In the good old days of the Cold War things were simpler. There were two superpowers each had enough nukes to wipe out each other, allies and the non-aligned fakers included, several times over. Noone doubted the reality of MAD, a mutually assured destruction. Everyone understood and was prepared to tolerate bad jokes, such as when Ronald Reagan in 1984 publicly announced he "outlawed Russia forever", or when Brezhnev told the visiting president Pompidou of France that he had "just destroyed Paris" after pressing a button on a panel at a space centre in Baikonur. In neither case were there large demonstrations, and attacks on embassies with cries for the statesmen to be tried for crimes against humanity, or killed outright. Everyone understood they had the power to destroy the life on the planet. In that context everyone was relieved they were only kidding. You might say that the context of a nuclear threat gave us a sense of reality which sorted out the substantive ideas in political speech from bad jokes. Even if the posturing was sometimes hostile, the politics of both sides were deeply rooted in the common interest of survival.
No such luck today. When ayatollah Khamenei or president Ahmanidejad threaten Israel with annihilation, it cannot be taken as a tasteless joke. They are religious fanatics believing themselves to be have been appointed in a God-ordained commission to usher in the reign of the Mahdi. They live in the end of times and read the political events of the day as unravelling to fulfil prophecies of the Twelfth Imam's return. Their spat with Israel is not a regional rivalry like that of India and Pakistan. Since the revolution of 1979, Iran does not recognize Israel as a state. Its leaders refer to a sitting member of the United Nations as a Zionist entity which must be destroyed. Iran denies Israel the right to exist. The rhetoric duplicates Nasser's threats of 1963 which immediately preceded hostilities. None of the bloggers scoffing at Netanyahu's UN address yesterday lives in Tel Aviv or Haifa. They can afford the luxury of waxing philosophic over the cartoonish shape of the bomb used by the Israeli PM to drive home his point. It's not their bacon that is going to get fried. They are not within the range of the Shahab 3 missiles paraded through Tehran promising to wipe them off from history.
In the blogosphere and the western MSM, the hostility towards Israel has never been greater. It is now generally believed that if not for this shitty little country, we would live in a paradise on Earth. To such mindset, it naturally appears that it is Bibi Netanyahu is a nuke-mongering maniac who wants to restore greater Israel from the Pyrenees to the Himalayas. It is he who is crazy or wacky. Justin Raimondo has convinced himself that Israel is just as medieval in its political system and world outlook as the ayatollahs. In his idiocy, he thinks that the belief of some religious Jews in the imminent coming of the Messiah directs Israeli politics the same way that the theocratic regime manages the return of the Mahdi. Somehow, the fact that in hundred-fifteen seat Knesset, the messianists seem to be terribly absent, doesn't seem to faze Raimondo. Shas, the strongest of Israel's religious parties (currently fifteen seats) and member of the Likud-led coalition in fact does not base its programme and politics in any way on religious speculations about the future. As for a Jewish state right to be where it is, Raimondo only needs to pickup a 101-history of the region, to grasp that there has been a Jewish presence there well before any other modern national entity such as the Palestinians.
Failure of US Foreign Policy in the Region
That Israel is a lynchpin of US foreign policy in the region cannot be a point of contention, if the United States are to retain any influence in the Middle East. Israel as America most trusted ally must not be deprecated in the plain view of the fact that the existence of the Jewish state does not threaten anyone. The carefully staged laments over the mistreatment of the Palestinians, are in reality a smokescreen for the intent to annihilate Israel. The Israelis know that they are not negotiating with an entity (or two) who are on the level and who have accepted the existence of Israel as a bona-fide state. It is because of this that a political solution eludes the region. One cannot accept to make deals with people who feel justified in double-dealing. There is no other reason that I can see for the failure of the peace process. I am sure the Israelis would have found a solution to the offending settlements (as they had done in Sinai) and come to a reasonable terms on East Jerusalem (see eg here). The Palestinians would have to waive the right of return (perhaps for compensation) which ought to be no problem for a party sincere about its intentions vis-a-vis its one-time adversary. Problem is that currently is that any Palestinian politician sincerely wishing peace with Israel and open to realistic, mutually acceptable terms, is thereby signing his or her political death warrant.
The shift in the US standing in the conflict from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama could be succintly described as the upgrade from chicken salad to chicken shit. After Camp David and Carter managing to convince Egypt to normalize its relations with Israel only debacles followed. Khomeini was allowed to get away with humiliating the US internationally in 1979, and - unbelievably - in a brazen attack on the US peacekeepers in 1983 Beirut via Hezbollah. That the US could not find a way to smash dead the vile bare-assed Tehran proxy in Lebanon and assert itself in the region via its democratic ally Israel (nota bene : at a time that the Soviet decay became manifest) will be the stuff of nightmares for true Americans in ages to come. Over the circa thirty years the US foerign policy in the Middle East has become so aimless and incoherent and plain dumb that it will take a miracle to put it back together again. I am saying that in the view that the political prostitutes in Washington who used to do the bidding of US Steel or General Motors might these day work for clients in the Chinese Politburo and the members of the Saudi royal family who are not overtly hostile. I may not be the greatest fan of Michael Moore but I found his account of Bush and prince Bandar dining two nights after September 11, 2001 a good summary of the morass and plutocratic corruption the US has become.
It has also become obvious over the last presidential term that Barack Obama is just as clueless as his predecessors. Not only the rhetoric with leftist shibboleths of peace-loving, gay-loving, Netanyahu-noise-ignoring, anti-Islamophobic America solve nothing, they only further exarcebate the problem. As the Australian historian Keith Windschuttle observed in mid-nineties,
[The cultural relativists] endorse as legitimate other cultures that do not return the compliment. ...Islam will have no truck with relativism of any kind. The devout are totally confident of the universalism of their own beliefs which derive from dictates of God, an absolute authority who is external to the world and its cultures. They regard a position such as the post-modern cultural relativism as profoundly mistaken and , moreover, debasing. Relativism devalues their faith because it reduces it to merely one of many equally valid systems of meaning. So, entailed within cultural relativism is first, an endorsement of absolutisms that deny it, and, second, a demeaning attitude to cultures it claims to respect. (in Killing History, Free Press, Toronto, p 272)
President Obama does not know this. This is why he tries to placate the Muslim angry mobs all over the world, and the politics that feed off them. It will not work. Appeals to logic assume that the addressees understand, or that at any rate, are willing to underwrite, the sentiments of the U.S. Constitution which places "We the people" above any authority, secular or religious. Muslims will not do that. They will not do that because ~80% of mosques in the United States are preaching a seditious, radical version of Islam which denies the very liberty under which American Muslims are allowed to practice alongside other religions. It will not work because the radical Islamists the world over sense a fatal weakness in the foreign policies of the United States, above all an intelligent articulation of self-interest in a way that is understandable to them.
If Obama is serious about what he said in the UN the other day, he will get together with Congress on a legislation prohibiting the preaching of doctrines on US soil which advocate a single ideology or religious schemas replacing traditional American governance . There are strong constitutional grounds for such a bill. Muslims understand well the term "sedition". It also needs to be made clear - crystally clear - Israel is the closest ally in the Middle East ! If a Turkey ship runs a Gaza blockade, US will have to make nasty noise to make sure Erdogan gets the message. Forget about harrassing Putin; he is not a disguised Soviet imperialist. Take off the ABM-shield from Eastern Europe in exchange for his agreement on containing the Tehran lunatics. The Russians are more worried about them than they let on. But nothing that the next prez does abroad will resonate unless he and the Congress shows willingness to deal with the problem on the home front first !