The drama of Barack Obama's personality and his campaign of Change have come under assault on several fronts. Reality is at least as tough as rhetoric. The skills that get a politician to office may not be those that enhance government. On the other hand, they might be. The man is smart, and he has good advisers. The test is ongoing. The jury will not decide for a while.
Americans elected Obama, but he must lead the world. On his plate are not only existing commitments to bad wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the pirates of Somalia as well as the lingering issue of conventional trouble making and nuclear weapons in Iran. Closer to home, the stock market has shown some promise that it may be coming back from its bottom, but there are other signs that the economic crisis has a way to go. http://www.economist.com/world/unitedstates/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13411349
Afghanistan strikes me as the most worrying issue on the president's agenda. It is a sink hole that cost the British dearly in the 19th century, and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet empire in the 20th century. Its problems reflect a place that is not really a country governed by the people who claim to be in charge, and Islamic extremism that produces hatred of the West as well as the cruel repression of freedom. There is also a neighboring area of Pakistan not controlled by any government that shares the cultures of Afghanistan and serves as a staging ground and refuge for its fighters. Afghanistan is world class in its production of opium and all that means for financing the bad stuff. A recent article in the New York Times provides ample stories of the corruption in high and low places almost certain to frustrate American efforts to do good.
What to do?
Alas, it is far easier to criticize Obama's decision to increase America's military presence in Afghanistan than to propose something better.
Yet from my parochial perspective, it appears that there are some lessons in what Israel has learned the hard way.
It may not be easy for American officials to see the lessons, or admit that they are useful. It might be especially difficult for a Democratic administration to follow the road of a country accused of war crimes, but here goes
Notice what Israel has done in recent years with respect to Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. It does not occupy, but goes in after specific targets, stays a short time (often only hours) and then leaves.
In the case of Lebanon 2006 and Gaza 2009 it created considerable destruction, but did not remain to occupy. It does not aspire to reform those places, but only to warn them of the costs associated with violence against Israel.
The Lebanon operation was widely considered to have been too long. It lasted two months. Most of the damage was done early, and many of the Israeli casualties came later without further accomplishments. The Gaza operation lasted only three weeks, and had very few Israeli casualties.
The policy does not produce victory, but it imposes a severe cost that may leave a lasting lesson. Its advantage is that it greatly reduces one's own casualties.
It is clearly easier for Israel, being right up against the relatively small Lebanon and even smaller Gaza. Afghanistan and Iraq are much larger, and much further from the United States. However, the United States has bases, as well as an enormous logistic capability that allows prolonged attack from some distance.
No less troublesome are those primitive pirates of Somalia.
Again the Israeli model offers some suggestions. The pirates have a naval infrastructure that allows them to operate hundreds of miles from shore, and they have built what some call palatial homes in their villages.
What the politically correct see as appropriate venues for negotiations, others see as targets.
It may take awhile for Americans and others to make the switch. It took Israel eight years to respond forcefully to the rockets coming out of Gaza.
I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem