Jacob Heilbrunn

George Will's Unrealism

George F. Will is opposed to the current war in Afghanistan. He raised more than an eyebrow over the invasion of Iraq. But when it comes to Israel he displays some distinct unrealism, regurgitating, in a curdled column today called "Netanyahu, the Anti-Obama," the conventional wisdom (at least on the right) that President Obama is bad on Israel and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the true visionary.

If only.

Perhaps Obama has not always handled Israel correctly (though during the flotilla crisis he backed Israel, whose controversial conduct is defended, incidentally, elsewhere on this site by Benny Morris), but Will's arguments display a distinct whiff of political romanticism.  Out comes the old chestnut that Obama had the audacity to return the bust of Winston Churchill to the British embassy that his predecessor, George W. Bush, had emplaced int he Oval Office. Egads! What might Obama think of next? Why American conservatives slavishly worship at the British throne requires a study in itself, one that Geoffrey Wheatcroft is completing in the form of a study of Churchill's influence in America.

Indeed, Will predictably enough likens Netanyahu to Winston Churchill. Netanyahu, we are informed, in contrast to the dastardly Obama, reveres Churchill and has a photograph of the great man hanging in his office: "Netanyahu, his focus firmly on Iran, honors Churchill because he did not
flinch from facts about gathering storms." Whereas Obama presumably does. In this version of events, Netanyahu is a Churchill staring down the Iranian hordes. But is Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinjead a Hitler--or a pipsqueak who has figured out how to rile up the West with his constant braggadocio and vile threats?

Without a clear chance of success, it's unclear why bombing Iran is supposed to be a good idea, or even one that Obama should seriously contemplate. The leading Iranian dissident Mehdi Karroubi says that the current round of sanctions are only strengthening Ahmadinejad's hand. Anway, if conservatives want to ask WWCD--What Would Churchill Do--then the answer isn't so clear. In the postwar era, Churchill did not embrace rollback but the containment of the Soviet Union and, during his tenure as prime minister in the 1950s, sought to reach a detente with Moscow, but wasn't able to pursue it because Dwight D. Eisenhower put the kibosh on his plans.

Obama's flexibility, if anything, is in the Churchillian spirit. To dismiss his efforts is as premature as it is foolish. Dealing with the Middle East requires realism, not romanticism, something that has not notably been in abundance during the past decade, at least in Washington, DC.