I suppose if you live long enough you get to see everything at least twice, and in recent days I’ve seen replays of two old blunders that I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to endure again. The first is the Friend Who Has Gone Too Far, and the second is the Enemy Who Is Really Our Friend.
The first time I saw the Friend Who Has Gone Too Far was in December, 1981, a very long quarter-century ago. Reagan was finishing his first year in office, and the first signs of the fall of the Soviet Empire were bubbling to the surface in Poland, where the Solidarity trade union was challenging the Polish Communist regime. Pope John Paul II was using the word “solidarity” in some very provocative ways, and you could feel the earth shifting beneath the feet of the Soviets. It was pretty clear, even then, that if the Kremlin did not find an effective way of breaking Solidarity, the entire structure of the Soviet empire might well crack wide open. And so, late in December as I recall, military rule was declared in Poland, Soviet military forces were moved to the borders, and Solidarity leaders were rounded up and arrested.
Shortly afterwards, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Charles Percy, was on one of the Sunday talk shows, and had a blood-chilling exchange with a journalist. Solidarity went too far, didn’t they, Senator? And Percy nodded gravely and agreed. Yes, he said, they just went too far.
This was back in the days when I watched television news and talk shows, and I threw something at the screen, disgusted that an American leader would condemn brave workers for the sin of openly challenging the evils of Communism. The nerve of the man! Solidarity was our ally, we were supposed to support them, and instead here was this lout of a Senator condemning them, for what? For loving freedom too much.
Israel is getting the same treatment these days, more or less unanimously from the Europeans (rather less so from the Arabs, which is a big story indeed), and much too much from some American pundits. Israel is just going too far for these folks, who trot out the silly idea that a country under attack is only entitled to a “proportional response.” So if Israeli casualties are dramatically lower than those in Lebanon, it proves that the Israelis have gone too far. So they are condemned, for what? For defending themselves effectively and fighting too fiercely against those who want them dead.
Both Solidarity and the Israelis were fighting against our common foes; the Soviets wanted us tossed into history’s garbage can, and Hezbollah wants to slaughter us. Both had the potential to fatally weaken our common enemies. Yet in each case there was a curious reluctance to embrace the idea of victory.
The Enemy Who is Really Our Friend is, in both cases, Syria. Henry Kissinger once said that he found Hafez al Assad the most fascinating leader in the Middle East, which prompted me to wonder what it was about certain dictators that so fascinated intellectuals. Mussolini, for example, was lionized by Stefan Zweig, one of the leading intellectuals of the inter-war period, and both Lenin and Stalin had their share of admiring journalists, historians and other deep thinkers. In any event, the first time I encountered the notion that Syria is really our friend was in the mid-Eighties, when I was working on counterterrorism. The synagogue in Vienna had been savagely attacked by terrorists carrying hand grenades and a machine gun. We had learned that the terrorists had gone to Damascus, and then directly from Damascus to Vienna. They had not stopped between the Vienna airport and the synagogue.
I suggested that we might contemplate doing something mean to Syria.
Oh, no, the CIA representative objected, we have no evidence to suggest that the Syrian government had anything to do with this.
I couldn’t believe it. You’re saying, then, that if a naked man walks up a hill into a house, and then comes out of the house with guns and grenades, and then kills people, the occupants of the house have no responsibility?
Syria’s been a major player in international terrorism for a long time, but the Syrians are clever in their malevolent way; every now and then they give the CIA some useful information, and toss the Agency a real terrorist if they need to curry even more favor than is usual. So even when, as in the case of Hezbollah, it should be obvious to a blind man that the Syrians and the Iranians are totally in cahoots, it is nonetheless possible for our Syrian “experts” to gainsay the obvious and whisper to the New York Times that we can somehow separate the Syrians from the terror masters in Tehran, and have the son of Assad play a constructive role in “the search for peace.”
Both times, we had the Syrians dead to rights. Both times, it was obvious that Syria was actively involved in the murder of innocents. And both times, people who should have known better insisted on denying the evidence.
Marx put it best. First it’s tragedy, then it’s farce.