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Thursday, September 13, 2012

No Bullying Pulpit

This seventh-grader, Benny, is a really nice kid who lives in a rough neighborhood--has lived there all his life.  The other neighborhood kids have never liked Benny--most of them kind of hate him.  They always call him names, pick fights with him, what have you.  And over the years, Benny's gotten pretty tough: He's had to!  When the other kids start hassling him, he gives as good as he gets.  And Benny has one big advantage over the other neighborhood kids: His best friend, Barry, is the star linebacker on the local high school football team.  Barry has always looked out for Benny (he's an old friend of Benny's family), and he always will.

Lately, though, Benny has started to annoy Barry.  See, Benny's been going around threatening the local bullies, warning them that if he even thinks they're going to start trouble, he's fully prepared to make life extremely miserable for them.  It's not a completely unreasonable position to take--this is a very rough neighborhood.  But now Benny's also demanding that Barry make some serious threats towards these kids as well.

Barry doesn't think this is such a great idea.  Sure, Barry could make the threats--and even back them up: He's a senior linebacker, and these are essentially just little kids.  But Barry has other things on his mind: his classes, an after-school job, college applications, to say nothing of the big game coming up against Mitford Prep. . .  OK, you get the point.

I am Jewish, and a strong supporter of Israel--or at any rate of the ideal of Israel: a secular democracy in an otherwise benighted land, a haven for a historically persecuted people--my people.  But when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu starts issuing demands that President Obama declare "red lines" to Iran--lines which the Islamic Republic dare not cross in its pursuit of nuclear weapons lest it find itself on the receiving end of an American attack--I just feel like telling him: Shut. Up.

I don't want to see Iran get the bomb (though I still have a philosophical problem with the idea that a nuclear-armed country has some sort of right to forbid another country from acquiring same).  I understand Netanyahu's concern.  However, he has no right to demand that another country--a country that has done more for his land than any other nation in the world--essentially commit itself to go to war on his behalf if some arbitrary "red line" is crossed.  Netanyahu, of course, says such lines would make war less likely, as Iran wouldn't want to provoke a US onslaught.  But I can't help thinking that Bibi--who seems all too eager to unleash hell on Iran--would see American red lines as green lights: How much time do you suppose would pass between an American ultimatum and Israel presenting Washington with evidence of Iranian violations?  I put the over-under at a week.  And then what?

Mitt Romney--Surprise!--thinks President Obama is showing contempt to our staunchest ally.  But it's easy to play backseat president before the election.  And even Romney hasn't said what his red lines would be. 

If Netanyahu is so gung-ho to attack Iran, let him do so.  The United States will, as President Obama affirmed at a recent gathering of Jewish leaders, "have Israel's back."  But Bibi must understand that the American people are quite weary of Middle East wars and have little appetite for another one.  We remember George W. Bush, who was all too willing to issue threats and ultimatums, and we are none too thrilled with how all that turned out.  I, at least, appreciate a President who is not willing to make bombastic threats for no reason other than that a friend asked him to.  President Obama has certainly failed to live up to his Nobel Peace Prize in many ways, but in this instance, at least, he is showing the right spirit.

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