I spend much of my time thinking about Israel. When I moved here more than 30 years ago, however, I did not give up my license to think about the place where I spent the first half of my life. All those years in primary school pledging allegiance, saying the Lords Prayer, and singing patriotic hymns left their mark.
The leader of the world ain't doing so well. And in keeping with what remains of its power and influence, its troubles become our troubles.
We hope for better. Maybe we should have learned.
We can start with the crisis in sub-prime mortgages, likely to be rippling through all our economies for some time. The biggest banks put the money of the world behind schemes that looked correct politically, and maybe even clever economically. What they did, however, was to lend a great deal of money to people who could not afford to pay it back, often under conditions that made it even less likely that they could pay it back.
Yet another lack of wisdom appears in a series of articles in the New York Times. It was politically correct to reform New York City's programs for dealing with children unwanted by their parents, or whose parents could not take care of them. Most of those children in New York are African-American, Hispanic, or other kids of color. Minority politicians and activists argued that it would be best to care for them via organizations run and staffed by minorities, and located in the neighborhoods where the kids live. Some years after minority-run organizations began receiving a great deal of public money to run foster care, it is apparent that some, or even most are rife with incompetence and fraud. It is not easy to make inquiries about these organizations. Critics are said to be mistaken, short-sighted, insensitive, or racist. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/07/nyregion/07foster.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)
Lest you think I am obsessed only with economics and politics distorted in favor of the poor and downtrodden, consider the recent fires in Southern California. Our pity went out in behalf of numerous overprivileged families who were living in dangerous areas, known to be fire prone. Planners moan their inability to stop people like those from doing the equivalent of playing in traffic, but real estate developers, people who want to live close to nature, and politics that prides itself in allowing people to do what they want stand in the way of good sense. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/28/us/28threat.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)
One cannot finish a letter like this without mentioning the problems of Iraq. The Bush Administration has succeeded in remaking a cruel, secular regime that had little or nothing to do with terror attacks on the United States into a chaos of a civil war, no less cruel to Iraqis, and much more dangerous as a new-born nest of Islamic extremism.
All of this makes Israel look like a well run, charming little country, which knows its limits and is not inclined to make things worse. Local banks are having a fire sale on American dollars. They have not been this cheap since 1998. The exchange rate is even convincing people to buy American cars. The more reliable vehicles made by the Japanese and Koreans have become more expensive.
We need protection from the American giant. The regime that produced sub-prime mortgages, minority-run foster care, and fire-prone homes for the rich now wants Israel to make it easy on Palestine to become a state. Occasionally we hear reservations from ranking sources in the American administration. All too often, however, we hear that the administration wants to go out with a success, like major progress toward a Palestinian state at Annapolis. Many of the Palestinians are decent people. Yet the people in charge have not learned to direct traffic, limit their own corruption, or deal with extremists who aspire to kill Jews. In the absence of wise Americans, Israelis need wise leaders who can say "No," or "Not yet."
We do not need the wisdom or the bite of Walter Lippmann, Thomas L. Friedman, or George F. Will. More appropriate is Alfred E. Neuman, the intellectual icon of Mad Magazine. If he is not still writing, someone like him may be the last hope of all who remain dependent on what used to be a great country.