This Is a Screwy Time for Optimism, Isn't It?

Shoshana Bryen
This would seem a screwy time for optimism.  We're riding the edge of a double-dip recession, with political backbiting and the abdication of America abroad both militarily and politically.  It is worth noting, then, that at this moment, a trend toward optimism among astute observers of both domestic and international issues is rising like a series of bubbles.  The following is by no means complete, but drawn mainly from the ranks of well-known skeptics.  And the natural disclaimer is that in many cases, strong American leadership and the public confidence that stems from it are required to hit the happy outcome.

Michael Ledeen, Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and longtime Iran watcher, points to upheaval in Syria and Iran and cheers the possibilities.  "The defeat of Assad and Khamenei would be a world-changing event, pulling the plug on the ominous strategic alliance that runs from Tehran and Damascus to countries quite close to us, such as Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua."  It would weaken Russia's ability to foment mischief and deprive the terror network of key assets including money, safe havens, and intelligence.  "We're right on the edge of an historic watershed, in which our totalitarian enemies can be driven into history's bin of losers. It is time for us to declare victory and then impose our will on our enemies by giving their oppressed people the opportunity to free themselves from the bloody tyrants."

Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, disputes the conventional wisdom that Israel is alone in the world.  "Turkish rivals Greece and Bulgaria, two historical enemies of the Ottomans, have jumped at the chance to establish ties with Israel. By losing one ally and gaining two, Israel is plus one in the strategic relationship column."  Of Israel's enemies, he notes that not only does Hezbollah face the loss of its patron and military supply line in Syria, but that "fear of another war with Israel has isolated Hezbollah from large parts of its own Shia constituency."  Hamas has distanced itself from Syria, while Egypt has its hands full with domestic problems, as Syria will when the revolution ends.  "Hamas, Hezbollah, Egypt, and Syria are isolated. It's true that the Iranians are still marching toward a nuclear bomb, but the possibility of losing Hezbollah and Syria along the way would represent a net loss (of enemies)."

Former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger disputes that Arab-Jewish demographics trends are bad for Israel.  "In September 2011, the Jewish fertility rate -- 2.97 births per woman and trending upward -- exceeds the fertility rates in most Arab countries. Israeli Jewish demography has been robust --primarily due to a surge in secular Jewish birth rate...From 80,400 births in 1995, the number of Jewish births surged by 56% to 125,500 in 2010."

On trade (and politics), Ettinger adds, "Israel's GDP is $240BN -- with 3% deficit, 5.7% unemployment, 3% interest rate and 3% inflation...Israel's credit rating has been recently upgraded by Standard & Poor, ranking it among the top OECD economies[.] ... Notwithstanding disturbing Turkish statements (and) irrespective of political tension, the first quarter of 2011 features a 40% increase in the mutually-beneficial Israel-Turkey trade over the first quarter of 2010."

Victor Davis Hansen believes the 2012 election will unleash dramatic positive American energy because our fundamentals are sound:

The Constitution that ensures stability "of the sort absent in Russia, China, the Islamic world and even (or especially) the European Union."

The increasing availability of domestic oil and natural gas "may well turn us into a fuel depot like Saudi Arabia."

Cash.

Population growth: "Americans... aren't a shrinking nation with the demographic crises of a Europe or Russia."

The potential for reform: "Tax simplification, tax reduction and greater tax compliance, less regulation, entitlement reform and budgetary discipline."

In areas of foreign and defense policy, "we'll return to a quiet sense of American exceptionalism, but more so, given that the naysayers have had their say. Proper appreciation of US global power and moral international citizenship likewise will restore confidence....The US military has only improved in the last decade. It secured Iraq against all odds."

Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore sees better days for domestic energy and the economy.  "Since 2005 America truly has been in the midst of a revolution in oil and natural gas, which is the nation's fastest-growing manufacturing sector[.] ... One reason for the renaissance has been OPEC's erosion of market power[.] ... Today OPEC's market share is falling and no longer dictates the world price. When OPEC was at its peak in the 1990s, the U.S. imported about two-thirds of its oil. Now we import less than half of it, and about 40% of what we do import comes from Mexico and Canada. That's why Mr. Hamm (CEO of Continental Resources) thinks North America can achieve oil independence."

And so does Mr. Moore.  "The government floods green energy -- niche market that supplies 2.5% of our energy needs -- with billions of dollars of subsidies a year... Hamm calculates that if Washington would allow more drilling permits for oil and natural gas on federal lands and federal waters, 'I truly believe the federal government could over time raise $18 trillion in royalties.' Even if he's wrong by half, it's a stunning number to think about. So this America-first energy story isn't just about jobs and economic revival. It's also about repairing America's battered balance sheet."

Finally, as an antidote to the normally skeptical, Peggy Noonan seems hardwired to find hope in patriotism.  Where she finds it is interesting.  "There is, I think, a kind of new patriotism among our professional classes. They talk about America now and their eyes fill up. With business people and doctors and scientists, there used to be a kind of detachment, an ironic distance they held between themselves and Washington, themselves and national problems[.] ... I see a deep yearning to help, to do the right thing, to be part of a rebuilding, and it is a yearning based in true and absolute anxiety that we may lose this wonderful thing we were born into, this America, this brilliant golden gift."

None dispute the difficulties of being the United States -- or Israel -- heading toward 2012.  But the strength and resilience of free societies is a powerful tool, making America's decline anything but inevitable.

Indeed, optimism seems warranted.

Shoshana Bryen has more than 30 years experience as a defense policy analyst and has been taking American military officers and defense professionals to Israel since 1982.

