Saturday, August 12, 2006

Friday Fisch Fry – OK, it’s Saturday now, but Friday produced a new record number of visitors for the site. I didn’t even get to post anything new, until after midnight. I certainly didn’t want to disappoint my returning visitors; BardGuy, and someone else who’s remained completely anonymous. To be honest, I didn’t know where to start, but I have an idea kicking around in my head. Here goes:

I’ve been debating with the good folks on the DailyKos, fighting the good fight for the soul and the future of the Democratic Party. Joe Lieberman is being completely pilloried on the site, in a completely undeserved way. Everything he says is being scrutinized under an electron microscope, and then what’s left of the former vice-Presidential candidate’s reputation is pulled through the shredder. Then, there’s also the debate over the whole question of the nature of the ‘war on terror.’

So, I think I have come to understand why he’s running as an independent. It’s become personal for him. He was singled out for defeat by the internet lefty crowd – in part, the Deaniacs from MoveOn, but mostly by the Kossacks on the DailyKos. There is a place for them in the Party to be sure. Perhaps they’re right about themselves -- that they represent the core of the Party. It seems to me, though, that’s just arrogant self-importance. There's also a whole lot of self-righteousness involved there, since Kossacks basically pooh-pooh the idea that there is a place remaining in the Party for those who don’t agree with their own orthodoxy.

That’s a shame, because no one should feel that sure of their own correctness. It seems to me that this corner of the internet is peddling a peculiar “conventional” wisdom: that the Democratic Party needs to get in line with their ideas if it’s going to regain electoral success. And that’s a really dangerous notion.

A party that is so rigid in its ideology might have enough appeal to succeed in a parliamentary system, with proportional representation, but that’s not our system. There’s only one winner in each race, and, except for the rare race with three candidates, you need at least 50% + one to win. It’s also antithetical to the American character which seeks consensus in a way few, if any, other countries do. We resist the rigid class hierarchies and class politics that predominate elsewhere. We have two main parties, but most people are registered independents or not at all. Our political parties have to at least maintain the pretense of broader appeal, or they risk being completely marginalized. And I am talking about more than basic mathematics here.

In Joe Lieberman’s case, he believes that the party is being pushed in a direction that is dangerous, not just for the party, but the country. I’m not saying I totally buy in to this idea, but I think Joe does. It’s a huge blow to his ego to have been beaten by a virtual nobody, who was pushed onward by a virtual army, a bunch of cyber-punks. But, I think it also scares him, because their politics give him the shakes (or is that the heebie-geebies? Now that I think about it, that sounds like I’m making fun of Lieberman’s faith—believe me, I’m not).

The Kossacks may not even realize it yet, but they are pushing the Democratic Party in a direction away from the bipartisan consensus that has been bringing the U.S. and Israel ever closer for 40 years. Lieberman fears the consequences of such a change.

In fact, the Republicans are already trying to take advantage of this incipient drift. Following on the Lamont win over Lieberman, the Republican Jewish Coalition is running an ad in Jewish interest publications, with the following message:

“What was once the radical Left - with its antipathy toward Israel, its indifference to anti-Semitism, and its desire to appease terrorists instead of fighting them - is now emerging as part of the mainstream in the Democratic Party."

The RJC’s Democratic counterpart, the NJDC, is trying to rally the troops to decry the Republican campaign. The NJDC rejects the RJC’s assertion that Cindy Sheehan is a “Leading Democratic Activist,” According to the NJDC, Ms. Sheehan “is not a Democratic activist, and she does not speak for our Party.”

The Republicans are guilty of overselling the significance of the Lamont victory over Lieberman, but they’re guilty of playing politics. They’d like to convince the American people that the Democratic Party has moved in a radically left and dangerously pacifist direction…and they’re trying to scare American Jews with the prospect that the Party is being taken over by anti-Israel cadre, prepared to divorce this country from its support for Israel.

