Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Great White Hope

Israel's becoming the great -- or at least midsize -- white hope (GWH) of the Bush administration discomforts me. I use this disgusting sports metaphor intentionally. It both captures the desire of the administration that Israel give a good thrashing to Hezbollah, a surrogate for Syria and Iran in its view, and alludes to racist underpinning of much American policies toward the Middle East. I am speaking of the crude stereotypes and simplistic analyses to construct the people out there as mostly evil savages. These, I think, are less products of an Orientalism in service to imperialism, but of American exceptionalism and nativism. When, I wonder, did the Jews become white. They weren't a century ago. Perhaps American Jews' becoming white has been their greatest gift to Israel. So American Marlowes have no difficulty in seeing Israel as "one of us."

What the Bush administration could not do through its failed adventure in Iraq or its neglect of an initial victory in Afghanistan, Israel is now seen as doing. The hoped for dismantling or permanent crippling of Hezbollah is the fanfare for the rescue of democracy in Lebanon and its spread throughout the Middle East. Don't believe me? Just read what Sean McCormack, US State Dept. spokesman said in his press briefing to day.

As I said, we are seeing this great transition within -- in the Middle East in which you are seeing the beginnings of the end of an old order and the start ofa new order. And there are those who have an interest in preserving the old order; groups like Hezbollah, states like Syria, states like Iran. And this is a case where those in the region are choosing which side of the line they're going to be on. And we have been quite heartened by the fact that essentially, every state in the region other than Iran and Syria has chosen the side of positive change, as opposed to the side of preserving a status quo, which meansonly more violence, more tension, more instability.

Israel's leaders have been playing the GWH role, right on cue, especially in their emphasis of Tehran and Damascus as the axis of evil and enemy of the new order. Whether they completely believe their lines is not as important as Americans hearing them speak it, because the strength of the alliance depends on (perceived) ideological similarity as well as a convergence of national interests. Of course, it is no coincidence that the US and Israel share rhetorically this vision of the Middle East. After all, the neo-conservatives who developed this vision sold it to both Bush/ Cheney and the Likud, Olmert's former party.

The GWH, however, is not an enviable role: Mostly gladitorial, celebrated when he wins, relegated when he losses, expected to take a punch and punishment, but also be nimble and creative, demonstrating the advantages of superior intelligence over brute strength and animal cunning. And that's the benign version. Other versions are no more welcome in polite society than is the hired gun after the big fight.


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