This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published in the News Leader (Staunton VA: September 23, 2010): A9.
by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Professor, Depts. of Political Science and of International Relations, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference. Links to sources supporting various facts cited also are supplied below:
Hope springs eternal, especially in the United States. Our can-do spirit reinforces the narrative of who we believe ourselves to have been: conquerors of the wilderness, titans of industrialization, leaders of the free world. Given enough time and effort, all problems can be fixed, or so goes our apparent national creed.
Thus, even amid the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, Americans can retain sunnier attitudes than do most peoples. A National Science Foundation study of happiness around the world reviewed ten years of data and found that Americans rank near the top: 13th among the countries polled. Though official statistics actually put the 78.1 years of U.S. life expectancy at No. 49 among 224 world states, in our minds we always remain No. 1. If the shelves at WalMart bear a clear message of how China’s economic dynamo is cutting our lead in the race toward the horn-of-plenty, a prideful gloat still can wash over nearly all of us when business commentators regularly mention who’s “the world’s largest economy.”
Our preference for self-delusion empowers our leaders to behave in a like manner. Despite falling personal poll ratings, President Barack Obama still can enjoy broad support when issues are properly framed and hopes are dramatically summoned. It is in this context that we should view the Obama team’s labors to untie the Gordian Knot of our age: the lack of peace in the Middle East.
Like the punch-drunk ex-boxer who never tires of telling all within earshot that he “coulda been a contender,” our diplomats apparently never tire of one more round in the ring of the “Middle East Peace Process.” Given the real state of affairs, however, a little less confidence might be in order.
After 43 years of ruling over Palestinian Arabs in the “occupied territories” of the West Bank, Golan, and East Jerusalem, Israel has been summoned to talks in Washington on the matter. At the negotiating table this time we find the elected President of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas, and the elected Prime Minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu. These well spoken, nicely dressed adversaries present a neat picture; all that is needed is good will and compromise, and voilà, a Final Status Agreement seems just around the corner.
The problem, of course, is that these adversaries are not playing out an American morality tale. Their divide is larger than a matter of finding the right sweetener for a deal, or negotiating the movement of a border fence a few kilometers. Abbas will not even accept Israel as a “Jewish State;” Netanyahu will hear nothing that smacks of dividing Jerusalem. Abbas’ constituents cannot allow him to bargain away their revered “right of return” to homes lost in 1948; Netanyahu has little support for any treaty that would add even token numbers of Palestinian Arabs to Israel. Moreover, the empty third chair at the negotiating table can scuttle any deal that might emerge: the militant Islamist terror group HAMAS rules over Gaza, and at its urging, a million Palestinians there will not recognize any agreement short of the destruction of Israel. Beyond all this, Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah in Lebanon vow to carry the fight onward, endlessly.
By late September it will become clear whether anything more than a wet game of charades will emerge from the fountain of American hope. On the 28th, Netanyahu will either extend a freeze on building within Jewish communities on the West Bank, or he won’t. Abbas will either walk out and blame it on renewed Israeli building, or he’ll keep playing along with the charade better known as the game of “Middle East Peace Process.”But, if they both are still talking in October –an outcome I view as unlikely– Americans are advised to keep their ample hope in check. What will have begun is a more elaborate competition: a duel analogous to the game of chess. Its slower strategy is unlikely to reward those on an American timetable, especially one geared toward producing an “October Surprise” just before the November U.S. Congressional elections.
Gordon L. Bowen
September 21, 2010
Happiness index: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsmedia/pr111725/pr111725.pdf The USA ranked 15th on the list, but two non-sovereign regions, Puerto Rico and Northern Ireland, were included in higher rank than the USA.
U.S. life expectancy: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2102rank.html
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