A few weeks after Israel crushed Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the 1967 Arab Israeli war, tripled its size and expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, Arab nations gathered for a summit in the Sudan and issued a petulant declaration: No recognition of Israel, no conciliation with Israel, and no negotiations. Rarely had Arabs displayed more concise and concerted stupidity. With Jordan’s and Egypt’s nominal exceptions, Arabs have pretty much stuck to the scenario, ensuring 43 years of paralysis. Palestinians’ fate is no more advanced today than it was in 1967. With Israel’s generous help, it’s worse.
Arab scorn for Palestinians, Israel’s imposition of a regime worse than apartheid on Palestinians under occupation (wanton and disproportionate massacres, of civilians especially, being an Israeli specialty more lethal than all suicide bombings combined), and Palestinians’ knack for making the wrong choice every time a compromise appears, have turned the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into a mutually-reinforcing obscenity. Israelis and Palestinians compete to look like the victim, the aggrieved, the just. The ploy worked for a decade and a half following the 1967 war (Israel was the winner in the United States, Palestinians elsewhere).
It’s not working any more. Neither side can claim the moral high ground, though Israel’s immoralities always manage the deeper dig. And Arabs, the world’s most cowardly spectators, carry on with their No’s in the air, refreshing the Sudan Declaration every once in a while for aging amnesiacs. Why should they change? The same repressive Arab regimes in place in 1967 are in place today, most of them with the help of billions in American taxpayers’ aid. Lebanon and Iraq’s parodies of democracy aside, there isn’t a single Arab democratic regime in existence. Some of them—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria—are more brutal police states than China, where enterprise is at least rewarded. They all thank god for North Korea’s existence so they don’t come out looking like the world’s worst.
And for America’s existence: every one of those regimes is an American client state. It pays to say No. It’s not about improving lives or finding a home for Palestinians. It’s about power and pretending in simple declarations that it’s all for god, country and the greater good. It works. The masses may be angry. But their anger is channeled—at America, ironically, at Israel, at decadence, at Disney for all they care. Anger, too, works. If there’s an inspiration behind the Republican Party’s strategy of the last two years, it’s those Arabs.
The GOP’s recent “Pledge” to America is, beyond its plagiarism of a nobler Declaration, another Sudan Declaration. It’s a cacophony of No’s summing up the blare of the last two years’ tea parties, of Joe-the-Plumber sound-bytes, Sarah Palin pandering (to U.S. troops especially, a supreme hypocrisy), Glenn Beck tear-jerking. The running theme, the only theme, is No. No to taxes, No to health care reform, No to financial regulation, No to a less aggressive military, No to ending useless wars, No to equality in marriage, No to church-state separations, and of course the mother of all no’s, No to that Negro Muslim Socialist defiling not only the white in White House, but the red and the blue all around it too: “regarding the policies of the current government,” the pledge states, “the governed do not consent,” adding, for emphasis, its definition of Obamism in black and white: “An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites.” It appears that the 63 million Americans who voted for the guy in 2008 don’t count.
That’s just the point. In a black and white society, there are those who count and those who don’t. It’s what the tea parties are about. It’s what reactionary Republican ideology is about. It’s what Palin says at every stop: “Take back America” is slogan, cleaver and visa to the Right.
The language of fundamentalism doesn’t have to be explained. Its point is to make explanation superfluous and the rational suspect. That’s the strength behind the Republican No, as it is behind the Arab No, the Islamist No in particular: it appeals to some mythical, mass-marketable golden age. No proof necessary. Just pretty stories gilded in quotes from the founding fathers and images of Mt. Rushmore. Not only can present reality not compete. It makes coming up with an actual, alternate reality unnecessary. That was Ronald Reagan’s secret: morning-again-in-America mythology even he believed in, as did a landslide of people in that perfectly Orwellian year of his reelection, 1984.
So there’s no need for details, no need for a business plan. Putting substance behind the rebellion would unravel the impossible math. You don’t want to have to explain how your anger at trillion-dollar deficits can be fixed with extending trillion-dollar tax cuts. Saying No to it all is simpler, and easier to understand for that provincial midriff of America where multi-syllable explanations are suspect and complexity (like pluralism) is for “elites.”
When I speak of Arabs I’m not referring to the rank and file, to the people at large, being an occasional Arab myself, but to the turbaned and titled, to that rung of party leadership and pashas indistinguishable from GOP leaders’ contempt for accountability and infatuation with false populism, with making appeals to ordinary men and women with whom they wouldn’t share a sidewalk. There’s a lot in common between the Saudi prince slobbing about in oil money and the Republican shill crying class warfare when the Obama administration tries to raise taxes on the richest 2 percent.
Republicans and their tea party uprisings should be as easy to dismiss as Coolidge and Hoover fan clubs in the 1930s, easier still to expose for the self-centered greedy mobs of gray they are. But like Palestinians, Democrats are brilliant at making the wrong choices and blowing themselves up. They may have had the moral high ground at one point. They certainly did in 2008, when the country was in ruins. Instead of rebuilding it, they kept the old contractors. They tinkered with policies of the Bush administration but kept the essentials in place, from Wall Street to Guantanamo to Afghanistan. Then they feigned indignation at losing face.
That’s what you get when you refuse to hold the predators of the last decade accountable for the pillaging, when you refuse to hold truth commissions to bring the debauchery to light and maybe avoid repeating it all over again. In the name of conciliation, Obama embraced whitewashing, leaving it to Wikileaks occasionally to expose the farce.
He deserves the consequences, just as the country will deserve the coming paralysis: unlike Arabs, we get to vote for ours. Misinformation is no excuse when it’s easy enough to see through the con of the word “No.” This invitation to our beheading is our own.