The blossoming of the cherry trees
The idea of a New Middle East, which has just sent 100,000 American soldiers into sovereign Iraqi territory, is not basically an optimistic idea. It stems from the understanding that the status quo in the Middle East is very sick.
Last time, in 1993, the idea of a New Middle East basically wasn't an optimistic one, either. It stemmed from the understanding that the status quo in the Middle East was sick; from the understanding that the growing processes of extremism and deficit were about to create a dangerous situation here, within a fairly short time. It stemmed from the realization that, for that reason, there was no choice but to start all over. There was no choice but to try to shatter the status quo by means of a daring step, of a breakthrough into the unknown. The Oslo process it was called then. The salvation that was in Yasser Arafat; the gospel according to Shimon Peres.
This is more true than ever in 2003. The idea of a New Middle East, which has just sent 100,000 American soldiers into sovereign Iraqi territory, is not basically an optimistic idea. It stems from the understanding that the status quo in the Middle East is very sick. From an understanding that the increasing processes of extremism and deficit are about to create, within a short time, a global hell. It stems from the realization that, for that reason, there is no choice but to start all over and to try to shatter the status quo by means of a daring step, of a breakthrough into the unknown. The campaign to liberate Iraq it is called now. War. The salvation that is in the quick deposition of Saddam Hussein; the gospel according to George W. Bush.
Both in 1993 and in 2003, the architects of the New Middle East were brave men. They dared to look into the eyes of a cruel historical situation that many others ignored. They understood the seriousness of the challenge posed by the region, and they decided to do something radical and far-reaching in order to meet this challenge. However, both in 1993 and in 2003, when they decided to act, the architects of the New Middle East turned out to be irresponsible amateurs. In both cases, there was an inverse relation between the size of the mission they took upon themselves and the seriousness of the solution they proposed. A solution that in both cases was too optimistic, too superficial, bordering on messianism. Bam! and it's over; bam! and there's a new world.
The failed Middle East revolution of Shimon Peres was accompanied by rich, Ben Gurion-style rhetoric. The Middle East revolution of George W. is accompanied by no-less-rich Churchillian rhetoric. This rhetoric is not a gimmick. It's sincere. Bush's gang of Republican crusaders is really and truly convinced it is following in the footsteps of the elderly British lion. It believes its role is to face extremist Islamic evil just as Sir Winston faced the evil of the Third Reich. It believes the year is once again 1936, or perhaps 1938, and that it must take on the historic, almost religious mission of saving Western civilization from the new Huns.
Maybe that really is the case. Maybe Washington's new Churchills are reading the macro properly. However, what has become evident during the past two weeks is that, when they came to translate the macro into micro, they behaved carelessly. When they came to plan their great battle, the battle for the Middle East, they did it very poorly.
They were mistaken about almost everything: They were mistaken in their understanding of the international system (the UN Security Council), they were mistaken in their understanding of the regional system (Turkey), and they were mistaken in their intelligence (guerrilla warfare). They were mistaken in their understanding of the Shi'ites and they were mistaken in their understanding of the Sunnis and they were mistaken in the leadership of the generals. They were mistaken in their military planning, they were mistaken in their logistical planning, they were even mistaken in their public relations.
The series of mistakes is no coincidence. At its foundation lies one basic mistake: Unlike the original Churchill, Washington's neo-Churchills went for easy, fake solutions. Immediately after reaching the most dramatic conclusions regarding the nature of the threat - and regarding the nature of the world - they went on to sell a series of abracadabra, America-centric plans. The Marines, the Iraqi opposition, a free market, immediate democracy. The Churchillism of the Bush gang lacked the historical wisdom and the moral power of blood, sweat and profound good judgment. Instead, it turned out to be a postmodern Churchillism of a quick fix and of guaranteed success. A kind of Winston-light. A McChurchill for a dollar.
At the end of last week, the cherry trees were blossoming once again in Washington. After a long, hard winter, the valleys west of Capitol Hill were covered overnight with majestic white and pink. However, along the Potomac River, on the way to the large American memorials, there was a kind of undefined feeling of distress in the air: The United States found itself caught up in a war it hadn't anticipated. Suddenly, it was mired in a swamp of Mesopotamian reality.
What's so hard to digest, said one of the enthusiastic supporters of the war, thinking out loud, is that now the fate of America and the fate of the 21st century are dependent on what happens in those killing fields. And, even though it will be all right, he said, it definitely will be all right, there is something horrifying in the very thought of it. Look, look at the blossoming of the cherry trees. It's enough to make one shudder.