"The older I get the more I see how overrated brains are," an older friend
said to me recently. Even in Talmudic learning on its face an
intellectual exercise pure intellectual firepower is an unreliable
predictor of long-range achievement. So when I see the The New York
Times becoming all hot and bothered by the multiplicity of Ivy League
degrees in the new administration, I get nervous.
There are many good reasons for Israelis to be concerned about a shift in
American policy towards Israel. One is the appointment of Harvard professor
Samantha Powers, who has called for the stationing of a "mammoth [American]
force" in Israel to protect Palestinians from genocide, to a senior position
in the National Security Council.
A second is President Obama's Alice in Wonderland portrayal on Al Arabiya of
some halcyon era of "respect and partnership" between America and the Muslim
world "as recently as twenty or thirty years ago." That period includes:
the seizure of the American embassy in Teheran, Hizbullah's bombing of a
U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, the Lockerbie bombing, and a ruinous Arab
oil embargo, just for starters. No one begrudges the President a few
rhetorical flourishes and outreach towards the Moslem world, as long as we
know he doesn't really believe what he is saying.
But of no less concern is the misplaced confidence in their ability to solve
all the world's problems of all those high IQ types in the new
administration. Nobel Laureate in Economics, Professor Robert Lucas declared
in 1996 that economists now possess sufficient knowledge and tools to end
the threat of another worldwide depression forever a boast that appears
less and less well-founded by the day. The U.S. Congress issued the economic
wizards of the Treasury a blank check to free up credit markets, but so far
more than 350 billion dollars have been spent to no effect.
Hints of similar hubris with respect to forging a Arab-Israeli peace are
flying fast and furious from Washington D.C. President Obama's first phone
call was to Mahmoud Abbas, the present or former head of the Palestinian
Authority, depending on whom you ask, and one of his first newsworthy acts
in office was the appointment of former Senator George Mitchell as his
special envoy to the region.
The President has pronounced the Palestinian-Israeli conflict "ripe" for
resolution, and even allowed on Al Arabiya that "there are Israelis who
think that it is important to achieve peace." But wherefore the ripening of
hopes? Has there been an end to anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian
Authority media? Some new polls showing a growing Palestinian rejection of
terrorism? Has Fatah shown itself capable of running a state?
Someone should send the President the collected news reports of Khaled Abu
Toameh on the Palestinian Authority. Abu Toameh told an audience in
Philadelphia this week that Americans have no idea with whom they are
dealing if they think peace is to be had with either Fatah or Hamas. Peace
will only come, he said, when the Palestinians and Israel are forced to deal
with one another alone, without the former looking for an outside savior.
The main lessons learned by Israelis since the last bout of hyperactive
American peacemaking, in the dying days of the Clinton administration, are
that territorial withdrawals lead to missile fire and only an IDF ground
presence can protect against missiles and terrorist attacks.
Senator Mitchell's denial that there is such a thing "as a conflict without
end," prior to leaving for the Middle East reflects the same dangerous
belief that to every problem there is a solution. The successful peace
negotiations in which Mitchell participated in Northern Ireland did not
bring about a dramatic shift in attitudes between Catholics and Protestants.
Rather those negotiations followed the emergence of a Protestant leader,
David Trimble, eager to put aside old hatreds, and a radical shift in
attitudes by the leadership of the IRA on the Catholic side.
No such shift of attitudes has taken place among Palestinians nor has a
Palestinian civil society begun to emerge that can underpin a stable,
democratic state as Israel's neighbor. As long as the Palestinian-Israel
conflict remains one over Israel's legitimacy i.e., essentially
theological in nature there can be no permanent peace.
But smart technocrats are notoriously thick when it comes to apprehending
the force of religion, either for good or bad, because it so rarely plays a
role in their own lives. Those who entreat Hamas to recognize Israel's right
to exist, for instance, fail to comprehend that they are asking Hamas to
dissolve itself and to renounce its fundamental religious belief that all
land which was ever under Moslem sovereignty must remain so forever.
A COROLLARY of the smarties' overconfidence in their own problem-solving
ability is the tendency to reframe every situation as a technical problem.
Thus after the first World Trade Center bombing, the Clinton administration
did not awaken to the threat of Islamic terrorism, but rather treated the
matter as a simple law enforcement issue of rounding up the relevant
New York Times columnist Roger Cohen repeated the mistake last week when
he waxed ecstatic about President Obama's declaration, albeit sotto voce, of
an end to the war on terror. From now on, no more talk of Islamic terrorism,
only of defeating particular terrorist organizations. And that, declared
Cohen, is "not a war, [but] a strategic challenge."
Dangerous talk of civilizational clash can now be canned, writes Cohen.
Apart from a few Moslems who wish to violently destroy America (and who
hopefully don't include the Iranian leadership), most Moslems, Cohen
declares, "merely dislike, differ from or have been disappointed by
America." In other words, they have a series of local grievances, many of
which can be healed by ceasing to embrace "an
Pattern recognition is one of the key indicia of intelligence, but
apparently not when it cuts against the cherished belief that all problems
are merely technical in nature. But some patterns cannot be safely ignored -
e.g., the unique propensity of Moslems to react to grievances with murderous
rage. Or the findings of a U.N. study written by Moslem scholars of high
rates of illiteracy, scant scientific achievement, low democratic
indicators, and suppression of women, in almost every Moslem country and
every Arab one.
In the Arab-Israeli context, we continually witness attempts to frame the
issues as technical ones, essentially no different than negotiations over a
new union contract. Each side is portrayed as seeking a slightly larger
slice of the pie, and the general contours of the final solution are said to
be known in advance.
That picture, however, is predicated on a false equation of incommensurate
items as the subject of trade-offs e.g., recognition of Israel's right to
exist versus Israeli settlements. To attempt to impose solutions without
first eradicating a culture of Palestinian hatred, which has only
intensified since the outset of Oslo, reflects not intelligence but a flight