We always want to think that democracy is the answer in the Middle East, and everywhere else. We want to think that democracy is some kind of magic bullet, except that mostly it is just real bullets, and more roadside bombs, and rockets into Gaza.
It is the one lasting, flawed article of American faith, that if oppressed people just get to pick their own leaders, they will pick the right ones, and not the Muslim Brotherhood. Or Hamas.
We aren’t just certain in America that democracy is the answer, we continue to believe we have all the answers, even when World War III is just one rocket away from erupting in the disputed Holy Land.
So this time it is the democracy of Benjamin Netanyahu, who really ought to be a right-wing tough guy in this country — or maybe a general — against a democracy that actually elected Hamas.
“Democracy is messy,” former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said once, defending an invasion of Iraq built mostly on lies.
It is messy, and bloody and dangerous, and if you think it is the answer to everything in the Middle East, take a look at Gaza, where there is payback for the hundreds of rockets fired into Israel last year and more this year. All in the name of a lasting peace.
“There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” President Obama said, supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.
He sounds rational, certainly more rational than Mitt Romney, whose only real thought about the Middle East seemed to be warships. But then, Obama’s foreign policy has been rational from the start, other than when he let an overheated, self-obsessed general like Petraeus convince him that a surge in Afghanistan would work the way it worked in Iraq. Generals always want to step things up, at least the ones who aren’t texting babes in Tampa as they send soldiers out each day and hope they come back alive.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Israelis run for cover during a rocket attack Sunday in Tel Aviv, Israel.
So now Israel defends itself, rockets go into Gaza, targets are hit, some children die. The cost of doing business. The world watches and wonders how and when it ends this time, in a strip of land across the world populated by — what? — half the population of Brooklyn?
We talk in a lofty way about democracy at the same time we start to think that our interests were better served in Egypt by a regional thug like Hosni Mubarak. We watch as the body count rises in Gaza and wonder what happens if anti-Israel violence explodes through the Arab world, through countries that have no love for a bully like Netanyahu and don’t care who started it this time between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
This will go on for the rest of my life and the rest of yours. I have raised my children in a world made constantly dangerous by the slights and grudges in the Middle East, where one rocket starts it up all over again, and know they will raise their children in the same kind of world.
We will hate Al Qaeda forever because of Sept. 11. But even if you stand with Israel, you have to know this:
If your brother or sister or son or daughter is killed by the rockets we are talking about today in Gaza, then you hate Israel forever. And will raise your children to hate Israel.
The rest of us? We will continue to hold out hope, despite what we have seen these past few days, that somehow Israel and Palestine will eventually decide that peace has more benefits than conflict, the way Israel and Egypt finally did.
America helps free people from oppression, and then realizes, sometimes immediately, that they aren’t always going to elect the leaders we want them to elect, aren’t going to act the way we want them to. And frequently don’t give a rip what we think.
We once had capital for being smarter and better than everybody, but so much of that capital was spent on a war in Iraq built on lies. All this outrage about Susan Rice’s “talking points” about Benghazi? What about the talking points on phantom weapons of mass destruction that have gotten around 4,500 American soldiers killed so far in Iraq, and 10 times that many wounded?
We talk with righteous certainty about nation building, about the power of our military making things safer in the Middle East. But in the end, we just wait for the next Gaza.
The only lasting peace is when they reload over there, and more people die in the name of democracy.