You might be thinking that this was a watershed year for our world, but it’s more akin to a waterslide, the kind where we all get in the car at the top of the ride and careen downward, willy-nilly, hoping for the best. We assume the ride’s designers have it figured out and no one will get hurt.
North Korea is one component of this analogy. Here we are trying to puzzle out whether Kim Jong-il and his son are irrational or merely tactically aggressive. Meanwhile, they keep manufacturing nuclear weapons. North Korea has broken every treaty, lied about and covered up nuclear processing plants, and sent materials, experts, and missiles abroad to arm those who would destroy us, and the West’s collective response is a shrug. If the thought of North Korea enabling a nuclear Myanmar isn’t enough to wake up the leaders of the rich world, then nothing short of a mushroom cloud over the Champs-Elysées will.
The Bush II administration is not the only group who failed to deal with North Korea’s nuclear path to Armageddon. NATO, SEATO, the UN, and every first world country are responsible. What should have taken place was a unilateral bombing campaign by the air forces of the world to reduce North Korean industrial capacity to zero. Think how fragile our world is now, diplomatically, economically, environmentally and socially, and add the elimination of Moscow, London, New York, Tel-Aviv or Washington. To place the world’s continuation in the hands of the Jongs is an unfathomable act.
Next up are the Mullahs of Iran. Same debate: Are they really mad? Or, do they only act bombastic and threatening for domestic consumption? What if they are mad? What if they are messianic and 12th-imam-end-of-days obsessed? What if when backed into a corner they let a few missiles fly to prove a point?
More and more unstable regimes with kilotons of destructive capacity cannot be a stabilizing force in the world. The nuclear proliferation of these regimes and our collective failure to put a stop to them may be remembered as the single biggest mistake in human history. We have written before that the 17th century concept of national sovereignty may be the bête noire of civilization. Because world-ending nuclear bombs and missiles can come flying without warning from tiny countries, respect for borders and nation states is something that cannot be countenanced by a world that wants a future.
Back copies of Foreign Affairs with its intellectually justifying, yet literate explanations, allowances, and outright defenses of nuclear-armed North Korea and Iran should be sent into space to provide a good record for extraterrestrials of the folly of we humans when we rationalize and intellectualize the evil and madness that finally destroyed us.
It is in this context that we nominate the unknown assassin of Majid Shahriari, the top Iranian nuclear scientist killed by a bomb two weeks ago, as our Man of The Year. This brave person was trying to save humanity…even if it is just to go on Facebook and look up your high school girlfriend. The idea that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year is all the proof you need to see how forgetful we have become regarding our survival. If, in addition to North Korea, we have a nuclear-armed Iran, it’s a certainty that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ clock will be moved up to midnight.
Think about Pakistan for a minute. On an individual level, reflect upon the woman dressed in a burka (we wrote about this trend on July 24, 2007 in Tootsie and the Red Mosque) who killed herself, 45 others, and wounded scores more waiting on a food line. And, on a national level, if you want to know where religion and madness meet bloodthirsty political ends, you need look no further than the 35 highly effective nuclear bombs Pakistan possesses. Fanatics there will destroy, create carnage and cause incomprehensible suffering as a route to their Islamic goals. They have been loosed upon the world by the Saudi Wahhabis, who would think nothing of destroying an entire city while crying Alu Akbar.
Instead of worrying about Sudan, where they are only armed with rifles, attention should be paid to the nuclear stockpile in Pakistan. I don’t rest well thinking of this unstable, corruption-prone government with Jihad leanings, unable to secure itself from its internal enemies, who, may be within their own ranks. We know their technology can be bought by other nations, just ask nuclear technology salesman Abdul Qadeer Kahn. The next summit meeting of the G8 or the G20 or the Security Council should be about recalling all the nuclear weapons these nations are creating. Nothing is as important.
China. As BB King sings, “You played your hand too soon.” The China we have been describing for years now has finally come out of the shadows and gone from the role of victim to that of perpetrator. What a thin skin this emerging giant possesses. The clumsy, crude and ugly response that China put forward to the Nobel committee’s award to Liu Xiaobo has to be the eye opener of the year. No one could fail to notice China’s panic when the light of freedom was shined in their eyes. First they throw someone in jail and hold them incommunicado for publishing a call for a little openness and freedom. Then they mock and humiliate the Nobel Prize itself with their Confucius Prize.
