Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Time is No Longer on Israel's Side" - from commentator Kishore Mahbubani

Among the most astute commentators on international affairs I know is Kishore Mahbubani, a former high-ranking Singapore Government diplomat who is now Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. The following op-ed, “Letter to Netanyahu: time is no longer on Israel’s Side, published in the 11 November 2011 Financial Times, particularly caught my attention. It provides an example of the kind of literary craftsmanship, addressing public policy issues, to which I encourage my students to aspire.

Dean Mahbubani has grounded his argument that Israel’s policies must change in a nuanced geopolitical perspective, but without the turgid, opaque academic posturing that characterizes so much of “International Relations Theory.” He opposes Israel’s policy, but positions himself as a “friend of Israel” appealing to other friends. His article, like his prescient recent book, The New Asian Hemisphere, is a wake up call, not only for Israel but for Israel’s principal ally, the United States. The remedy he proposes is concrete and feasible. If Prime Minister Rabin had not fallen victim to an Israeli extremist assassin’s bullet, the two state solution proposed by President Clinton, to which Dean Mahbubani calls attention, might have been implemented, long ago.

Dean Mahbubani’s article follows, for study and emulation by international relations faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students of the world. That Prime Minister Netanyahu will read and take heed is, I fear, too much to hope for.

Friends of Israel unite! The time has come to send a common message: time is no longer on Israel’s side. Geopolitical forces are moving inexorably against it.

One cardinal mistake no small state should make is to put all its eggs into one basket, even a basket as strong as the US. Despite its huge influence, Israel cannot change the shifting geopolitical tides. America’s power has peaked: its economy will not shrink in absolute terms but it will shrink irresistibly in relative terms. This would have happened naturally but gradually. But the continuing economic crises in the US will hasten the decline in America’s influence. Shrinking budgets will cut defense and aid expenditures. A crippled economic giant with no rockets to launch its astronauts into outer space will lose its “mystique”. Countries will no longer hesitate to vote against American preferences.

This is what happened with the UNESCO vote of October 31. The news agencies reported correctly that 107 countries voted in favor of admitting Palestine into UNESCO and 14 countries voted against. What they failed to report is that these 107 countries represented 77.5 per cent of the world’s population; the 14 countries just 7.3 per cent. The American founding fathers called in the Declaration of Independence for “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind”. The American decision to suspend UNESCO funding clearly showed no such decent respect.

There can be no doubt where the opinion of “mankind” is headed on the Israel-Palestine issue. The world is exasperated with Israeli intransigence on the two-state solution. It is even more exasperated with the continuous increase in illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Some European states voted with Israel but their citizens are clearly sympathizing more and more with the Palestinians. The world knows that while Americans and Europeans love to preach the virtue of speaking “truth to power”, they have displayed total cowardice on the Israel-Palestine issue.

This cowardice now poses the greatest existential threat to Israel. Few friends of Israel dare tell it the inconvenient truth that time is no longer on Israel’s side. American power is declining relatively. Europe is becoming progressively irrelevant. Equally important, the power of the Islamic world has troughed. Now the relative influence of the Islamic world can only increase, despite the many challenges it faces. Turkey’s assertiveness, especially on the Israel-Palestine issue, is a sign of the new world order that is emerging.

The democratic revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia also end the era of pro-Israel dictators. Future leaders of these countries will have to reflect their populations’ sentiments. No future Egyptian government can impose sanctions on Hamas as Hosni Mubarak did. Pressure to speak out against Israel will grow. In Saudi Arabia, Prince Turki al-Faisal has warned that, “With most of the Arab world in upheaval, the ‘special relationship’ between Saudi Arabia and the US would increasingly be seen as toxic by the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, who demand justice for the Palestinian people.”

The 5bn non-American and non-Muslim peoples of the world will have to make a clear choice: between supporting Israel (with lukewarm dividends at best from a declining America) or voting against Israel (buying insurance from a rising tide of anger in a more assertive and democratized Islamic world). Equally important, justice weighs in favor of giving the Palestinian people a right enjoyed by virtually every other people in the world: statehood.

