WHEN SMART TRUMPS RIGHT
By Micah Halpern
Thursday March 11, 2010
"Better to be smart than right."
The world of foreign policy runs on its own set of rules. Unlike in the real world, in the world of foreign policy the opposite of smart is not necessarily not smart, or dumb. The opposite of right is not necessarily wrong. The idea that in the midst of a dispute the right decision will inevitable emerge, the right action will ultimately be taken, does not hold in foreign policy decisions. In the real world there is no argument that can trump the ability to do, or implement, the right thing. In the world of foreign policy, that argument does not hold true.
In foreign and even in domestic policy, being right is not always the best way to go. The smart way is the way to go. Just because the argument is correct, or right, does not make it the appropriate thing to say or wise action to take.
When Eli Ishai, the Israeli minister of the interior and leader of the right wing Shas party, chose to make an announcement about the projected building of 1,600 apartments in Jerusalem in the midst of an extended visit by United States Vice President Joe Biden, Ishai chose right over smart.
As a result of the announcement the vice president was forced to issue a strong, serious, public statement condemning Israel's action and decision. Biden labeled Israel's decision as not productive. And when Biden met with Palestinian leaders shortly after the announcement was made topping their list of gripes against Israel was Israel's deliberate defiance of pre-set conditions and terms, Israel's desire to be contrary and to engage in non-productive behavior - all as exemplified by their announced intention to build new housing units. They say they are halting settlement activity, yet they announce a new project. Israeli leaders, say the Palestinians, are really closet settlers.
The Palestinian complaint about Israel is the same complain that Israel makes about the Palestinians - that they cannot be trusted.
Shas and Eli Ishai defend their announcement. They maintain that they were correct, i.e. right, in acting as they did. Their argument goes that this announcement reflects the reality - that Israel does what is best for Israel and will not be dictated to by the United States. Ishai and Shas believe that Jerusalem is 100% under Israeli control and that there is no compromising when it comes to Jerusalem. They believe that Jerusalem neighborhoods need to expand if only because of natural growth and demand.
Because of Shas' conviction and their impulsive desire to pursue the right way, an unconditionally positive public relations event now, suddenly and completely avoidably, has a black cloud hanging over it. A decision to say nothing or to wait for another opportunity to make this announcement would not have been a case of right versus wrong. It would have been the smart thing to do.
When the vice president of the United States visits Israel, he arrives with full court press. Every where he travels in Israel all foreign press stationed in Israel travel along. Every journalist covering the Middle East from Israel latches on to his entourage. China, Japan, India, Denmark, Norway, Sweden - they all have their correspondents follow every movement of the vice president, each one hoping to get a moment's access with the man perceived to be the second most powerful person in the United States. And they were all there to cover Joe Biden's biting critique of Israel.
Interior Minister Eli Ishai will not be muzzled. The Shas party will not be punished. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu does not have the backing to bounce them out of his coalition government. With all the safety and security issues facing Israel, with all the neighboring countries hoping to wipe little Israel off the map, it's shameful that right now Israel's worst enemy comes from within.
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