Life in Our Alternate Universe
I listened to two hours of news tonight, then read a sampling of columnists, and learned the following.
We should blame ourselves for the estrangement with Turkey because (1) George Bush put it in a tight spot in 2003 (but Turkey simply took our foreign aid and said no to the transit of the 4th Infantry Division, which, had it came down from the north into the Sunni Triangle, might have accelerated the collapse of Saddam’s forces); (2) the EU did not admit Turkey (given what we know between the relative attitudes toward thrift, finance, and legal compliance among Germans and Greeks, we could imagine what the divide might have been, say, between Anatolia and Amsterdam); (3) the Bush neocons’ tilt toward Israel forced our natural Turkish ally into the Islamist camps (we are to ignore the unhinged rants of former Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, who started in on his hate the Jews/trash America outbursts in the 1990s, apparently to wide applause, that predated Bush).
What I did not hear from our pundits: (1) Turkey monitors the spiraling debt of the U.S., the new bowing/apologizing/outreach to Iran, Syria, etc., and senses weakness and hence opportunity rather than magnanimity and hence appreciation; (2) Turkey’s new efforts to be on the cutting edge of radical Islam while trying to be a window on the West are in perfect accord with some 400 years of Ottoman history, when contact with Western powers was largely parasitical and aimed at enhancing Muslim interests; it was never, before the shared fear of the U.S.S.R., an ally of liberal Western democracies, siding with imperial Germany in World War I, and signing a friendship pact of neutrality with Hitler in 1941, so there were always historical faultlines; (3) Turkey sees a growing distance between Israel and the United States and hence opportunity for it to slip in between to galvanize Islamic opposition in one-eyed-Jack fashion, while in the Southern Mediterranean to reestablish a larger presence toward a bankrupt Greece, estranged from both its northern Europe creditors and the United States (tired of cheap Athenian anti-Americanism).
I did not hear that she urged not just that Israel get out of the West Bank, not just that 1947 Israel cease to exist, and not just that Israelis leave the Mideast — but that Jews go to Poland and Germany (but, why, Ms. Thomas, not, say, to France or Lithuania?)
And here was the media reaction: (1) Ms. Thomas is almost 90, give her a break (but if that suggests she is senile, why the cherished seat as the doyen of the White House press corps?); (2) Ms. Thomas was a trailblazer and the greater good must outweigh the smaller bad (but she has a long history of especially inflammatory comments, and it is an American practice to punish public figures, whether a George Allen or Trent Lott, for a single outburst of racial or ethnic insensitivity); (3) She is sort of right, in that Israel will have to withdraw to its 1947 borders (but she did not imply that; instead she meant out of all the West Bank and Israel and back to the site of the Holocaust).
Therapeutic Foreign Policy
I also heard that the reset button foreign policy is working, especially in the case of the Mideast and Russia.
I did not glean that Russia likes us the more we sign one-sided arms control pacts; abandon the concerns of the Poles, Czechs, Georgians, etc., and assume that Iran will become a nuclear power with Russian help. In other words, if I were a foreign opportunistic player, and I learned that the U.S. was borrowing $2 trillion a year to lavish more entitlements on its citizenry while emphasizing that between 2001-9 the U.S. caused most global tension and was now sorry for it, and that outreach, bowing, apologizing, and praise of foreign cultures were now the norm, then I might, if were one of the following, do the following:
Iran: I would step up enrichment and figure there was an open road to nukes at least until 2012. Meanwhile I would round up all the dissidents I could and do what I must without worry of foreign opinion. I would occasionally threaten Israel to see what, if anything, the U.S. would say.
Israel: I would be very worried.
Mexico: I would damn the United States as much as possible, encourage as much illegal immigration as possible, and in general do what it takes to enlist Obama in ensuring the continuance of $30-50 billion in remittances and the steady export of 500,000 impoverished, potential dissidents per year.
North Korea: I would ratchet up tension, sink a South Korean ship, and try to create a state of de facto war — in order to receive several billion per year to “stand down.” And, of course, praise Obama as much as possible.
Russia: Again, I would praise Obama to the skies, and try to get Iran into the nuclear club as quickly as possible, press on borders of the former Soviet republics, and sign as many agreements I could with the Obama administration.
Syria: I would welcome outreach from Obama, praise his godhead, and sell missiles to terrorists like Hezbollah, encourage terrorists in Iraq, get back into Lebanon, and start pressing Israel as never before.
Obama reminds me of my own twenties when I was both ignorant and arrogant in my self-absorption: Wondering why a particular ag supply company would not put all the bags on the pallet that I paid for, confused over why the guy I hired to level a field left his CAT meter on his idling carry-all while he visited his girlfriend and billed me for the “hours,” disheartened that workers would habitually write “320 tablas” on their first grape tray, when in fact I counted only 231 when I walked down their rows, and curious why a big ag corporation would spray “fix” on their table grapes that made them bigger and prettier than mine, even though the chemical was long banned. Unfortunately, appeals to reason were, to quote Mark Knopfler, “all for nothing.”
Such a brutal world! So far different from what I saw in the polite scraps over graduate travel money, and the seminar showdowns over whether the particle de was always or just sometimes postpositive.
I think we will survive, barely, as Obama learns each day that China, Iran, Russia, Syria, and Turkey do not behave like professors at Columbia, the law school dean at Harvard, or the community activist board in Chicago.
Note the adverb “barely.”