Playing (and Winning) the Long Game

Fools, apparently, rush in where angels fear to go.  At the same time, he who hesitates is lost.  So it seems that folk wisdom doesn’t provide obvious advice on how fast to move when military or political advantage opens up.

As mentioned last time, timing is one of the crucial ingredients for any sort of political or military strategy.  And for a small nation such as Israel, which has been at the center of military and political conflict since the nation’s birth, deciding between “full-speed-ahead,” “steady-as-she-goes” and “proceed-with-caution” is a routine decision.

At this moment in history, when a U.S. President hostile to the Jewish state has been replaced by one respectful of its interests, there is an understandable tendency to want to rush ahead and gain as much advantage as possible.  In some cases, this is a wise choice, especially in places like the UN where American backing of Israel has returned with a vengeance.

At the same time, while it might seem that this is the right moment for Israeli politicians to push controversial legislation, or for Israel’s supporters abroad to assume a friendly White House and Congress means brighter days ahead, there are a number of reasons to move cautiously through the today’s uncharted waters of US and international politics.

To begin with, the new US President has become a lightning rod for a broad range of opposing forces, domestically and internationally.  And as we have seen in recent years, such forces have little resistance to being infiltrated – if not entirely taken over – by anti-Israel activists ready to force their issue to the top of everyone else’s agenda.

The mercurial nature of now President Trump also means that assuming continued unalloyed support from this White House is as much a folly as counting on anyone outside of ourselves to make protection of Israel’s interests an ongoing top priority.  While it is highly unlikely we’ll see the same kind of animus we experienced with Trump’s predecessor, there is no shortage of potential flash points Israel and her friends need to navigate.  Are we prepared, for example, if the new President gets it into his head that he can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute with some grand bargain that has eluded less talented “deal-makers?”

Last time, I mentioned the difference between administrative, legislative and cultural victories which can provide a framework for determining how to best proceed during unpredictable times.

The sorts of Executive Orders we’ve seen flowing from the White House represent the sort of slam-bam wins that make supportive partisans cheer and opposing ones squeal, but such “victories” tend to be highly unstable.  President Obama’s major victories (including ObamaCare, the Iran Deal and various Executive fiats he ordered), for instance, are all examples of victories won without widespread legislative and public support.  So it’s no accident that these are the very issues most easily undone by his successor.

Legislative victories – especially ones that take into account multiple perspectives – tend to be more stable and longer lived.  One need only look at how bi-partisan Congressional support prevented the Obama administration from doing even more damage to the US-Israel relationship to see the power bi-partisan consensus wields within a democracy.

But on the whole, the most long-lasting political victories take place at the cultural level.  Civil rights, women’s rights, LGBQ rights, victory in the Cold War and – yes – support for the Jewish state are societal transformations within the US that were cultivated over decades, to the point where they are now givens threatened more by over-reach of their supporters than by hostile forces eager to see these examples of social progress overturned.

Anti-Israel forces assume they are playing a long game, hoping that the violence and propaganda they have visited upon the world will eventually translate to an abandonment of the Jewish state – if not by this generation of Americans, then perhaps the next.

What they have failed to take into account is that Israel and her friends are also capable of long-game strategy.  Bi-partisan Congressional support, for example, did not emerge out of thin air but was cultivated over decades by smart, political operators within the organized Jewish community – leveraging general support for Israel within a US public cultivated by countless other Jewish groups and individuals dedicated to telling the truth to counter the lies of the BDS “movement” and its antecedents.

What this means in today’s unstable world is that Israel needs to continue to leverage the current supportive atmosphere while not becoming joined at the hip with today’s administration – or any administration – to the exclusion of alliances that contribute to ongoing legislative and cultural support.

Friends of Israel happy with the new President need to understand the cost (and potential instability) of administrative victories, and plan accordingly.  Similarly, pro-Israel forces hostile to Trump et al need to fight within the movements they work with to ensure the anti-Trump agenda doesn’t become yet another progressive cause that falls to ruins after infiltration and takeover by the ruthless foes of the Jewish state.

Winning in a long game requires forgoing today’s single marshmallow for tomorrow’s two.  In other words, it requires resisting impatience, thinking in terms of decades, rather than weeks, and refusing to allow foes or friends to turn support for the Jewish state into a domestic partisan football.

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