Dreams From My President
If you look at the lower right-hand corner of this month’s cover, you will see a grouping of two articles by two of Israel’s most formidable intellects under the common heading: “No More Peace Plans!” Indeed, what Hillel Halkin and Caroline B. Glick do in their respective articles is attempt to lay out new paths for Israeli-Palestinian co-existence that would avoid the pitfalls of the grand-design “peace process” fantasies that have consumed the world for the past four decades.
Those fantasies of conciliation began with the 1969 Rogers Plan, an ineffectual framework appropriately named for Richard Nixon’s ineffectual first secretary of state, and moved forward through many others—the Allon plan, the Shultz plan, the Madrid process, the Oslo accords, the Wye discussion points, the Camp David proposal, the Taba extension, the Quartet’s Road Map, and probably a dozen I’ve forgotten.
These days, the Obama administration seems especially smitten with the Saudi plan first proposed by Crown Prince Abdullah, a proposal so profoundly serious in design that it was fleshed out to its greatest extent in a breathless Thomas Friedman column in February 2002 about a visit to the royal horse farm, a column that could have been subtitled “I Won a Dream Date with Crown Prince Abdullah!”
COMMENTARY’S readers have every reason to ask what sense it could possibly make to call for an end to “peace plans” when a new administration in Washington shows every sign of falling prey to their magical-elixir cure-all charms? President Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, offered the clearest recent example of this sort of thinking on May 10, when he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “We understand Israel’s preoccupation with Iran as an existential threat. We agree with that. And by the same token, there are a lot of things that you can do to diminish that existential threat by working hard towards achieving a two-state solution.”
This is the unified field theory of the Middle East, according to which there is a fault line that is responsible for all seismic activity even a thousand miles distant. If an agreement can be forged painting that fault line Green once more, as it was before June 1967, putting Palestinians (with no Jews) on one side of it and Jews (with a whole bunch of Palestinians) on the other, the region will achieve a blissful stasis.
Wondrous it would be, if such a dream could even begin to approach reality—but the reality is of a kind that should keep James Jones up at night rather than encourage him in his peaceable slumbers. Presented with a wildly generous proposal for statehood in 2000, the Palestinians instead launched a terror war. Granted independence and autonomy in Gaza in 2005, the Palestinians launched a rocket war. Both the terror war and the rocket war were encouraged and abetted by Iran. The next war to follow a sustained peace proposal or a unilateral action on behalf of Palestinian self-rule could have the word “nuclear” before it.
Four decades of peace plans involving Israel and the Palestinians have brought us to this pass. The more successful they seem, the more ruinous they are. As Plutarch reports, after the Greek general Pyrrhus prevailed in a battle in which his arm was wounded by javelin and 15,000 of his men killed, “he replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one other such would utterly undo him.”
That a delusion persists does not make it any less of a delusion; if anything, its persistence makes it all the more necessary for an intervention in which the deluded parties are not allowed the false comfort of their dangerous fantasies. Or, perhaps, new treatments can be found. That is why we present Hillel Halkin’s “Federation Plan” and Caroline B. Glick’s “Stabilization Plan” in our pages this month—two radically different approaches based in a common understanding that there is nothing more dangerous for Israel, going forward, than yet another peace process, yet another peace plan.
A discussion has arisen about the nature of the ideological commitment of the Obama administration. There is a common sense on Left and Right that the net effect of the administration’s hyperactive efforts in its first few months and its plans for the near future—to take a dominant role in the automobile business, to oversee the financial system, to extend health-care coverage, among other things—will be to move the United States closer to the style of social democracy seen in Western Europe. Higher taxes will be used to structure a more inclusive, more comprehensive cradle-to-grave safety net that will be paid for, in part, by restricting spending on defense. This is alarming to the Right and comforting to the Left.
The question is, how deeply considered are these changes? Does Obama himself have a grasp of how profoundly his policies may alter the nature of the American experiment? That is one question raised by both Francis Cianfrocca’s “Wealth Creation Under Attack,” which begins on page 26, and Tevi Troy’s “An End to Medical Miracles?,” which you will find on page 46.
Is it the conscious design of the Obama administration to set the United States on this new course, away from the individual self-reliance that has always been the American ideal (if not always the American practice) and toward a more collective ideal in which the nation is to be judged not on the opportunities it offers but the common weal its government provides?
We won’t really know the answer to this question until the memoirs are written, but I will hazard a guess. I think that Obama and his people have a sense that they can have both. I think they believe that the people of the United States can and will retain their entrepreneurial drive, their creative spark, and their willingness to take personal risks to make new fortunes and invent new ways of doing things no matter what. They would like to enjoy and make use of the benefits of the extraordinary energy of the American people in their pursuit of happiness, and so they believe they can act almost at will.
They can’t, though. A statist culture hospitable to individual achievement is a contradiction in terms. If the government of the United States makes it clear through word and deed that entrepreneurship is acceptable primarily because it provides funds to enlarge the government itself, and then moves aggressively to collect those funds at an accelerating rate, it will create both spiritual and practical disincentives to individual effort.
The question is: How much can government take before its efforts amount to slamming the brake on the nation’s entrepreneurial drive?
And we must not forget one particularly salient point. The social-welfare states of Europe were made possible by a grant from the United States Department of Defense. The role of the United States as guarantor of the Cold War peace and its position as the only nation in the West willing to assume leadership in military matters freed the nations of Europe from any other pressing budgetary obligations.
There is no one to take on that role if we decide to withdraw, to look inward, to accelerate domestic spending at an unheard-of rate while defense spending is frozen or actually begins to shrink.
This constitutes yet another reason not to embark on another round of peace-planning. How, in the aftermath of the weakening of the American entrepreneurial spirit, will we be able to afford the military action that will become inevitable in the wake of some false peace?