Unfortunately, they're not entirely wrong. If the race in Connecticut is a taste of things to come, then the DailyKos will play a big role in shaping a new Democratic agenda. And I don't think the Kossacks are as dismissive of Ms. Sheehan or her politics, as are more mainstream groups like the NJDC. As far as I can tell, the Kossacks want a vastly different approach to the Middle East, including policies that are much less pro-Israel.

There are arguments for reducing our commitment to Israel. One can believe that Israel’s policies do not deserve our support, or one can believe we are targeted primarily for our support for Israel – that a policy that supports the Arab position will remove the target that terrorists have placed on this country. Similarly, since bin Laden has pronounced his opposition to the presence of the infidels – U.S. forces – in the sacred Muslim lands in Arabia, it is argued that if we withdraw from the Gulf states – Iraq, of course, but also Saudi Arabia and the other emirates – that we can begin to make peace with militant Islamists.

Clearly, these arguments smack of appeasement, unless one believes that the current U.S. policies are the wrong ones – not just in the geopolitical sense, but morally. Because Americans want to be on the right side -- we cannot switch sides, if we don’t believe in the cause. We cannot withdraw our support for beleaguered friends that want or need our support just because others promise to make us pay dearly for that support. As Kim Howells, the British Foreign Office minister, said this week, "no government worth its salt would change its policy in response to terrorism."

Appeasement is just about the worst accusation one can make in the policy debate. In 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany for its invasion of Poland. It was not the decision to resist the Nazi war machine that brought on the terrible conflagration that was World War II. The British and French had learned that appeasement was a bankrupt policy that only emboldened the Fascists. But, they were not able to chart their own course. They were unprepared and could only respond ineffectually to Nazi aggression, because they waited too long to challenge the Axis powers.

No one wants to be guilty of appeasement again – and no one wants to be accused of it either. But, it is a real danger, right now. There is an alliance forming across the Arab world, with Iran at its core, connecting through Syria to Hezbollah and into the Palestinian territories to Hamas. Most Arabs want nothing to do with their wars, but the whole region is being held hostage by these fanatics. The evidence suggests they can’t be appeased, any more than the 1930s fascist groupings.

After years of fighting and fruitless negotiations, Israel tried a new strategy, beginning in 2000, under Ehud Barak. Israel hoped that it could withdraw, away form its enemies. In effect, Israel was declaring a unilateral cease-fire, but also much more. Israel thought it could appease its enemies – that, despite their declarations that they intended to eradicate the Jewish state, Israel hoped they would be pacified by withdrawals. First, Israel withdrew from Lebanon, in 2000, and then, under Sharon, in 2005, from Gaza.

Israel’s enemies are not so easily appeased. True, they have other grievances. Israel holds thousands of prisoners, and it continues to occupy the West Bank and Shebaa Farms, in Lebanon, and the Golan Heights – once Syrian territory. But, they cannot be appeased. They have taken Israel’s withdrawals as signs of weakness. Palestinians continued to launch mortars into Israel from Gaza, until they finally pushed too far with the raid to capture an Israeli soldier. The same scenario played out along the Lebanese border. Israel now hopes it can break the support these militias enjoy among their neighbors. Or, failing that, force the international community to step in and help disarm the militants.

Of course, only time will tell if this strategy produces better results, but the U.S. should learn the lesson of recent events. There is another gathering storm. The civilized world needs to show resolve in the face of this gathering storm. I don’t want to beat this metaphor to death, but you can resist and outlast a storm. The trick is to see it coming, and see it for what it is, and then take the necessary actions to gird yourself against it.

As there is a threat to the peace from militant alliances in the Mideast, there are parallel threads that connect Pakistan, and Afghanistan, Indonesia, and reach into madrassas across the Muslim world. These threads even reach into corners of Muslim communities in the West. We’re scared because anyone at all could be part of the next terrorist plot, but we need to stay cool because we need to be true to ourselves. We stay open for business, we defend our friends, and we embrace the vast majority of Muslims who are not part of this lunacy. Storms pass, but they can be pretty terrifying when you’re in the middle of it.

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