I’m betting a nickel that the Obama administration is going to jump into the Israeli-Palestinian situation soon after taking office. The new president has more street cred with the Muslim/Islamic world than any president in history. He’s coming off a huge Jewish vote in the election and has got Rahm Emanuel, Joe Biden, and maybe Hillary Clinton to reassure the Israelis. Neither side can string things out, knowing that this particular presidency is coming to an end in a few months. AIPAC will be in its cuddle-up-to-the-new-administration mode. Hell, Joe Lieberman is on the reservation and will owe the president big time. And there’s no great mystery about what needs to happen. What Scowcroft and Brzezinski say in today’s WaPo, Former Israeli prime minister Olmert has recently said as well. It’s high stakes work, to be sure, but a great way to spike the talking points of Al Qaeda and Ahmadinejad. In an administration that now seems like a galaxy far, far away, it used to be said that the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad. What if the roads to Tehran and Tora Bora run through Jerusalem?
Concluding Social Scientific Postscript: Four months ago, I took a little pop at a poll by the new, center-left Jewish lobby J Street, accusing it of asking too many questions in ways that would generate the kinds of answers the served J Street’s point of view. Now comes the center-right Jewish lobby The Israel Project with a poll that, surprise of surprises, does the same thing. Specifically, it highlights Americans’ support for Israelis as opposed to Palestinians, and desire that Iran not acquire nuclear weapons. And, with the shoe on the other foot, J Street’s director, Jeremy Ben Ami, declared:
Why does the Israel Project insist on asking Americans to choose sides between the Israelis and the Palestinians in a conflict that the United States is uniquely positioned to help resolve?
The right question is what percent of Americans support active U.S. leadership to resolve the conflict in order to provide both sides with security and peace. Perhaps knowing that that number would have been above 80 percent, the Israel Project chose not to ask that question.
Similarly on Iran, the Israel Project’s questions are constructed to build the case for confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. It’s about as surprising to learn that Americans want to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons as it would be to learn that they want to lower unemployment. The real surprise, that the Israel Project avoids revealing with its polling, is that Americans are willing to engage with Iran diplomatically to address the threat. Again, knowing the overwhelming public support for diplomacy, it seems the Israel Project prefers to ask only questions that further its agenda rather than to examine real public opinion on the complex challenges facing the U.S. in the Middle East.”
Some years ago, the economist Alice Rivlin dismissed this kind of duel as “forensic social science,” and it is the characteristic mode of policy research inside the Beltway. Advocacy is all well and good, but it would be nice if the forensics could be leavened a little more often with some disinterested search for truth. It’s more honest, it results in more useful findings, and it might even enhance the advocates’ credibility.