about Turkey's growing tyranny or Saudi Arabia's monarchy.
Israel is only vital as the equivalent of a secure, massive, landing field in the Middle East in the event of a major war. Israel is vital as a high-tech, American listening post, where America has five "secret" bases, readily observable on Google Earth. Israel's value to America could be replaced by a group of aircraft carriers or other naval platforms in the Mediterranean.
Obama doesn't have Israel's back. He can't have Israel's back. He shouldn't have Israel's back. That's symbolic manipulation for those AIPAC Democrats who Obama needs to vote for him.
If Iran obliterates Israel, Obama will go to the next J Street meeting and make a condolence call. The New York Times will momentarily have something positive to say about Israel. Thomas Friedman will blame the stiff-necked Jews for getting themselves blown up. The National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches will mourn the Palestinians who were collateral damage, while quietly embracing the fulfillment of their version of replacement theology. The Pope will say something generic about man's inhumanity toward man. CNBC will do a two hour special on how to invest in the post-Israel world.
After the current minuet ends, Israel must still defend itself and Obama must still look out for American interests. And John McCain is already rushing to organize the newest manipulation of symbols for media attention -- bombing Syria. It ain't going to happen, but like the current minuet, the issue will make for great theater.