In the Arena


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The New York Times gives Romney adviser Dan Senor front page treatment today, which gives me a chance to praise Dan’s book Startup Nation, and damn his boss, Mitt Romney, for yet another example of intellectual slovenliness.

Senor’s book is about the remarkable growth of Israel’s high-tech sector. He argues that the culture of Israel’s military–intense and yet informal, iconoclastic, creative and entrepreneurial–helps prepare its leaders for business success. This is a strong argument, and Senor laces it with case history after case history. (I’ve written about how the changes in training that David Petraeus introduced transformed the culture of the U.S. Army in ways that will benefit the rest of society as our troops leave the service and become leaders in their communities.)

But Senor’s thesis has absolutely nothing to do with Palestinians. Zilch. Zero. And Romney’s attempt to compare and contrast Israel with Palestine is simply, well, stupid…as is his attempt to invoke Jared Diamond’s excellent Guns, Germs and Steel. As others have pointed out, the relative poverty in the Palestinian territories has an awful lot to do with the Israeli occupation and the diseased Palestinian political culture, obsessed and divided over how to deal with the Israeli reality, that has resulted. But it’s important to distinguish Palestinian political culture from its business and professional culture.

Indeed, Palestinians are widely known, and often disliked, by their Arab brethren for their entrepreneurial ability–as well as for the disproportionate number of professionals, especially doctors and lawyers, in their ranks. Palestinians, including Yasser Arafat’s father, owned the construction companies that built the Gulf States. They dominate the business class in Jordan. And there is good cultural reason for that: Like the Jews, the Palestinians have been a displaced people. Business and, especially, professional skills are portable. They don’t depend so much on land as farming and ranching does.

If ¬†the intellectually flatulent¬†John Podhoretz and other members of the neocon cohort weren’t so blinded by hate and pride, they would recognize the ironic similarities between Jews and their semitic cousins, the Palestinians. Certainly, the neocons’ extremely unJewish tendency to dehumanize the “other” is obnoxious and embarrassing. It is certainly true that Palestinian political culture has been a disaster; the Palestinian leadership, especially Arafat, deserves the lion’s share of blame for the failure of the peace process over the past 40 years. But Israel has become increasingly desensitized to the humanity of its neighbors during that time–and especially in recent years, as Salam Fayyad built a respectable government on the West Bank and terrorist incidents have diminished markedly.

Romney’s ignorance of these details, and his willingness to associate himself with extremist grotesques like Sheldon Adelson, raise serious questions about his ability to conduct a wise and measured foreign policy.