This regime is scared out of their wits that they are going to lose control and power to… freedom. Censuring the internet; abrogating boundaries in the South China Sea; planning dams that eliminate the life-sustaining waters of neighboring countries; exporting unemployment and misery with a fake exchange rate; unsustainably exploiting the natural resources of Africa and Asia. It won’t be long before yesterday’s cries of Yankee go home,” will be replaced by “Yankee come back.” The Chinese can be merciless. Without the constraints of democracy’s anti-bribery laws, they will take what they want, when they want, and leave nothing but suffering. Their deals to build third world infrastructure are pathways for corruption and are vendor-financing schemes that will ultimately leave the vendee deeply in debt.
This was the year of China’s denouement on the world stage. If the subsequent acts are as ugly as this one, look for the audience to run screaming from the theater.
On to our favorite topic. Our friends in Israel have continued with their tone-deaf, self-defeating campaign to ensure their continued isolation. By adopting at the outset, before they even found a table to sit around, a swaggering posture of “Just say no,” Bibi and his coalition of unholies proved once again that the Yiddishacup of diplomacy evades them. No wonder there was an article in the New York Review of Books about the alienation of American Jews from the Zionist cause and Israel in general.
If the Israeli government can alienate me they have really achieved something, and I am alienated. As a primer you may want to read Thomas Friedman’s 12/12/10 column http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/12/opinion/12friedman.html?_r=1. While I don’t always agree with him, this one is out-of-the-park correct. Then you should read the Israeli version in the Jerusalem Post by Caroline Glick (12/17/10) http://www.carolineglick.com/e/2010/12/bringing-bibi-down.php. She is often brilliant but here fails to understand the difference between perception and reality.
And, did I get this right? Fifty Israeli government-employed rabbis sent a fatwa to the press denouncing the renting of property to non-Jews. Note to the Israeli establishment: Boychiks, Most Americans, Jews included, are secular citizens of the modern world. We live and thrive in a pluralistic society that rewards achievement. We have spent over a century overcoming hate and intolerance, quotas and marginalization. Our professional relationships are color and nationality blind. American Jews don’t think God talks to us alone and is deaf to all others. Free to practice Torah, we understand the need of others to practice their holy doctrines too.
In Mea Sharim, we see the same fanatical thinking we abhor in the Mullahs of Iran. It is not far from these rabbinical fanatics to the Imams who stone to death adulteresses and amputate the arms of thieves. To have a coalition government that shares a bed with I-know-what-God-wants politicians is scary to America. Netanyahu could keep control without them, making it an even worse shonda.
Historically, the best thing to do is make an alliance with your opposition. Tzipi and Kadima are not the enemy of Netanyahu --Hamas and Hezbollah are. The fact that these two cannot put aside their egos and form a unity government that will sideline the religious parties is really egregious, so much so that the country’s security is at stake. By turning down Obama’s offer of stealth planes in order to build more settlements, the government of Israel has managed to alienate its strongest defenders, deny itself the weapons it needs, and give a PR advantage to Abbas and the PLO. Additionally, the Abbas lunch for the 60 Israelis was the PR coup of 2010. Behaving as a moderate, kindly statesman, his outreached hand photo oped better than the angry scowl Netanyahu wears.
I just finished reading 34 Days by the Israeli journalists Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff. It is the story of the Hezbollah-Israeli war of 2006. If you thought Israel always knows what it is doing in the military/political sphere, read this book. The problem is the cost of not being right is getting higher and higher. As they like to say in the Mideast, “You must pay the price.” The price of Israel’s ultra-poor path to peace is getting exorbitant.
My advice: form a unity government and negotiate hard. If the Arabs can’t close the deal or fall back on, “We have 7 million refugees who need to be resettled in Holon or there will be no peace,” then the government of Israel can stand tall. But, if the Palestinians meet Israel in the middle, imagine a conflict-free Israel. For all the dust kicked up in 2000 after the failure of Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak to cement a peace deal at Camp David, very few world leaders blamed the Israelis. Most took Arafat at his word that Hamas would kill him if he signed. I understand that the current failure to make a deal could start another intifada, but what is the alternative? Occupation of the West Bank forever? Cancerous settlement building? A true and enduring apartheid state? Policing a demographic time bomb earning the world’s enmity? Ben Gurion and Golda Meir would have done better. It is time for Israel to smarten up and take the high road. It is dangerous, but the current path is a dead end.
These are my thoughts for the New Year.