Olmert’s Parting Shot

So after resigning from office, Ehoud Olmert goes on the record about the need for Israel to make serious concessions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights:

Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the state of Israel’s basic security?

As Matt Eckel over Foreign Policy Watch puts it in so many words, Great, now you tell us. But the timing isn’t only bad because Olmert no longer has the power to act on his newfound convictions. It also puts his Kadima successor, Tzipi Livni, in an awkward spot as she tries to cobble together a coalition to form a government. (See Frida Ghitis’ WPR piece.)

That said, the unsettling honesty of Olmert’s remarks will certainly raise his speaker’s bureau book value, underlining the fact that they are so politically suicidal that only a soon-to-be ex-prime minister could have allowed himself to utter them.

It’s hard to imagine two countries whose security considerations are more different than Israel and the U.S. We’re essentially an island. Outside of the ICBM threat of the Cold War (admittedly a significant exception), our enemies have historically been distant and unable to credibly threaten our territorial integrity, let alone our existence. Israel, on the other hand, has historically been surrounded by hostile states with the ability to do it serious, and potentially mortal, harm.

Yet some of Olmert’s observations seem to apply as much to America as they do to Israel:

Part of our megalomania and our loss of proportions is the thingsthat are said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a senseof proportion about itself.

A sense of proportion requires a realistic appraisal of one’s own capabilities, but also one’s own limits. As important, though, since proportion is a relative measure, is a realistic appraisal of the capabilities and limits of our friends, rivals and adversaries. So much of the foreign policy debate in the U.S. seems stuck in the outdated context of 2001, for obvious political reasons. No one ever got elected president of the United States on a platform of “Late Afternoon in America,” or “Morning in Southeast Asia.”

But realism and a sense of proportion is not the same thing as defeatism. Indeed, as Olmert suggests, they might just lead to a more effective, because relevant, security posture.

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