The Palestinian election could have been the break in the Middle East that America has needed, but so far Washington's bipartisan governing elite has kicked that gift horse squarely in the chops. The from-all-reports fair and democratic election of Hamas should have been a U.S. propaganda triumph, as well as a chance for Washington to exit the morass of Palestinian-Israeli affairs. An aged, incompetent, and putridly corrupt PLO was democratically defeated by Hamas, an organization well-versed in delivering many government services. In this scenario, the United States had a golden opportunity to show respect for a culturally compatible democratic process in the Muslim world and to detach itself from the snare of an endless war in which it has no interest. After 30-plus years of America exposing itself to steadily increasing danger and expense because of the infantile inability of Israelis and Palestinians to live together, we had a chance to walk away and let the cards fall where they may. True, it surely would not have been fair to both sides to do so; after all, the Israelis have a conventional army and a large, undocumented array of weapons of mass destruction, while the Palestinians have AK-47s, the less-than-mighty Qassim missiles, and a steady supply of martyrs and rocks. Life is always tough, however, and the elimination of one or both sides would have no discernible impact on life in North America.The "opportunity" that Mr. Scheuer cites may have passed. However, the U.S. could always, in principle, turn from imperial insanity and become the affiliation of meaningful states, linked loosely by a federal government whose powers were few and strictly, explicitly enumerated by a written constitution that we were all taught that America started out to be. (Maybe it did, but if so, the start didn't last long.)
Sadly, the opportunity went a-glimmering because of the three standby myths that dominate what passes for thought among America's bipartisan foreign policy, academic, and governing elites. The first holds that the survival of Israel and/or a Palestinian state is a central national-security interest for the United States. The second argues that all states have a "right" to exist. The third is that no state is "legitimate" if it refuses to accept the existence of a second state or argues that the second state should be destroyed. The three myths amount to a comprehensive attack on the common sense of the average American, as well as on U.S. national interests.
I don't really expect a great dawning of humility and sanity in my country. I don't expect Iraq War II to stagger to its end any sooner than the Vietnam War did. But I do think that some basic, comprehensive change in American national life has to be coming fairly soon. For one thing, empire is a ruinously expensive game, and Uncle Sam's playing on credit extended by Asia; sooner or even-sooner-yet, the bankers of the East are bound to decline Uncle's maxed-out MasterCard. And in some more fundamental way, it seems to me that the shape of the world is changing, such that an empire like ours just won't be even temporarily workable. There is life after empire. That life may -- indeed, will -- lack the trappings of we're-number-one: the consumerism, the mythical national invincibility, the creature comforts found nowhere else in the world. But life goes on. I just hope that not too many people will be slaughtered in the transition.