Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Speak Softly and Move Like a Tiger

I've had nursing homes on the brain lately. But none of us will have to worry about our retirements if Iran is allowed to enrich enough uranium to build a nuclear weapon. So today, briefly, a switch from local news, to international ...

I was in Israel on business a few years ago, and a friend from the Foreign Ministry was taking me to lunch in Jerusalem. As we left the gates of the ministry, he saw a friend of his and they spoke for a minute in Hebrew.

Robin, on the Mount of Olives with the Dome of the Rock and the old city of Jerusalem in the background below.

As they parted, I turned and saw a man put his foot up on the railing of the fence that surrounds the Israeli Foreign Ministry building. My friend, a retired General in the Israeli Defense Force, began to move slowly, like a cat stalking a bird.

As the stranger tied his shoelace, my friend turned his body in what seemed like slow motion and moved in a large arc, from one side of the stranger to the other. All sound around me stopped and the only things I could see were the surroundings as, if they were standing still, and my Israeli friend, with every muscle on alert, his eyes moving back and forth, as he seemed to clear an invisible path around the man tying his shoe.

And then the stranger stood up, straighted his trouser cuffs and walked away.

Time and the movement around us restarted, and my Israeli friend took my arm, finished the sentenced he had begun with me a nanosecond-but-what-seemed-like-an-eternity-before, and off we went to lunch.

Israel is the kind of country in which a man tying his shoe in front of the Foreign Ministry may just be a man tying his shoe or may be something much worse. I started breathing again about an hour later and I cannot tell you to this day what we had for lunch. I have often wondered, in the years since, what it must be like to live in a country that required one to be constantly on the alert like that.

But that was before our own experience on September 11, 2001.

All this came to mind this morning when I read Richard Cohen, of the Washington Post, in today's paper. He has a terrific column about the latest news on the nuclear enrichment facility in Iran and how it might be a defining moment for President Barak Obama. Cohen is a liberal columnist and thus his comments have especial import--insiders in the White House read what he says and do take note.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.

Cohen's point: that either the U.S. can do something to ensure that Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon, or Israel will have to. And if Israel has to, seriously bad things in the Middle East may ensue.

Barak Obama looks good and sounds good and his election seems to have been good for America's image abroad. Now it is well past time to show he is more than an image--or an empty suit. This is a very bad business and it calls for a great leader.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is tying his shoelace on the fence that surrounds the safety of the world. It is time for Barak Obama to watch him as he does so, and move like a tiger cat.

Read Richard Cohen's Memo to Obama

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Jack said...

The day after I read your comments about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's meeting with President Mevedev, I caught CNN's interview with the President. He confirmed the meeting, but was careful not to verify the topic(s). Russia has a stake in a stable southern arc. Its business interests are great (going back to the pre-Soviet era), but I would not want to sit in Moscow and have to choose a course of action should Israel preemptively strike Iran. Iran's facilities are underground, so no surgical airstrike is going to solve the problem. The Iranians have the knowledge, and that cannot be wiped clean regardless of the number of bombs dropped. The clerical leadership has been described as not fearing, rather embracing death, so the threat of retaliation after a strike against Israel or US targets may be of no deterrent value. It's been written often that the fear of Mutual Assured Destruction is what kept the Soviets and the US from eliminating each other (despite close calls in '62, '73 and '83). With Iran, no such hope exists. Thanks for keeping your ear to the rail.

Robin Chapman said...

How do you deter a liar? How do you threaten a nation willing to martyr its people (though I suspect somehow its leaders will make sure they are not so martyred. We learned with Hitler that negotiating and weakness provoke a megalomaniac far more than does the use of force. I don't know. That's why being President of the U.S. is such a scary job.