Needed: ‘sea change in Palestinian political culture’
Questions for Bret Stephens
Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens believes that that “no matter who is elected in November, the next president will have to grapple with Mideast crises from the first day in office until the last.”
He will deliver that message — and his take on other issues of the day — at the Jewish National Fund’s annual Community Breakfast on Wednesday, May 4, at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills.
Born in New York and raised in Mexico City in a secular Jewish household, Stephens is a graduate of the University of Chicago and has a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.
From 2002 to 2004, he was editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his “incisive columns” at the Journal enlivened by “a contrarian twist” for his views on American foreign policy and domestic politics. He discussed electoral politics and foreign affairs in an April 13 phone interview with NJ Jewish News.
NJJN: Do you see any possibility of peace between Israelis and Palestinians? Is the two-state solution a fantasy of the past?
Stephens: There has to be a sea change in Palestinian political culture of a kind that is difficult to foresee today. The Palestinians have to decide whether they want to be Yemen or Costa Rica. If they are going to be a fractured radicalized society like Yemen, there is no way for any peaceful outcome. If they want to be Costa Rica, that’s great; it’s a small country with a good reputation. It’s demilitarized. It’s democratic. It cares about its environment. It cares about its people. It cares about progress in the best sense.
NJJN: Why do you feel the issues of the Middle East will occupy so much of the next president’s time in office?
Stephens: There was a conceit, at least at the beginning of the Obama administration, that persists today that the United States could bring sense to the problems of the Middle East by withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, by refusing to intervene in places like Syria, and by making nuclear deals with the rulers of Iran and, in doing so, extricate the U.S. from the problems of the region.
My argument is that the “Las Vegas Rules” — what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas — don’t apply in the Middle East. It pursues you in the form of terrorists in Paris or San Bernardino or in the form of refugees spilling over the Aegean and the Mediterranean, or in Iran developing ballistic missiles that will be able to strike Western capitals. These are realities the next administration will have to confront from the moment the inaugural balls are finished and the president sits at his — or more likely, her — desk in the Oval Office.
NJJN: Are you saying you expect Hillary Clinton to win the election?
Stephens: I think if the Republican Party nominates an unelectable buffoon like Donald Trump she is certainly going to win, barring events I have a hard time perceiving, including a possible indictment — or if the Republicans select a guy in the person of Ted Cruz who just wrote off all of us moderate Republicans as “New York values” types of people.
NJJN: After having reviewed a number of postings on your Twitter feed, I would like to ask you about several of them. One that says “Regarding Donald [Trump], now would be a good time to remember the West’s last political dark age” is accompanied by a photo of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Are you comparing the two?
Stephens: No. Donald Trump is not Mussolini. On the other hand, there is something to the Trump persona and the Trump movement which recalls the politics of the 1920s and ’30s — a politics that seems to have sourced in the institutions and processes of liberal democracy and is looking for a more charismatic style, a style that is about getting things done….
Mussolini was a vulgarian, and Trump is a vulgarian, and he appeals to the more shameless instincts of a certain class of followers, whether it has to do with bigotry toward Muslims, Mexicans, or other foreigners or the misogynist or sexist commentary or all the other forms of bigotry that you can’t discuss with your children because the subject of Trump’s genitalia might arise.
NJJN: You wrote on Twitter that “Bernie Sanders worries me. Hillary Clinton worries me. Donald Trump worries me, and frankly Ted Cruz kind of worries me too.” What about each of them worries you?
Stephens: Cruz has engaged in a politics I find dishonorable. He has turned his disagreements with fellow Republicans into litmus tests of ideological purity…. What Cruz did in vilifying his colleagues was evidence of his political and maybe his moral character. It is not something I admire.
Bernie Sanders I find loathsome. A guy who takes his honeymoon in the Soviet Union is a guy you need to raise an eyebrow about…. You don’t have an excuse anymore as to what socialism is and the misery it perpetuates.
I think Hillary is a rank opportunist with no principles, thoroughly dishonest and grasping. She’s a grifter. The Clinton Foundation is just philanthropic money laundering. The amount of money it devotes to genuine philanthropic causes compared to so many other philanthropies is fractional. But the saving grace of Hillary is she has no principles. Maybe her cynicism is better than the quality of ideological consistency. Hillary just believes in herself and most Democrats get that.
It is not just that Trump is a demagogue. On matters of public policy he appears to be a total ignoramus, and he is wrong on one foreign policy issue after another. A Trump presidency would sully the dignity of the presidency itself.
NJJN: What did you make of Gov. Chris Christie’s endorsement of Trump?
Stephens: Disgusting. Christie is a perfectly intelligent man who knows exactly who Trump is and what he is about and it was the rankest form of political opportunism. It was a signal that he is tired of being governor and he is never going to be president but maybe attorney general or another cabinet position in a Trump administration, and since Trump is not going to be the nominee, I eagerly look forward to the utter irrelevance of Chris Christie.