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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

December 2005

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A retired U. S. ambassador with extensive experience in and long study of the Middle East, observes briefly certain similarities in policy outlook of Israel's and the United States' leadership. He further points up what he sees as resultant vital national problems. —Ed.

Parallel Systems: Ruminations at Christmas Time, 2005

Two nations, one small and the other very large, dissimilar in so many ways but marching in lockstep to the same drummer, lemming-like, to similar sanguinary ends. Israel and the United States of America, each so possessed by fear, righteous anger, and a sense of victimization that it is willing to sacrifice a substantial measure of its precious liberty in pursuit of the Holy Grail of absolute security. Sharon and Bush, each possessed by a messianic illusion that he has been chosen to lead his embattled country through a hostile world to a distant safe haven. In each country a determined rightwing minority maintains its dominance by playing on the fears of the majority, and succeeds because that majority is divided, confused, and irresolute.

Hope flickered in Israel when Peretz seized control of the Labor Party, but months later cautious, “me-too” counsels prevail. Hope flickered for a while in Washington, but Democratic sages likewise counsel a cautious, “yes, but” stance.

Sharon wants peace with the Palestinians, but on his own terms, not through negotiations. Meanwhile he is handily outmaneuvering adversaries on both the left and the right, exploiting every terrorist incident.

Bush wants to impose democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere, not help it grow. On the home front, he and his close followers constantly seek to expand their already excessive power by fanning war fever and exploiting the terrorist threat.

With each country dominated by fear and its fallout, the world is fast becoming a very dangerous place. Israeli ambitions provide sparks that can detonate a regional explosion, while American aspirations to become the new Rome are creating a tectonic shift in great power relationships, against us. Each country is locked into its own suicidal course because of its symbiotic relationship with the other. Israel can afford to alienate its neighbors and most of the rest of the world only because it is protected by its big brother. America's leaders, aspiring to become perhaps the new Caesars, look to Israel for models of behavior and know-how, and they look to essential help inside the USA to maintain control of their core constituencies.

There are many differences between our two situations, some of them profound. But this look at the some of the similarities may help us find a way out of our increasingly vital national problems.


Carleton S. Coon, Jr., was an officer in the U.S. Foreign Service from 1949 to 1985. Most of his posts were in or involving the Near East and South Asia. He was ambassador to Nepal from 1981 to 1984.

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