This would seem a screwy time for optimism.  We're riding the edge of a double-dip recession, with political backbiting and the abdication of America abroad both militarily and politically.  It is worth noting, then, that at this moment, a trend toward optimism among astute observers of both domestic and international issues is rising like a series of bubbles.  The following is by no means complete, but drawn mainly from the ranks of well-known skeptics.  And the natural disclaimer is that in many cases, strong American leadership and the public confidence that stems from it are required to hit the happy outcome.

Michael Ledeen, Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and longtime Iran watcher, points to upheaval in Syria and Iran and cheers the possibilities.  "The defeat of Assad and Khamenei would be a world-changing event, pulling the plug on the ominous strategic alliance that runs from Tehran and Damascus to countries quite close to us, such as Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua."  It would weaken Russia's ability to foment mischief and deprive the terror network of key assets including money, safe havens, and intelligence.  "We're right on the edge of an historic watershed, in which our totalitarian enemies can be driven into history's bin of losers. It is time for us to declare victory and then impose our will on our enemies by giving their oppressed people the opportunity to free themselves from the bloody tyrants."

Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, disputes the conventional wisdom that Israel is alone in the world.  "Turkish rivals Greece and Bulgaria, two historical enemies of the Ottomans, have jumped at the chance to establish ties with Israel. By losing one ally and gaining two, Israel is plus one in the strategic relationship column."  Of Israel's enemies, he notes that not only does Hezbollah face the loss of its patron and military supply line in Syria, but that "fear of another war with Israel has isolated Hezbollah from large parts of its own Shia constituency."  Hamas has distanced itself from Syria, while Egypt has its hands full with domestic problems, as Syria will when the revolution ends.  "Hamas, Hezbollah, Egypt, and Syria are isolated. It's true that the Iranians are still marching toward a nuclear bomb, but the possibility of losing Hezbollah and Syria along the way would represent a net loss (of enemies)."

Former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger disputes that Arab-Jewish demographics trends are bad for Israel.  "In September 2011, the Jewish fertility rate -- 2.97 births per woman and trending upward -- exceeds the fertility rates in most Arab countries. Israeli Jewish demography has been robust --primarily due to a surge in secular Jewish birth rate...From 80,400 births in 1995, the number of Jewish births surged by 56% to 125,500 in 2010."

On trade (and politics), Ettinger adds, "Israel's GDP is $240BN -- with 3% deficit, 5.7% unemployment, 3% interest rate and 3% inflation...Israel's credit rating has been recently upgraded by Standard & Poor, ranking it among the top OECD economies[.] ... Notwithstanding disturbing Turkish statements (and) irrespective of political tension, the first quarter of 2011 features a 40% increase in the mutually-beneficial Israel-Turkey trade over the first quarter of 2010."

Victor Davis Hansen believes the 2012 election will unleash dramatic positive American energy because our fundamentals are sound:

The Constitution that ensures stability "of the sort absent in Russia, China, the Islamic world and even (or especially) the European Union."

The increasing availability of domestic oil and natural gas "may well turn us into a fuel depot like Saudi Arabia."

Cash.

Population growth: "Americans... aren't a shrinking nation with the demographic crises of a Europe or Russia."

The potential for reform: "Tax simplification, tax reduction and greater tax compliance, less regulation, entitlement reform and budgetary discipline."

In areas of foreign and defense policy, "we'll return to a quiet sense of American exceptionalism, but more so, given that the naysayers have had their say. Proper appreciation of US global power and moral international citizenship likewise will restore confidence....The US military has only improved in the last decade. It secured Iraq against all odds."

Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore sees better days for domestic energy and the economy.  "Since 2005 America truly has been in the midst of a revolution in oil and natural gas, which is the nation's fastest-growing manufacturing sector[.] ... One reason for the renaissance has been OPEC's erosion of market power[.] ... Today OPEC's market share is falling and no longer dictates the world price. When OPEC was at its peak in the 1990s, the U.S. imported about two-thirds of its oil. Now we import less than half of it, and about 40% of what we do import comes from Mexico and Canada. That's why Mr. Hamm (CEO of Continental Resources) thinks North America can achieve oil independence."

And so does Mr. Moore.  "The government floods green energy -- niche market that supplies 2.5% of our energy needs -- with billions of dollars of subsidies a year... Hamm calculates that if Washington would allow more drilling permits for oil and natural gas on federal lands and federal waters, 'I truly believe the federal government could over time raise $18 trillion in royalties.' Even if he's wrong by half, it's a stunning number to think about. So this America-first energy story isn't just about jobs and economic revival. It's also about repairing America's battered balance sheet."

Finally, as an antidote to the normally skeptical, Peggy Noonan seems hardwired to find hope in patriotism.  Where she finds it is interesting.  "There is, I think, a kind of new patriotism among our professional classes. They talk about America now and their eyes fill up. With business people and doctors and scientists, there used to be a kind of detachment, an ironic distance they held between themselves and Washington, themselves and national problems[.] ... I see a deep yearning to help, to do the right thing, to be part of a rebuilding, and it is a yearning based in true and absolute anxiety that we may lose this wonderful thing we were born into, this America, this brilliant golden gift."

None dispute the difficulties of being the United States -- or Israel -- heading toward 2012.  But the strength and resilience of free societies is a powerful tool, making America's decline anything but inevitable.

Indeed, optimism seems warranted.

Shoshana Bryen has more than 30 years experience as a defense policy analyst and has been taking American military officers and defense professionals to Israel since 1982.