Lesson of American Weakness

Israel Harel
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Israel Harel

In terms of the “what,” the United States had only one possible course of action when it intercepted the orders from Al-Qaida (if that was indeed the proximate cause of its panicked reaction): preparing to thwart a possible terror attack. And that’s what it did. But in terms of the “how,” there were various options. Yet the administration, in a classic act of losing its cool, chose the worst one of all: In addition to preparing to thwart the attack, it ordered a wholesale closure of embassies and consulates, along with other demonstrations of fear.

This sowed panic and inflated the reputation – and, even more, the motivation – of the scattered cells known as Al-Qaida. And on top of the strategic fiasco, back home in America it not only wounded national pride (in naïve, idealistic America, many people still draw strength from this archaic sentiment), but also raised weighty questions, even in liberal circles, about the administration’s judgment.

At almost the same time as it closed 22 embassies and consulates, the administration extended a hand to Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani, saying his inauguration “presents an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community’s deep concerns over Iran’s nuclear program,” in the words of the official statement. There was no demand that Iran stop enriching uranium, nor was there any warning against continued work on its plutonium-producing heavy water plant.

Expressions of weakness, it seems, have become the norm. Thus Israel’s working assumption must be that the United States will also demonstrate weakness against Iran, and won’t keep its public presidential promise not to allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons.

Experts have found strategic, political and economic reasons for America’s decision to cut contact with hotbeds of war and terror in Asia and the Middle East. But they never mention another, deeper reason: the changes occurring in the American ethos. Understanding these changes might provide the solution to the riddle many have tried so hard to solve: What happened to the spirit of America, which made it into what it was but, apparently, will be no longer? And what real threat do scattered terrorist groups, however brutal and determined, pose to the superpower’s national security?

In the past – for instance, during the Cuban missile crisis – the United States responded resolutely and forcefully, even going to the brink of nuclear war, against its rival superpower, the Soviet Union. These two qualities, resolution and forcefulness, are what earned it the status of defender of the free world’s democratic values – against Communism in the not-so-distant past, and against Islamic terror in recent decades.

Israel has many experts, perhaps too many, on American affairs. But in contrast to what was being said even in liberal circles in America and Europe, the initial public comments of the most prominent Israeli experts sought to defend Washington’s embarrassing behavior in hastily closing its diplomatic offices abroad. This shows, among other things, that they are ideologically falling into line with the signs of American weakness: If that’s how the mighty United States is acting, how can Israel do otherwise – for instance, with regard to Iran?

But there are also opinion leaders who understand very well what kind of price Israel, too, will pay for this American weakness, yet nevertheless publicly justified America’s panicked response. They were thereby repaying their “debt” to their American benefactors. After all, the Americans are very good at offering largesse, in numerous lucrative ways, both beforehand and after the fact, to those who stand at their side when they suffer embarrassment.

It must be hoped that at least Israel’s official analysts and decision makers will conduct a sober, unbiased situation assessment. Senior ministers have claimed that in exchange for direct talks with the Palestinians, America will attack Iran, but this is a delusion. They must therefore adopt a realistic attitude, and not only because of the lessons of America’s weakness in the face of Al-Qaida. In the words of Isaiah, they should say, “And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold; therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me.”

The Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. Credit: AP

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