Neither the US Congress nor Israeli nuclear weapons can protect Israel when the balance of geopolitical forces tips against it. And Israel could well trigger such a tipping point with any unilateral military strike against Iran. No one can predict the consequences when Israel becomes totally isolated from the global community. But it will not be a pretty picture. Hence, Israel’s friends should act quickly and send a short letter saying: “Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu, time is no longer on Israel’s side. Please work quickly to implement the two-state solution that President Bill Clinton proposed in January 2001.”

The late Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban once said: “The Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Sadly, the same may some day be said of the Israelis.

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Near Catastrophes Can Make One Reflect on Life's Blessings - and obligations

This Wednesday afternoon, I was driving to spend Thanksgiving holidays at our country home where my wife lives. Holiday traffic was predictably congested. Between Washington DC and Manassas, about 25 miles West, my average speed was about 10 MPH. Traffic congestion can drive me crazy! I felt stressed and tired. Then the traffic cleared. My spirits rose as I cruised along, accompanied by the sounds of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” from my iPod stereo speakers.

About 40 miles out, where route 29 turns off towards Warrenton and Charlottesville, Interstate 66 narrows from four lanes to two. Normally there is no congestion because the traffic divides more or less evenly. Today it was different. Down the road, a holiday traveler, possibly unfamiliar with the route, experienced some confusion or emergency and came to a dead stop. I had become a bit relaxed and inattentive after being freed from more than three hours of congested driving. Fortunately I was able to brake, swerve and turn on my flashers, praying that the drivers behind me, too, were sufficiently alert. They were – there was no chain reaction crash to mar holiday festivities, at least for this group of travelers.

With adrenalin pumping and the opera turned off I continued down the road, reflecting on other near catastrophic experiences that might have changed my life. As a late-teen-aged young man these were often the result of bad judgment, in particular three foolish risk takings that nearly turned out badly and could have cost me my navy-funded college scholarship, or worse. There were the usual juxtapositions of automobile and alcohol, imperiling me and my companions, but fortunately no serious accidents. During my naval service, there were the periodic typhoons, accompanied by 80 to 90 foot waves, that coursed through our North Pacific Ocean patrol station. Later when, I worked in Sri Lanka, visiting yearly for more than two decades, there were acts of random and intended violence that killed several friends and in which I could easily have been enmeshed.

Driving along, I reflected that life is a fragile chancy business, with one’s well being dependent, more than we recognize, on circumstances and the behaviors of human beings over which – and whom - we have little control. Near catastrophes remind us to fully appreciate life’s blessings, every minute of each day and night. And they should remind us too, of our obligation to make the fullest use, for good purposes, of the time, talents and resources with which we have been blessed.

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A holiday message for US Congress members from the Dalai Lama

During the past several weeks, words like “shame,” “embarrassment,” “disgust” and “despair” are those that most often come to mind when I contemplate the machinations and dysfunctions of the U.S. Congress. Sadly, the failure of the “Supercommittee” is but the tip of the iceberg. I think of the “water” of which this metaphorical iceberg is comprised as being mostly garbage filled. Soon I will be departing for an extended period of service overseas – in Singapore. What will I say to my colleagues, friends and students at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy when they query me about the recent events that have been unfolding on Washington, D.C.’s Capital Hill? What does this communicate to the world about a country in which I have taken pride, America?

Fortuitously, the Wednesday November 23 “Insight from the Dalai Lama” from my calendar offered the following message to ponder. I will be sharing it with my own Senators and Representative.

“Sometimes we look down on politics, criticizing it as dirty. However if you look at it properly, politics in itself is not wrong. It is an instrument to serve human society. With good motivation, sincerity and honestly, politics becomes an instrument in the service of society. But when motivated by selfishness with hatred, anger or jealousy, it becomes dirty.”

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