Neither the Power to Act, or to Influence
by Ben Tanosborn
Among the many ethnic groups that have found fertile ground for success in America, few have achieved the degree of proportional prominence of the Lebanese-Americans. In most cases, their fellow Americans [non-Lebs] are unaware of that fact since these Lebanese-Americans go about their lives without broadcasting the heritage of which they are so proud. Many of us, at least those who are boomers or older, do remember Danny Thomas, Casey Kasem, Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka and Tiny Tim… and the occasional reference to their ethnicity. But outside of the entertainment world, such reference was seldom made.
Not in my case. I have come to know many Lebs, mostly entrepreneurial types, both overseas and stateside. In California, in the Pacific Northwest, and specially in Kansas where their influence in Wichita had extended for over a century, the Jabara family name in the most prominent light. [Col. James Jabara was America’s first triple jet ace in the Korean War; and there were other Jabaras in the academic and business worlds.] I am also well aware that success of Lebanese in America extends to all confines of society: the arts; entertainment; writing; engineering; the sciences; the military; education; business… and, yes, politics – local, state and national elective and non-elective positions. Then, there is my favorite, and controversial, advocate for true democracy: Ralph Nader.
Why am I bringing this point of pride with people of Lebanese descent? Does it have any connection with what’s happening in Lebanon today or… should it have?
Of the twenty-five thousand Americans in Lebanon [mostly Lebanese-Americans] when Israel started its defensive-offense, or offensive-defense, there is little question that many, if not most, felt upset, if not outright betrayed, by how their government – the US government – was reacting to the situation. Not many images of those feelings were shown in the American media, but much of the international press was able to capture the anger and the despair they felt.
It was only logical that here in the US the Lebanese-American community would be up in arms in response to both Israel’s actions and America’s cheerleading of those such actions – to the point where it became irrelevant whether the policy that brought about this conflict had originated in Tel Aviv or in Washington. Conversations between Lebs in situ and their families in the States crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s as to the reality that was taking place… never mind Hezbollah and the rest.
Informally, without resorting to a high level of networking, the Lebanese-American people let those assumed to have power and influence, and in accord with their views, know how they felt. Except that at the end of the day those people in Congress had very little power and, on an issue involving Israel, zero influence. They were put in the embarrassing position of having to deny their own feelings, forced to lend their voices to the rest of the choir lauding Israel’s actions. It was either that or else. Else, one asks? Can anyone fathom the repercussions for straying on this support vote for Israel by condemning or even appearing lukewarm to Israel’s actions? Forget about reelection!
Whether there is a parasitic or a symbiotic relationship between the United States and Israel, the bottom line is that the existing alliance is enmeshed in such a way that the fate of one nation is tied to the fate of the other. And that to think for a moment that any group, other than the Israel “lobby,” can exert any influence on America’s political behavior is like subscribing to the existence of a make-believe world. Yet, Americans prefer to remain in denial.
Power and influence in matters of foreign relations in the United States are an “all or nothing” situation when Israel is involved. You either possess all the influence, or you have none. And to make matters worse, things have changed very little in the two millennia since Tacitus told us that “In times of tumult and discord bad men have most power.” Bad men… not in terms of “good and evil” as Bush simplistically would have Americans believe. The battle for peace is not between good and evil, but between “the purveyors of suffering and those who suffer.” Indeed, the purveyors of suffering are the bad men who have most power.
At this point the situation in Lebanon is quickly becoming a lost game… with just a few seconds left in the political clock, and the Peace team having the ball deep in its own territory. Peace is certainly in need of another football hero like Doug Flutie (a Leb, of course) to save the day with a Hail-Mary pass… but, although we know that Bush has the arm to throw the pass and save the day, he is unfortunately playing for the other team, not the Peace team.
Meantime, while Lebanon is being severely punished, death and destruction mounts elsewhere in the Middle East, from Gaza to Iraq. Everything is interconnected; and that goes for Syria and Iran. But doesn’t this situation create the perfect opportunity to have a cease fire everywhere and set up a round table to sit everyone, e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e, and try to mend the thousand broken fences? If synergy has proved to work in biology and in business… why not give it a try in diplomacy, relations between nations and peoples?
In truth, the catalyst needed for the process to take place would require Bush switching to, and quarterbacking, the Peace team. He will never have a better opportunity to clean up the mess he inherited, and the one of his own making.
Unfortunately, the chance of that happening is probably one in a million.
© 2006 Ben Tanosborn