PERES AND POLITICAL REALISM
by Major Shawn Pine
The theory of international realism was articulated by Hans Morgenthau. In his seminal work "Politics Among Nations" Morgenthau explained that statesmen think and act in terms of interest which is defined as power. He explained that good intentions of a statesman have little relevance in determining whether his policies will either be morally praiseworthy or successful. Indeed, Morgenthau pointed out that history is replete with examples of statesmen that have been motivated by the desire to improve the world and ended up making it worse (Neville Chamberlain being one of the most notable and poignant examples during the last century).
It was not the motives of a statesman, but his intellectual ability to comprehend the essentials of foreign policy and to use that knowledge by taking the requisite political action that would lead to successful policies. Morgenthau noted that successful political realism required a sharp distinction between the desirable and what is possible under the concrete circumstances of time and place. Morgenthau claimed that "good motives give assurance against deliberately bad policies; they do not guarantee the moral goodness and political success of the policies they inspire.
Morgenthau used the US experience in Indochina to empirically demonstrate his philosophy. He observed that US foreign policy was tainted by the following factors: the imposition upon the empirical world of a simplistic and a priori picture of the world derived from folklore and ideological assumption; the refusal to correct this picture of the world in the light of experience; the persistence in a foreign policy derived from the misperception of reality and the use of intelligence for the purpose not of adapting policy to reality but of reinterpreting reality to fit policy; the egotism of the policy makers widening the gap between perception and policy, on the one hand, and reality, on the other; finally, the urge to close the gap at least subjectively by action, any kind of action, that creates the illusion of mastery over a recalcitrant reality. He could have just as likely been describing Shimon Peres and the Labor party during the last decade and Israel's experience with the "peace process.
Morgenthau warned the world to beware of leaders who allow their myopic individual values to supplant those of the state. Morgenthau noted that "the individual may say for himself: "Fiat justitia, pereat mundus (Let justice be done, even if the world perish)," but the state has no right to say so in the name of those who are in its care. Both individual and state must judge political action by universal moral principles, such as that of liberty. Yet while the individual has a moral right to sacrifice himself in defense of such a moral principle, the state has no right to let its moral disapprobation of the infringement of liberty get in the way of successful political action, itself inspired by the moral principle of national survival. There can be no political morality without prudence; that is, without consideration of the political consequences of seemingly moral action."
Peres has long stated that he was a realist. He adamantly proclaimed that realism required the acceptance of a Palestinian State. Yet, his remarks, and the subsequent collapse of the "peace process" belied this contention. From his statement that Israel should set a goal to join to the Arab league to his proclamation that reality was "not what objectively existed or happened; it was what was going to happen, what could still be shaped and fashioned by people," Shimon Peres proved that he was living an illusion. The basis for this can be found in his arrogance. Peres made it clear that he did not feel himself accountable when he stated "leadership, in my judgment, means to be elected by the constituencies of yesterday and to represent the constituencies of tomorrow. We have to answer to a constituency that doesn't exist." Peres' disdain for democracy was made clear when he stated "as a protege of David Ben Gurion, I subscribe to his philosophy that "I may not know what the people want; I do know what is good for the people."
In March 1996, Shimon Peres proclaimed "by the year 2000 we will overcome Hamas, the [Islamic] Jihad, and terrorism. By then we will bring a comprehensive peace to the Middle East. By then we will establish a just society, with a national income greater than that of England, and greater than that of France."
Historians will note that it was the failure of Shimon Peres and supporters of the peace process to take a realistic view of Yasser Arafat and the "peace process" that led to its collapse. Had they dealt with Arafat in a realistic manner, understanding that behind the facade of political legitimacy he was still a terrorist, the "peace process" might have had a chance for success. Rather than proclaim Arafat's intentions were irrelevant to the "peace process," Peres and the Labor government should have ensured that Arafat adhered to both the letter and the spirit of the Oslo Accords. Only then was there even the most remote possibility that the process could have succeeded. By exonerating and becoming apologists for Arafat, the Labor set Israel on a destructive course in which Arafat gave de facto support to Islamic terrorism and be rewarded for it politically with Israeli concessions.
However, the most tragic aspect of Shimon Peres is that he refuses to recognize the failure of his grand failed experiment with cost so many of his people their lives. His continued demand, after all that has happened, that Israel should continue to take Arafat seriously as a peace partner reflects a deep psychosis. Either that or Peres is not just a misguided, altruistic statesman but a cynical power hungry politician. A man who is willing to destroy his country rather than admit that he and his party made a tragic strategic error. As Israel begins to take the requisite military action to restore security to its citizens it should reflect how it could have allowed such a man to reach the pinnacle of power in Israel. For Shimon Peres, a man who stated that he has become totally tired of history, the greatest gift he can give his people is to leave politics. For those leaders who reside in the real world, they should adhere to the warning of George Santayana that those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.
Shawn Pine is a Major in the active US Army Reserves specializing in counterintelligence and is a military/strategic analyst. He is a research associate of the Israeli based Ariel Center for Policy Research and the US based Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.