Tom Friedman finally is stepping back from his previous position about the future of democracy in the Arab world following the Arab Spring. As he writes in today’s New York Times, there is reason to be concerned that the students and liberals who fought to overthrow tyranny will be greatly surprised by the fact that the new “temporary” rulers may not be so temporary and may not be such supporters of liberal democracy as they had believed. What Friedman opens up is also the reason that Bibi and Obama’s White House talk next Monday must confront a similar challenge.
During the Cold War most people feared the possibility of a nuclear confrontation but at the end of the day believed in deterrent theory. As long as the U.S. and the Soviet Union maintained mutually assured destruction, there was not going to be a nuclear war. As Kissinger and many others argued no one wanted to use nukes and thus lose the deterrent. At least part of the reason why the concern of an actual nuclear was limited came because both nations had many similar cultural values.
The current confrontation between Israel and Iran raises a different set of issues. Israel is arguing, at least in part, that Iran does not approach a potential use of a nuclear weapon as a last resort weapon. Human life, Muslim as well as non-Muslim, can be sacrificed for a greater good and goal. (Clearly, that is one of the few explanations to rationalize the fact that none of the Arab states view the need to physically intercede with troops on the ground to end the horror in Syria which continues unabated.) Consequently for Israel, its existential fear is based not on the model of nuclear deterrent theory of the Cold War, but because overladen on deterrent theory is a totally different set of cultural values.
This is a very difficult concept for the Obama Administration to accept, given that so much of their foreign policy system is still based on a belief in the inherent rationality of all human beings. Israel understands they cannot afford to be wrong, while the U.S. believes it is correct. It remains to be seen if despite their personal differences—which are real and persist– whether Obama and Netanyahu can reach a joint strategy that will allay Israel’s anxiety and thus Israel can accept the continuing dickering between the West and Iran.