Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Republican Opposition (again)

We can now take it for granted that, whatever action the current Administration takes on any issue, the Republicans will speak out against it. Thus, while it appeared that the Republican's had ceded Sunday morning television to the Democrats, particularly David Axelrod's representation of President Barack Obama's disapproval of recent Israeli actions in the strongest of language, all in the interest of restoring the reputation of the United States as an "honest broker" in support of George Mitchell's ongoing efforts to negotiate a Middle East peace, we knew it would not take long for the Republicans to find cause for complaint. It was only a question of what the complaint would be and who would be doing the complaining.

The "who" turned out to be an interesting choice, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, who happens to be the only Jewish Republican in the House; and, according to an Agence France-Presse story that just appeared on Yahoo! News, he held a breakfast with reporters to say his piece (otherwise known as the Republican Party's latest salvo on the White House). As I see it, the critical sentence from his statement is the following:

Peace is what we are about in this country and we're about trying to facilitate that, but it should be peace on Israel's terms.

In other words his attack against the recent highly critical rhetoric from Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Axelrod-speaking-for-Obama is basically an attack on their combined efforts to recover that "honest broker" position, without which Mitchell will never be able to accomplish very much.

This reminds me a bit of that joke that reductively trivializes the difference between Democrats and Republicans:

Democrats think Republicans are stupid.
Republicans think Democrats are wrong.

Whether or not he realized it, Cantor reduced the whole question of Middle East negotiations to the premise that Israel's policies and actions are "right;" and, as a corollary, any opposition to those policies and actions, whether from Israel's neighbors, the United States, or the European Union (which has now decided to stand with Obama's position), is "wrong." This is the same Manichaeism under which former President George W. Bush saw foreign policy as a battlefield for the ultimate conflict between good and evil. It is the sure way to kill any possibility of communication between opposing points of view, either face-to-face or through a mediating agent like Mitchell. In the face of such reasoning, Cantor (or the Republicans who helped him prepare his remarks) failed to appreciate that "peace on Israel's terms" can only be the one-sided pax Romana that comes about when a conqueror totally subdues the conquered. The problem is that, like democracy (to reflect on an observation made by Mohammad Khatami about the political situation in Iraq), peace cannot be imposed; it must be cultivated in its own environment and allowed to grow of its own accord. (Also like democracy, as Gordon Wood observed in his latest book, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815, what actually grows is not necessarily what those who planted the seeds expected!) The failure of the Bush Administration to appreciate this precept had a devastating effect on our standing in the world community, and the Obama Administration has done much to restore that standing. It is, to say the least, regrettable that, in their obsessive drive to recover political control, the Republicans now seem so determined to dismantle that recovery.

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