28 March 2010

Vampire Weekend.

I went to see Vampire Weekend, and loved it.  The guys didn't act pretentious.  They didn't seem to want to rub anything in our faces.  They talked about the beautiful architecture in Salt Lake City as they introduced their song about architecture (Mansard Roof), and they mentioned two of the universities close by, BYU and Utah, as they dedicated the next song (Campus) to all the students in the audience.  You know, reaching out to the locals, knowing something about us.  And if the lead singer strapped on a Rickenbacker guitar just to play it for about 8 bars on my least favorite of their songs (Giving up the Gun), well, can you blame him?  Rickenbackers are gorgeous.

I went to see Vampire Weekend with the guy who introduced me to Vampire Weekend, my cousin's husband Robbie, and two of his brothers.  The highlight of the show came when he was telling us he went on a walk with his oldest daughter.  When he asked her if she wanted him to carry her, she said, "No, I'm strong.  I'm fast.  I'm big.  I'm everything you are, except you're a dad, and I'm a child.  Did you know child comes from children?  When there's more than one you say children but when there's only one you child.  Or their name.  My name is Lydia."  And Robbie said, "You are the coolest three-year-old in the world."

24 March 2010

The easy part.

The rampant obstructionism of the Palestine/Israel peace process by extremists on both sides is cynical, xenophobic, and morally reprehensible.

But moral outrage is the wrong focus for the debate.  So are partisan politics and religious conviction.  The best chance Americans have to help bring peace to the region is to address the Middle East conflict as a fundamental matter of our national security.

The fight over the Holy Land, understandably, evokes deep-seated emotions.  Both Israelis and Palestinians have been charged with war crimes, and both sides have argued convincingly that the other poses an existential threat to their nationhood.  Supporters of both sides in America tend to invoke provocative imagery, from apartheid to the Bible, to evangelize their position.  The danger of such hysterical argumentation is that it draws attention away from the most immediate effect of the conflict on the average American: people hate Americans because of it.  The lack of resolution over a prospective Palestinian state is a cankerous source of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East.  That makes it a potent recruiting tool for those working in the violence industry to lure unemployed young men with no avenues for political expression into the business of killing Americans.

This perspective is finally starting to gain some cultural momentum, thanks in part to General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, who testified before Congress on March 16th:
"The [Israeli/Palestininan] conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [Mideast] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas."

In other words, the first front in the war on terror is the diplomatic one between Israel and Palestine.  Over the course of the last decade, American forces have gotten wiser about the way they prosecute the war on terror, and while there's certainly a long way to go, it's encouraging to see phrases like "shock and awe" give way to "hearts and minds."  Everyone seems to agree by now that military force will have no lasting effect against terrorism until the source of anti-American grievances that cause it are removed.  

Of course there is more to mere pragmatism in the resolution of the Middle East conflict.  Justice, morality, and history all play their part.  But the same people who make impassioned, idealistic pleas built on these emotional appeals are often the people who have the most to gain by prolonging the conflict.  The moderate majority of both Israelis and Palestinians want nothing more than peace.  And as General Petraeus put it, it's in the interests of Americans to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

Barack Obama seems to understand this better than any American president in recent history.  But even as he rightly condemned Israel's recent announcement of more Jewish settlements to be built in Palestinian East Jersusalem, Congress welcomed Prime Minister Netanyahu with both arms on his recent trip to the United States.  Ultimately, for American diplomatic pressure to have any teeth, it must carry the weight of not only the president, but of Congress-- and of the American people who elect Congress.  Obama performed a Herculean task in bringing health care reform back from the dead, largely through a combination of selling it directly to the electorate and negotiating with Congress.  With that monkey now off his back, he can devote more political capital to the establishment of a Palestinian state, another of his foremost stated goals.  But it will require convincing Americans that Palestine is important enough to write their Congressmen about, much like he did with the health care reform bill.  And that will require showing Americans that peace in Palestine is a matter of American national security.

It must be recognized that the creation of a Palestinian state is not the ultimate solution to terrorism, either.  In the end, terrorism will only be contained (if never fully eradicated) when Muslim countries, and indeed all poor countries, become transparent, open societies where people have prospects for education, employment, and free expression.  Seen in this context, peace between Israel and Palestine looks like the easy part.