THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF FRIENDSHIP
If I ever get embroiled in a big mess in my personal or professional life, I certainly hope my “real friends” will lend me a hand and not pile on the blame. We all probably have that attitude about friends – if they won’t stick up for us, who will? And indeed, for individuals who are not public figures but just “regular” men and women, it probably makes a whole lot of sense.
But what if we’re not talking about the Jane or John Does of the world? What about countries, for example? Should Iran’s true friends around the world always support its positions whenever they’re talking outside their Shi’ite communities? Or should President Obama’s true friends (meaning his affectionate backers) always support the positions he has taken on foreign and domestic policy matters? These, to me, present altogether different questions. Indeed, I would argue that as strong as our obligation is to oppose our enemies when we think they are wrong, when it comes to politicians, political parties and countries, our obligation is stronger still to oppose our friends when we think they are wrong. Why? Because if WE don’t oppose them, which (of their friends) will?
Just consider what the perceived obligations of friendship have done for George W. Bush. It shouldn’t have taken long after we invaded Iraq for the Republicans who elected him to recognize that there were no WMDs in Iraq and that we were making a total mess of the war. But did they dare stand up to their President? Did they dare add fuel to the fire started by the Democratic critics? Of course not. And the result is that we seem poised to return to that era in history when the skirmishes were known by such names as the “One Hundred Years War” or the “Thirty Years War.” Thanks to his friends’ “support”, George W. Bush’s lasting reputation is somewhere between that of LeBron James in Cleveland and Tiger Woods in Sweden.
We also see the results of the perceived obligations of friendship when it comes to Israel. For those of you who don’t know, there’s a fledgling but rapidly growing organization in America known as J-Street that, from what I can tell, is composed of Jews who ask a ton from Israel and almost nothing from the Palestinians. They bug the crap out of me with their imbalanced approach to the issues. And do you know what? We still desperately need them, because they’re better than the alternative! That’s because the alternative that matters the most is the lobbying group that has had a stranglehold for decades over the way Capitol Hill has viewed Israeli-Palestinian issues. It is an Israel-right-or-wrong organization called the American Israel Political Action Committee, or AIPAC.
Do AIPAC’s members really think they’ve been doing Israel any favors? When they ask themselves, “What are friends for?” they always come up with the same answer: defend your friend every way possible, and define the issue as one of good versus evil. So they whip up the fervor of the settlers in Israel and provide backing to the Israeli politicians who serve as the settlers’ enablers. And the result is that the Jewish State is now well into its seventh decade of war, which admittedly is not quite a One Hundred Years War, but then again, the day is young. The truth is that the Israeli-Palestinian blood sport is capable of going on much longer than the fight in France that lasted from 1337 to 1453. (As you can see, “One Hundred Years War” is a misnomer, but “One Hundred and Sixteen Years War” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.)
Israel needs friends, alright, but it needs these friends to criticize it publicly whenever it overreaches. Then again, it also needs friends who have the stones to criticize the Palestinians whenever they fail to miss an opportunity for peace. From what I can tell, J-Street’s leaders haven’t yet entered into that domain – perhaps they are too busy trying to build coalitions with anti-Zionists that they have forgotten what it means to be a Zionist, which they officially claim to be. Still, I give J-Street infinitely better odds of coming around to a sane position than I do AIPAC, which seems to be about as capable of acting in a balanced, thoughtful way as Arnold Schwarzenegger was in “The Terminator.”
Lord knows I don’t want to see Israel end up the way Arnold did in that movie. So as a “friend,” I must criticize the settlements, the idea of an undivided Jerusalem, and the refusal to treat Palestine as a “nation” while at the same time demanding that they recognize a Jewish State. As a friend of Israel – as a committed Zionist, even – I have to ask that it stop acting like an imperialist state and grow up. And you Palestinians – stop acting like victims and grow up. Your opposition to the concept of a “Jewish State” only adds fuel to the suspicion that you won’t stop fighting this war until you have control over all of the Holy Land. You claim to think Jesus is a Prophet – then do what he would have done and embrace Israel as a Jewish homeland.
The people from Guinness may have promised the Israelis and Palestinians a special prize if they break the record from 14th and 15th century France. By then, however, most of us will be dead.
That brings me to a final example of how the perceived obligations of friendship are creating perverse results. I’m referring to the debacle formerly known as George W. Bush’s war in Afghanistan. In the words of those American Idol judges, Barack Obama seems hell bent on “making it his own.”
I may not be Barack’s personal friend, but I did shake his hand, and I’ve written all sorts of tributes to the man. So you could definitely view me as a solid, if tiny, component of that wave known as Obama-mania which served as the irresistible force that miraculously subdued an immovable object (the Clinton Machine). Just as I like Israel, I like Barack – I want them both to succeed in the worst way. Well, scratch that: I want them to succeed in the best and brightest way. And when they seem not to be thinking straight, that’s when they need their friends most of all.
The other day on TV, I heard a talking head say that when we invaded Iraq, we messed with a country that was back in the 17th century, but when we invaded Afghanistan, we messed with a country that was back in the 17th century BC. Barack might not be a historian, but he surely knows that Afghanistan isn’t quite as easy to conquer and tame as Belgium. Yet here we are, trying to do what Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British and the Russians attempted in vain to do before us. Frankly, I’m not exactly sure why we’re trying to do this because surely we have the intelligence capacity to blow up any terrorist training camp that crops up if we leave the country, and as for Al Qaeda, they are in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
Truly, it would be glib to say that there are zero advantages to an indefinite U.S. presence in Afghanistan. The condition of women there, for example, would likely become even more tragic if we left. But unfortunately, it is not our place to remake that country into a Jeffersonian Democracy – only the people of Afghanistan can decide if that’s what they want, and I think we all know the likelihood of that.
Back when W was President, liberals would periodically take to the street to protest against the Iraq War, one that was considerably more winnable than the fight in Afghanistan. The Iraq War became known as the shining exemplar of W’s stupidity and stubbornness, and we liberals were shocked, SHOCKED when W was re-elected despite having continued to prosecute that war for seemingly no reason.
Yet here we are, nearly nine years after going into Afghanistan, with nothing to show for our efforts. And the American liberals are as quiet as church mice. From the conversations I’ve had with my fellow liberals, they are deferring to their “friend” Barack Obama, who they presume wouldn’t have called for a surge in Afghanistan without damned compelling reason.
Excuse me, but I have a question. If, perish the thought, W were still President, and if he had dealt with Afghanistan in precisely the same way Barack has done, wouldn’t the American liberal community be insulting him in every way imaginable? And isn’t it true that the ONLY reason Barack isn’t the target of similar liberal barbs on this issue is that, as his “friends,” we feel we owe him our faith and our support?
To me, the folks who elected Barack have abdicated their responsibilities no less than the supporters of W abdicated theirs. We can praise Barack for many things – for stabilizing the economy, for getting heath care reform passed, for taking on the racial profiling in Arizona, you name it. But we have no business standing on the sidelines in the face of his Afghanistan policy if that policy makes no sense to us. That’s what the Republicans did for the previous eight years. Do you like the results? So why then repeat them?
Sometimes friends need tough love just like children do. This is one of those times.
Barack – in the name of all the values you cited for opposing Hillary’s stance on Iraq -- please, end your stinking war.