As 2017 unfolds, Israel, the only functioning democracy in the Middle East, is doing well. Its economy is growing at 3.2% per year. The main opposition party to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party is in disarray. In terms of its foreign affairs, Israel enjoys a positive relationship with Russia and its ties to both Africa and Asia are the best ever. Although absolutely no progress has been made in resolving the issues with the Palestinians (a major sticking point during the Obama years), Israel now enjoys a better relationship with the United States under Donald Trump. . . But Israel is increasingly anxious about two major developments in the Middle East. Each poses an existential threat to the state of Israel.
Politics & Current Events
America is exceptional and unique. Its exceptionalism has a moral, an ethical, a spiritual and a political dimension to it. There really is no other nation quite like the US—and that is at the heart of its exceptionalism. Let me highlight a few of these distinctive aspects. The United States was birthed as a nation when two powerful forces came together in the 18th century—the desire for both political liberty and religious liberty.
Last week in Issues in Perspective (21 January 2017), I argued that the new ideological struggle in the world is between the forces of nationalism and the forces of globalism. This struggle explains Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump among other developments. This week I want to address the curious role that Vladimir Putin plays in this ongoing struggle between nationalism and globalism.
For much of the 20th century, ideological discussions and debates have centered on liberal versus conservative, left versus right. No longer. The ideological divide of the 21st century is emerging as globalism versus nationalism. Since the end of World War II, global integration and technological progress have fueled a new world order centered on free trade, open borders and interdependent economies. Goods, capital and people should be able to move freely across borders, which is actually the meaning of globalization. But Greg Ip of the Wall Street Journal argues that globalism is a “mindset that globalization is natural and good, that global governance should expand as national sovereignty contracts.” The new nationalist surge has startled and shocked the advocates of globalism. This new nationalism is the vital center of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
The post-World War II international order, organized by the United States, is coming apart. There is probably no more poignant example of this truth than the Middle East. The US has been the key to relative stability and order in the notoriously complex Middle East. From the creation of Israel in 1948, through the wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973, the United States brokered the peace that ultimately preserved the existence of Israel and kept the major powers (e.g., the Soviet Union and now Russia, as well as Iran) at bay. Under Presidents Carter, Clinton, Bush and Reagan, the US brokered peace deals between Israel and its neighbors based on the premise of “land for peace.” No longer!
As a reward to the teacher unions of the United States for strongly supporting his run for the presidency, Jimmy Carter created the Department of Education, a Cabinet level Department with a large bureaucracy. Today that Department funnels billions of tax dollars to elementary, secondary and college institutions throughout the United States. Especially for the public elementary and secondary schools, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that this Department and the tax dollars spent since 1979 have not produced a good return on investment. . . Arguably, most intellectually honest educators admit that the American system of public education is in need of thoroughgoing reform. But both Democrats and Republicans have blind spots when it comes to educational reform. . .
The 2016 presidential election is history and the difference between the popular vote, which Hillary Clinton won by over two million votes, and the electoral vote, which Donald Trump won decisively, is disturbing to some. Because this is the second time in recent history where the candidate who won the popular vote did not win the electoral vote, many argue that we should abolish the Electoral College and simply adopt the standard that the one who wins the popular vote (presumably a majority requirement) is the president . . . Should we abolish the Electoral College as an antiquated, 18th century innovation of our Founders?
The 2016 presidential campaign just does not seem to end. The cultural divide that this campaign accentuated keeps raising its ugly head. Although the voting data now becoming available does not permit quite this simplicity, the national media often painted the recent election as a binary one: rich vs. poor, rural vs. urban, white vs. people of color, and the male working class vs. everyone else. Despite what many evangelicals argued, this election was about far more than abortion, same-sex marriage or transgender bathrooms. This election was about the changing identity of America as a Republic founded on the principles of equality, virtue and community (see the first few paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence).
The impact and the implications of the 2016 presidential election are coming into focus. The results were surprising and defied all of the conventional wisdom before the election. Every major polling entity got it wrong and every projection I know of was off significantly regarding the Electoral College.
During the month of October, UNESCO (the cultural organization of the United Nations) has been dealing with the state of Temple Mount in Jerusalem as a historic site. In a recent resolution, by secret ballot, UNESCO approved a resolution that denied any Jewish connection to Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The document refers to the Jerusalem site that Jews call Temple Mount only by its Arab name—a significant semantic decision also adopted by UNESCO’s Executive Board that triggered condemnation from Israel and its allies. The resolution was passed by the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which consists of 21 member countries: Ten countries voted for, two against, eight abstained and one was absent. (Neither Israel, the U.S. nor Palestine is on the World Heritage Committee.)