Americans Are Voting on Our Fate

Over there, without understanding the cost of war, Americans will be electing a president today.

In his final book, historian Tony Judt answers the question of what prevented the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq from becoming another Dreyfus affair, in that the war was based on an outright lie. In "Thinking the Twentieth Century: Intellectuals and Politics in the Twentieth Century," written with Timothy Snyder, he discourses on the complexity of the issue of lies and war, and their role in an effort to turn the issue into a point of protest, saying: "When democracy makes war, it's first got to create a war psychosis ... you have to lie, you have to exaggerate, you have to distort and so on."

Moreover, part of the problem of American democracy with respect to war is connected to the fact that, as Judt writes: "In the twentieth century, America has made war at almost no cost to itself, relative to the costs to others. At the Battle of Stalingrad, the Red Army lost more soldiers than America has lost - soldiers and civilians combined - in all the American wars in the twentieth century. It is difficult for Americans to understand what war means, and therefore remarkably easy for an American political leader to mislead this people into taking a democracy to war."

So where does the false image of the suffering and the price Americans have paid in their wars come from? From American movies and television shows. And we adopt the American fantasy as though it were our own.

Those watching the news early last week might have thought it was our shores being drenched by Hurricane Sandy. True, this fantasy clearly has real sources. The radio and television interviews with Israelis living in the United States were enough to demonstrate the extent to which middle-class Israelis can have one foot here and one foot in the United States: businesspeople, professors working as guest lecturers or on sabbatical leave, computer experts, artists, college students, immigrants, tourists. And those of us still here? What they see on their screens is what we see on ours, except that we have subtitles.

There is no other Western country in which the entire population is as exposed to American popular culture through their television sets as Israel. We could deal as usual with bemoaning the Americanization of our lives, and yet it is worth noting what is not generally discussed as a symptom of this symbiosis. Let's set aside the hackneyed topic of Israelis in New York and focus on our protagonists: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,Awho attended high school and college in the United States; Stanley Fischer, who was born in Zambia and studied and taught in the United States, became governor of the Bank of Israel after stints at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and speaks wonderful Hebrew; Arthur Finkelstein, the New York-based Republican consultant who incites against the Arabs for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman; Sheldon Adelson, the U.S. casino mogul who owns the most patriotic newspaper in Israel; Eli Tabib, who buys and sells soccer teams here and flies to the United States to make his money there. And those are just some of the most prominent examples of crossovers between multiple possible homelands.

But there is one concept that remains foreign to Americans. Over there, without understanding the cost of war, Americans will be electing a president today - a leader who is likely to affect the lives and deaths of hundreds of thousands of people here. The millions of people in the Middle East watching the devastation of Hurricane Sandy (even though they would not ordinarily pay much attention to the natural disasters that beset Haiti or Bangladesh ) cannot do anything in this important election, even though it will have a significant effect on their lives.