What Bush understands
In the wake of the Union Army's defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862, US president Abraham Lincoln paused to meditate about God's role in the war. The North lost some 14,000 men in the three-day battle, and so Lincoln had a great deal to ponder.
Considering the loss, Lincoln wrote, "The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to be acting in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time."
In the world we live in, many of us feel much more distant from God than did the men and women of Lincoln's day. In our world, we suffer less from crises of faith than from crises of perception. The reality we inhabit is filtered through to us not simply by what we see ourselves. In our global village, which links us together with satellite images and digital feed, events that occur on the other side of the planet are brought into our living rooms as quickly as events that happened down the street. And yet, our immediate experience is not pure.
In order to see what happens so far away from us, we are at the mercy not only of the photographer who shoots the picture. Our view is further influenced by the reporter who tells us what we are seeing, and the context he or she provides. We are then impacted by the media filters in the places we live. The television producers or newspaper editors decide where to cut the image or the story. Indeed, they decide whether to tell us the story in the first place. And if we are told, we then have the story interpreted for us by a battery of experts, who, like us, were neither present nor witnessed it themselves. But they are paid for their expertise, which they provide with abandon, if perhaps with a deficit of humility.
On Tuesday, in America, the citizens of the greatest democracy in the world will take to the polls to choose their leader. Acting as leaders must, both President George W. Bush, and his challenger, Senator John Kerry, have done their own jobs of interpreting reality for their people. And they have provided contradictory explanations.
Bush tells his people, and the rest of the world, that America is at war. Its enemies are pan-Arab, pan-Islamic terrorists and the regimes that support them. Their aim is world domination and is based on their fascistic, totalitarian ideology which, appropriately or not, they claim finds its roots and justification in the Koran. Bush explains that the war is real and that it cannot be wished away. It must be fought to victory and that victory will not arrive until the terrorists have been crushed and the dictatorial regimes that support them have been transformed into democratic governments that fight them.
Kerry, on the other hand, explains that the war is not real, but a result of Bush's hubris and a figment of his messianic imagination. It is possible to end the war, he promises, by reaching an accommodation with various regimes. Both the Arabs who harbor and support the terrorists and the Europeans who preach accommodation and hope for an American defeat can be brought to heel with a bit of love and kindness and a great deal of sympathy and appeasement from America. As to the terrorists, by Kerry's lights, with the right sort of legal framework – which of course would not include any impingement on anyone's civil liberties – they can be transformed from a warring foe into a nuisance to be dealt with via law enforcement techniques much like those used to curb prostitution and gambling.
These are two very different views of reality, and both of them cannot be correct simultaneously. Reality cannot be one thing and its opposite at the same time.
Today, American military planners are looking very closely at Israel's experience on the front lines of the global terror war. They view our experience as a guidepost for their planning because they realize that the enemies we both fight are common ones.
Since Israelis don't have an interest in domestic US politics – we are stuck with our draconian income-tax rates, our over-regulated marketplace, our Bolshevik labor unions, and our overtaxed socialized health system – what interests us most about the US presidential elections is how the candidates view the war. Although our media elites and experts spend most of their time trying to imitate their European counterparts and have therefore spent the better part of the past four years saying nasty, passive-aggressive things about George W. Bush while cheering on his political opponents, we Israelis, who live on the frontlines – who live the daily pictures sent by satellite feed around the world – don't need their pictures to tell us what we see.
We experience a new global reality with all of our senses. We walk the streets that have exploded. We sit in the cafes that have gone up in flames. And in opinion poll after opinion poll, we say, in overwhelming numbers, that Bush is right. Bush's margin of victory in Israel is larger than his projected margin of victory in his home state of Texas.
Ashton Carter, a former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy in the Clinton administration, is now a professor at Harvard. Back in the roaring '90s he told his students, "Security is like air. You never think about it when you have it, but when it is gone, it is the only thing that matters."
Israelis know what he means. We have been living this way, here in the Land of Israel, for more than 100 years. We tried to pretend we were in Kerry's world in the 1990s with Oslo, but it blew up in our faces. Over the past four years we relearned what we had known until then: When you are facing an enemy who wishes to destroy you, you cannot wish him away no matter how hard you try. The only way to make him disappear is to fight him until you win.
Winning a war – whether against a conventional or a terrorist foe – requires three things: a military whose capabilities match its tasks; a nation with a survival instinct and a fighting spirit; and a leader who guarantees both.
In Israel we have the first two elements of victory pretty well in hand. We know the task before us, and in spite of our media, which is far more monolithic than that of the US, we recognize the reality before us. Our military is the world leader in counterterror warfare, and although we have much to improve, our commanders are aware of the challenges they face and rise to meet them in a manner that brings honor to themselves, their soldiers, and their country.
What is lacking in this country is leadership. When the Palestinians declared war on Israel in 2000, then prime minister Ehud Barak's response was to beg Yasser Arafat to change his mind. Then we got Ariel Sharon. The great general, who had fought with valor in all of our previous wars, stepped up to the plate and immediately lost his nerve.
As prime minister, he has done as little as he thinks his countrymen will let him get away with, and now he has turned his big guns against his party, his governing coalition, and his staunchest supporters who loved him all these years because of the courage he exhibited when he was younger.
But most Israelis are not moved by Sharon's promises of peace and security through retreat. Some 70 percent of Israelis believe that terror levels will remain static or increase if he goes through with his planned withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria. Sixty-two percent believe that international pressure on Israel to retreat from Judea and Samaria will either remain at its current high or increase if we vacate Gaza. Sharon's aides have already admitted that the reason he opposes a referendum on the withdrawal is that he believes he will lose. But if we don't get a referendum, given the way Sharon has decimated his governing coalition, we'll have new elections and shop around for someone better.
We know there is no silver bullet – that this war is long because it is great. We know that Palestinian terrorism is the prototype for the terrorism the entire world now faces. As with the Nazis before them, these present-day fascists began their war with the Jews because we were the most isolated enclave of the freedom and progress they hate. And like the Nazis, they have expanded their aims to world domination, while continuing their war against the Jews.
Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the same states that support the PLO and its charter members – Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah – are the main supporters of the terrorists fighting the rest of the world today. This, we know, will be a long war, but we also know, because we have seen reality unfiltered, that we have no choice but to fight.
In the US, the situation is reversed. Like Israel, the United States possesses an awesome military that has raced to match its capabilities with the tasks it must perform on the battlefield. Unlike Israel, the United States has been given the leader it needs for this fight – Bush. It seems that the only element in question is whether the American people are willing to accept the reality they have been dealt or if they hope, like Israel's leaders, that they can somehow wish it away with silver bullets that never seem to hit the proper targets.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.