I very much liked Eli Lake the one time I met him (at a party organized by our mutual friend Laura Rozen). He’s a terrific reporter, much better than the rather dubious publications that often pay his wages (the now departed print version of New York Sun, the Washington Times). He really should be working for the Washington Post or the New York Times: he’s one of the very few neo-conservatives out there that is capable of genuine, ground-breaking gum-shoe reporting.
Having said that, he’s also a bit of an ideologue, as witness a recent tweet he sent out: “Re: Wikileaks Do you get the impression Arab leaders care more about settlements or Iran?”
This is written in support of the position that the United States should be indifferent to the continued building of settlements by the Israeli and that the real problems in the Middle East centre around Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Now, it’s absolutely true that “Arab leaders” care more about Iran’s nuclear program than they do about the Palestinians. But “Arab leaders” are not “leaders” in any real sense: every one of them is an autocrat. So let’s refine this and say that Arab elites don’t care about the Palestinians. Of course, Arab elites is not alone in this attitude of cruel indifference. The American elite and the Israeli elite don’t care much for the Palestinians either. That’s the reason the United States and Israel are so often able to work well with autocratic Arab regimes.
But if we look outside elite circles, it’s pretty clear that the Arab masses as a whole do care about the Palestinians. One reason (among several) why the Arab masses hate their autocratic rulers is that they regard these rulers as puppets of the United States who have sold out the Palestinians. One example among many will do: ordinary Egyptian citizens often protest on behalf of the Palestinians. These protests are almost always crushed by that satrap Mubarak.
The alliance between Arab autocrats, the American foreign policy elite and the Israeli foreign policy elite has already done much damage to the world. The fact that these allies are now finding common cause in launching a war against Iran is very disturbing. Eli Lake, who claims to support the cause of democracy promotion, should be much more sceptical of this alliance system than he allows himself to be.
Both the Arab autocrats and the Israeli foreign policy elite sit on top of highly unstable societies. Historically autocratic regimes are quite brittle. And as hope for the two state solution dies, it’ll become harder and harder to think of Israel as a democracy. So the question becomes: is it really in the interest of the United States to ally itself with autocratic Arab regimes and an Israel that will indefinitely govern over a large and immiserated Arab population? Such an alliance system is inherently shaky and will only lead to disaster.
Iran’s nuclear program does present a challenge to the international order. But before we listen to calls for war, we have to ask where these cries are coming from. The drumbeat for war is also a way of drowning out by noise any critique of problems closer at home, the problems that bedevil America’s allies in the region.