US Diplomacy: When failure became an accepted option
US Diplomacy: When failure became an accepted option

It’s been said by many, in various forms, that “hindsight is everyone’s favorite perspective.”  The problem is, few grasp when “it” is happening until “it” has happened.

Political analysts and pundits are seemingly in concert: the most disquieting crisis that confronts our world today is the realization that North Korea presents a horrifying threat that remains unchecked. It didn’t have to be.

When Susan Rice, President Obama’s National Security Advisor from 2013 to 2017, admitted this past week that the two-decade-old US strategy on preventing North Korea from obtaining a nuclear capability was a “failure,” our hindsight was offered some unclouded perspective.

And yet, it was her other comments that made us understand that the lessons of history remain unlearned. Rice, with a criticism directed at President Donald Trump, opined that pragmatism dictates that we should simply accept, and tolerate, a nuclear North Korea.  Worse was the quiet acquiescence:  “The fact of the matter is, that despite all of these efforts, the North Korean regime has been able to succeed in progressing with its program, both nuclear and missile. That’s a very unfortunate outcome; but we are where we are.” Rice added: “It will require being pragmatic.”

Pause to laugh, and cry.

Trump, luckily, did not hire Rice as an adviser, and said what he thought.

In 1967, a couple of years before he achieved notoriety as the controversial founder and voice of the Jewish Defense League, Rabbi Meir Kahane coauthored  a book – The Jewish Stake in Vietnam –  whose implications were largely ignored. One might still find it on the shelves of some antiquarian book store, but the book is largely lost. Its relevance, decades lately, offers food for serious thought.

While the book’s theoretical message was clear, the practical implications remain undeniable.

The radical rabbi argued that the anti-Vietnam war sentiment that had targeted the hearts and minds of a confused American population that was increasingly drawn to slogans of “peace,” “liberation,” and “democratic freedom” – would pressure its government to abandon an ally, South Vietnam. The implication, seemingly unthinkable even to Jewish liberals in the aftermath of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, was that if the United States could not stand firm in its commitment to support an ally in Southeast Asia, it would one day be willing to abandon its commitment to its only ally in the Middle East as well. Ergo, the Jewish State.

Times have changed, and with it, America’s foreign policy. Israel is no longer considered America’s only ally in a still-troubled Middle East. In fact, the United States counts many, mostly as a result of a misbegotten reinterpretation of what allies are, thanks in great measure to the US State Department’s purposeful redefinition of American interests in the region.

One recalls the comment most often attributed to Charles de Gaulle: “Nations don’t have friends, only interests.”

Despite the very strong relationship that ostensibly exists between President Trump and Israel – at great contrast with that of his predecessor – his State Department and the National Security Council are still adherents of ‘interests before friends’. And, they mistakenly and quite foolishly attribute American interests to the wrong side. Governed by the belief that the “occupied” territories and the settlements are the reason of the impasse to the conflict between Muslims and Jews, Trump is ready to dispatch his son-in-law to once again bridge the unbridgeable gap.

In an oil-thirsty world, the Muslim states (we include here of course, the Islamic Republic of Iran) seemed to have gained a leverage that was simply unthinkable in 1967. The Europeans seemed the first to turn the other cheek when Arab terror spread, still in its nascent stages – mostly one would think, because it was not their cheeks that were being most often slapped.

Over the years, the terror in Europe proliferated. And correlatively, so did the finger of blame that was directed at Israel. As long as the Muslim antipathy was directed at the Jewish State – and more telling, Jews everywhere – the Europeans would assuage the perpetrators. It was Israel that was called to make compromises, territorial and (axiomatically) ideological. The more threatening and damaging the terror, the more shrill the calls for Israeli capitulation.

Undeniably, the greatest threat to the ever-elusive peace in the Middle East, and the invariable spill-over of violence into a Europe that is fast becoming a battlefield, is the terror that so many of its nations have voluntarily imported with the jihadis who carry the torch of Islam.

Yes, allies are often sacrificed on the mantle of political expedience. The US national security apparatus prefers to call it pragmatism.
For what it’s worth, future historians will judge the North Korean crisis as the less significant one of our generation – simply because China is able to control it. The more formidable and dangerous threat is the nuclearization of Iran. The occasional terror attacks in Europe, murderous as they are, pale in comparison.

In kind, the geopolitical threat that has already been unleashed – remarkably with more support than opposition by the West – is the facilitation of an Iranian nuclear capability. With the overt and covert support of the Obama Administration – despite its denials – the Iranians were fast changing the rules of the game. Unless stopped forcibly in the next year or two, Iran will be in possession of the bomb. Correction: bombs.

Meanwhile, the new Trump foreign policy team, despite its frequent criticism of the Obama-Iran nuke deal, has yet to do anything significant. Worse, it has twice certified that Iran remains compliant. Of a deal that Trump called “the worst in diplomatic history.”

Yes, allies are often sacrificed on the mantle of political expedience. The US national security apparatus prefers to call it pragmatism.

And count on it. Susan Rice will one day again be interviewed by the New York Times and CNN, in a joint appearance with President Trump’s National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, admitting another failure. This will be the statement that they will issue: “The fact of the matter is, that despite all of these efforts, the Iranian regime been able to succeed in progressing with its program, both nuclear and missile. That’s a very unfortunate outcome; but we are where we are.” McMaster, resplendent in his uniform and its military regalia, will add: “It will require being pragmatic.”

After all, we are where we are!

Today, despite the unmistakable danger that Iran poses to Israel directly, it is more than simply a Jewish stake. This is an American interest. The message is quite clear. The practical implications are quite ominous.

Pause to cry.

Meir Jolovitz is a past national executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, and formerly associated with the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.