In his influential 2003 book, the American foreign policy thinker Robert Kagan declared that “Europe is turning away from power” and “entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity” while the United States “remains mired in history.” It was, he wrote, as if Americans were from Mars and Europeans from Venus, so differently did they view the world, not least the value of projecting force to achieve foreign policy goals.
What if Israel is the only Martian state left? What if the US is now looking longingly at the Venusians and thinking about joining them? What if the international community, always a bit of a fiction, has decided that it is tired, seeks an exit from history, and thinks that it has found the ticket out: to start believing the unbelievable about Iran, Russia, and the United Nations?
If so, the conjuncture would be radically new and dangerous. Israel, mired in history, would be in danger of becoming diplomatically isolated over time, cast aside as the price paid by the aspiring Venusians for their entry ticket to the desired (but non-existent) post-historical paradise?
If so—and how odd would this be, for a little nation of 8 million people nestled between the Mediterranean and the Judean hills—Netanyahu would be the principle defender not only of the Jewish national home, but of the West per se.
Am I serious? I am actually. Bibi is one of the last world leaders whose life has prepared him to really understand the nature of the West as an idea, and allowed him to grasp it as a geo-political reality that has to be defended vigilantly from authoritarian and totalitarian threats. He “gets” the importance of ideas in the conduct of states and he knows in his bones that ideas decisively shape the character of a country’s internal regime. Like Scoop Jackson he knows that the internal character of a regime really matters, and that regimes are sometimes radically different one from another, not just on the surface but all the way down.
Almost single-handedly among world leaders, Netanyahu dragged the international community to a position of moral clarity on Iran. And now he faced his biggest challenge yet: keeping it there. Biggest because the West is tired: tired of moral clarity and the demands it places on us, tired of taking on terrorism, and tired of the burden of global leadership. The kind of leadership Netanyahu offers the West (from Bangalore to Boston to Beersheba) is not wanted. The burdens he asks us to take upon our shoulders seem too great to us, the seriousness with which he asks us to consider ourselves and our adversaries is just too demanding.
He is a standing reproach to the Venusian democracies. To some commentators Bibi’s recent UN speech was a provocation. But read it. His sin was really to tell one oh-so-inconvenient truth after another to a world trying desperately hard to delude itself.
I do not hear any other world leader explaining “the central lesson of the 20th century” nor warning that “the world” is forgetting it. (Yes, Benjamin Netanyahu can be challenged about many other areas of policy, but then so could Winston Churchill.)
But who is listening to him? Not the Venusians. They hate him because he points out that the post-historical paradise to which they seek entry is an illusion. And it seems we are all supposed to be Venusians now.