Some of you were angry I linked to the Gordis essay and some were pleased.

One of you, anticipating I would post a dissenting view today (below), was preemptively angry – or at least rueful. ‘It’s probably a bunch of people complaining about how wrong Gordis is and how right Jimmy Carter and Michael Moore are,’ he wrote.

It’s important to listen to only one point of view, because that way we can avoid knowing what others think. In that spirit, I urge you not to read this:

David W.: ‘Rather than an ‘affecting reflection,’ the Gordis article would be better characterized as ‘bathos.’ The article contained some terribly misleading and erroneous statements and becomes nothing more than ‘apologetics’ rather than some genuine soul-searching to try to help solve the morass. Your link pretty much gives it instant credibility for many of your readers [not if they remember my Google puts] and that just doesn’t help. Do you really want the U.S. to attack Iran? [No!]

‘The author writes ‘… just seventy years after the world conspired to let Jews be erased …’ That is literally false and metaphorically misleading, and, only serves to ‘set up’ the reader for a standard argument.  And that argument, based on issues most people agree on – i.e., the Holocaust and the need for a Jewish state – has been seriously diminished if not voided in the minds of many people by just that kind of mischaracterization and subsequent acts by the state of Israel which are simply unjustifiable except by virtue of the argument that ‘might makes right,’

“Toward the end of the article he writes that without Israel, American Jewish life ‘… would last a generation, maybe two …’  What an historically odd, deceptive, bathetic and baseless claim for someone to make.  Toward the beginning of the article he writes, ‘No, Israel’s not a failure.  The State is a huge success.’ He then refers to the ‘national funk.’  Now, PLEASE read this brief piece.  I would suggest to you that it is a ‘case study’ which, when put into context, explains most of the funk Daniel Gordis writes about.  Then, let’s talk about the real issues. Not some perhaps well-meaning but deceptive ‘ontological reflections’ but the concrete realities of life in the near Middle-East, their historical sources, and the consequences.”

☞ I stand by my feeling that the Gordis piece was an affecting reflection – to me, anyway.  But I sure would not attack Iran.  That would only strengthen Ahmadinejad.  I thought Tom Friedman’s approach, per his January 31 New York Times column, made a lot of sense:

Because the U.S. has destroyed Iran’s two biggest enemies – the Taliban and Saddam – ”there is now a debate in Iran as to whether we should continue to act so harshly against the Americans,” Mohammad Hossein Adeli, Iran’s former ambassador to London, told me at Davos. ”There is now more readiness for dialogue with the United States.”

More important, when people say, ”The most important thing America could do today to stabilize the Middle East is solve the Israel-Palestine conflict,” they are wrong. It’s second. The most important thing would be to resolve the Iran-U.S. conflict.

That would change the whole Middle East and open up the way to solving the Israel-Palestine conflict, because Iran is the key backer of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Syria. Iran’s active help could also be critical for stabilizing Iraq.

This is why I oppose war with Iran. I favor negotiations. Isolating Iran like Castro’s Cuba has produced only the same result as in Cuba: strengthening Iran’sCastros. But for talks with Iran to bear fruit, we have to negotiate with Iran with leverage.

How do we get leverage? Make it clear that Iran can’t push us out of the gulf militarily; bring down the price of oil, which is key to the cockiness of Iran’s hard-line leadership; squeeze the hard-liners financially. But all this has to be accompanied with a clear declaration that the U.S. is not seeking regime change in Iran, but a change of behavior, that the U.S. wants to immediately restore its embassy in Tehran and that the first thing it will do is grant 50,000 student visas for young Iranians to study at U.S. universities.

Just do that – and then sit back and watch the most amazing debate explode inside Iran.  You can bet the farm on it.


Russell Turpin: “Richard says, ‘I’ve been exhorting our staff for decades on this subject, and yet when they go to trade shows they eschew the “hospitality suites” and instead go to restaurants. What are they thinking?’ That’s easy. They’re thinking that dinner is on a company expense account. Switch your business travel policy from paying for actual food expenses, to paying a per diem allowance. The company will save the accounting time to create and verify expense reports that are mostly small food and restaurant purchases. The staff who have enjoyed wining and dining on the company ticket will bitch. The staff who know how to stretch a dollar will think, ‘I can pocket most of that per diem.’ And they will. And the hospitality suites will get more use. This is economics 102, right?”

☞ There’s no question: people respond to incentives.

(The smartest thing I did a hundred years ago when I was writing for New York Magazine, earning $18,000 a year in salary, was to ask to be paid by the article instead. “It will work out to the same $18,000, give or take,” I explained, “but instead of feeling constantly guilty that I’m not doing enough, and being motivated, in effect, by the stick, I’ll be free of all that, and happy, and motivated by the carrot.” And sure enough, I earned the same money, give or take (maybe a little more), produced the same output, more or less (maybe a little more) – but was happier. Much happier.)


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