Opinion is shifting, even inside the Beltway
by Scott McConnell on December 6, 2009 ·
Opinion shifts at a glacial pace, but move it does. The other night I heard Patrick Tyler, author of the very good and comprehensive book “A World of Trouble” on American presidents and the Middle East. In his talk he singled out for praise Eisenhower and Carter, my preferences as well. The audience was a kind of foreign affairs discussion group of about sixty which meets regularly in Washington. The participants –save for some exceptions– seem to be current or former members of a somewhat-overtaken Washington establishment. Generally Waspy, many retired ambassadors, officials from previous administrations whose names you would recognize, authors. The group was formed after 9-11, and almost all of its members opposed the Iraq war. But in an establishment sort of way.
What was striking was the shift in tone on the Israel-Palestine question, from what might be bland State Department two-state advocacy to something more energized and angry. Tyler was exceptionally well-informed, and fluent about the details of contemporary diplomacy and incidents that took place forty years ago. He was also surprisingly optimistic—thinking that Obama, if he chooses to, could intervene and bring about something like a solution on Taba lines–that hopes and expectations in the region are still very high.
I don’t read the situation that way, and neither did the audience.
Tyler received early on a well-informed question about the Israeli sinking of the USS Liberty. He answered that he thought there was persuasive evidence the sinking wasn’t pre-planned or intentional, but it was clear he had spent a lot of time talking with those who did, and he wasn’t dismissive of them.
Next question came from a former US senator, about AIPAC, its rise in influence, its ability to bundle money to shape the political process, its capacity to stymie any meaningful diplomatic effort towards a two state solution by the US. Then came a question about how Israel is “diversifying” its assets in the US, through Christian Zionism.
The woman seated next to me, once a star New York Times writer, now an author, thought Tyler’s optimism about the two-state solution being near was completely off base.
I would submit that you wouldn’t have heard questions like this in a group of this sort five years ago. There wouldn’t have been the knowledge, there wouldn’t have been the anger. The climate is shifting, ever so slowly, but its trend is unmistakable.