The Middle East can look somewhat normal on the surface to first-time visitors, but it’s mind-bogglingly dysfunctional, and it is obviously so to anyone who has spent even a couple of months in the region. (It is also obvious to some people who know almost nothing at all about that part of the world.) Sometimes, especially when I’m in Iraq, I think the problems there are simply bottomless and that a solution does not exist. President Bush couldn’t fix it. President Obama will not fix it either. If you don’t believe me — wait.
It’s hard for many naturally optimistic Americans to believe this, but sometimes I fear it is true. Time and experience has done that to me. The Middle East just grinds people down. Beirut, Jerusalem, Baghdad — these are not places you want to spend too much time if you have faith in the human race and linear progress.
I hope I am wrong, but I won’t be proven wrong in the short term.
Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlanic is feeling this “much more intensely than I am right now”:http://jeffreygoldberg.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/01/why_im_not_blogging_more_about.php.
I have friends in Gaza about whom I worry a great deal; I’ve seen many people killed in Gaza; I’ve served in the Israeli Army in Gaza; I’ve been kidnapped in Gaza; I’ve reported for years from Gaza; I hope my former army doesn’t kill the wrong people in Gaza; I hope Israeli soldiers all leave Gaza alive; I know they’ll be back in Gaza; I think this operation will work; and I have no actual hope that it will work for very long, because nothing works for very long in the Middle East. Gaza is where dreams of reconciliation go to die. Gaza is where the dream of Palestinian statehood goes to die; Gaza is where the Zionist dream might yet die. Or, more to the point, might be murdered. I’m not a J Street moral-equivalence sort of guy. Yes, Israel makes constant mistakes, which I note rather frequently, but this conflict reminds me once again that Israel is up against an implacable force, namely, an interpretation of Islam that disallows the idea of Jewish national equality.
My paralysis isn’t an analytical paralysis. It’s the paralysis that comes from thinking that maybe there’s no way out. Not out of Gaza, out of the whole thing.