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Do they have any idea where they are going?

Apr 30,2024 - Last updated at Apr 30,2024

One Sunday afternoon, my father-in-law was on the Long Island Expressway driving the family to an event. 

With surprisingly little traffic on what would ordinarily be a congested highway, they were cruising along at a good speed. At one point, my mother-in-law asked, “Dear, do you have any idea where you’re going?” He chuckled and replied, “No, but we’re making good time.”

Everyone laughed.

“I have no idea where we’re going, but we’re making good time” became a family expression to describe situations in which people are sailing along blindly and directionless.

Sometimes harmlessly; other times with disastrous results.

I’ve used that expression to describe George W. Bush’s war in Iraq and Obama’s bombings in Libya. Today, it can be applied to Israel’s relentless devastation of Gaza and reckless, provocative confrontation with Iran.

In these situations, and many others, I recall the oft-cited but never followed “Powell Doctrine”, cautioning against starting a war when you don’t know the cost, consequences, terms of engagement, or exit strategy.

A recent article noted that after October 7th, in addition to pledging US support for Israel, President Joseph Biden cautioned prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to make the mistake the US made after 9/11.

He advised Netanyahu not to allow rage to blind him to consequences or violence to create more hatred.

It was his way of expressing the principles at the heart of the Powell Doctrine. (Ironically, Powell himself violated this doctrine in the lead up to the Iraq war, whose consequences are with us to this day).

Six months later, it is clear that Netanyahu did not listen and Biden did not demand a satisfactory answer. Israel has killed over 34,000 Palestinians and wounded twice that many.

They have destroyed most of Gaza’s buildings and infrastructure, reducing entire cities to rubble, and have been rightly accused of committing genocide and creating imminent famine.

Yet, despite some feeble prodding, we continue to provide Israel with support.

Israeli commentators are increasingly saying that even with the enormity of the death and destruction they have created, Israel has lost this war. They have not defeated Hamas.

If anything, they have helped launch Hamas 2.0. Hatred for Israel has increased exponentially Palestinians and across the Arab World, and globally.

Israel still has no idea how to end this nightmare and what advantage has been served by the damage they have done and hatred they have sown. Yet they continue.

For months now, President Biden has been posing my mother-in-law’s question: “Do you have any idea where you’re going?”, asking Netanyahu about his “end game” or “the day after”.

With no demand for an answer or threat to withhold support without one, Israel continued speeding along to nowhere.

Simultaneous with its relentless assault on Palestinians, Israel has been steadily poking at Iran, with covert assassinations and bombings in the country and provocative attacks against Iranians in Syria, leading to Iran’s dangerous telegraphed response last weekend and Israel’s promised retaliation. Once again, the question must be asked: “Do you have any idea where you’re going?”

A persistent flaw in Arab thinking about Israel and the US is the assumption that they know exactly what they’re doing, with some grand design behind their actions.

In part, this projection of rationality on objectively irrational behavior is born of an inferiority complex, assuming that the West is smarter than it is and always calculating, and leading to wild conspiracy theories.

In reality, more often than not, both Israel and the US act based on nothing more than the fact that they want to and can, with no plan or thought about the consequences.

The danger of this behaviour left unchecked is clear. If the US is unwilling or unable to be the adult in the room and restrain Israel (or itself), then other nations must act.

Instead of letting Israel run amok and allowing it and Iran to create havoc and the danger of a wider Middle East war, intervention is needed.

Other nations need to ask my mother-in-law’s question: “Do you have any idea where you’re going?” If a suitable answer is not forthcoming, they must demand that the car be stopped and keys surrendered, before we all end up going over the cliff.

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