City in White, Country Going Nowhere

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WASHINGTON, DC - Heavy snow fell this week on Washington. The White House was even whiter, as were Capitol Hill and the glorious Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial and Lincoln Memorial. Traffic was nearly silenced, and the snow-covered streets on the banks of the chilly Potomac accentuated the restrained beauty and power of the capital of the Western world.

Where is America headed? To a great degree, America is going nowhere. It is wrapped within itself and licking its wounds without making any firm decisions about its future.

No one is precisely sure about the economic situation - whether it is gradually recovering or if there is an illusory recovery. No one is precisely clear about the strategic situation - Iran, Syria, Russia and China all look gloomy for the moment. No one has a clear hold on what the political future brings - will the bridge disaster strike down New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and is Hillary Clinton on the verge of returning to the White House?

Washington’s beautiful winter befits its current mood. Everything here is reserved and restrained - without clarity, without visibility, without passion.

During the first spring of the Iraq War, I conducted a comprehensive and intensive tour of a much different city: a Washington rejoicing in battle. Cherry trees blossomed in pink, and on every street corner red white and blue tom-tom drums rang out. The little Churchills believing in the big war strode in the halls of power. Even the liberal media and the Democratic Party sounded like they never had since the bright days of JFK and LBJ.

I will never forget a profound conversation I had with a brilliant, senior neoconservative then among the city’s rulers. I asked him if he didn’t fear that this just-started war would become a second Vietnam. I told him that what happened to Israel in Beirut and Gaza could happen to the United States in Baghdad.

The neocon looked at me as if he were looking at a country bumpkin who didn’t understand how things work in the big city. America is not Israel, and America is not the America of Vietnam, he answered. It has enough power to replace the regime in Iraq and to carry on with Iran, too, and change the face of the Middle East. President George W. Bush is a man of principles and character who will instigate a democratic revolution in the Arab world and establish a new world order that the United States will lead.

The cherry trees have blossomed 10 times since then, and have withered 10 times, and the city is covered in white. The superpower invested all its spiritual resources - and much of its economic resources - in the mud of Iraq and Afghanistan. It lost its famous self-confidence in two undying wars and an extended economic crisis. That is how Washington is now a post-traumatic capital. It does not believe in big ideas and does not believe in big struggles and does not believe in itself.

America shies away from anything that reeks of machismo and anything that is reminiscent of Rambo. The worst nightmare of all is the nightmare of boots on the ground.

The American capital is on guard not to repeat that scenario. Thus, its current behavior in the world is the way one who leads in snow behaves: slowly, carefully, without making any sharp turns and without galloping uninhibited toward any desired goal.

Israel loves America, and Israel is dependent upon America, but Israel doesn’t always understand America. For too long, Jerusalem deluded itself that Washington is a Republican Washington. It is not.

For too long, Jerusalem assumed that Washington lay in its pocket. It does not. The new situation of American conscientiousness, carefully leading through the snow, obliges Israel to prepare for crisis-ridden situations in which the deep consciousness gap between it and its ally will become dangerous.

White House in snow, 2011.Credit: AP

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