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August 27, 2015

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Where I Stand:

Putting things in perspective

Happy New Year.

The Jewish people have been celebrating the new year for 5,773 years. Many of those years have been in the wilderness, under siege, running for our lives, escaping from madmen intent on eradicating us all, fighting wars against overwhelming odds and generally just fighting ignorant voices determined to do us harm.

There have been some good years, too. As a people, we have given light and law to the world, we have imagined a better life and achieved it for so many. We have invented, discovered, created and delivered on so much of the promise that life on this planet affords. In short, it has been a pretty good run so far, for all 5,773 years.

I mention this because this is a time for perspective. It is said that when you can’t see your way past the difficulties that surround you, perspective helps.

Just when we thought the presidential election was going to be about the economy, jobs, social services and a woman’s right to make health care decisions without interference from the government or her neighbors, tragedy strikes in the Middle East.

The Arab Spring has given birth to an Arab nightmare, with its gruesome images of American diplomatic and security people dead at the hands of angry, unruly and, as best we can tell, uncontrolled mobs.

Everything we have ever learned about U.S. embassies abroad being sovereign territory such that an attack on an embassy is tantamount to an attack on the United States is being turned on its head. Our nation’s leaders are trying to parse the failure of weak and ill-formed Arab governments and their inability — or lack of ability — to protect American citizens on our “own property.”

Suddenly, as it often does, security at home and abroad has trumped domestic problems late in the election cycle. And how the public perceives the handling of this attack on innocent Americans will go a long way, I believe, in determining the next president. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but here we are.

The murders of our diplomats and the knowing dilemma — Who is really responsible? Is it the government? Is it an outside force (maybe Iran) pulling the strings? What are the ramifications of striking back at militant or fundamentalist religious groups that are part of more than a billion co-religionists who may see an attack on some as an attack on all? — make for difficult choices.

President Barack Obama has to strike back at someone, somewhere. No one is allowed to kill innocent Americans without a swift and decisive response designed to deter others from similar atrocities. At the same time, the political reality is that there will be people calling for the United States to leave the area, physically, mentally and financially, and they will beat those drums right up until Election Day.

And that kind of rhetoric that we have seen and will see, as irresponsible as it may be, will challenge our leaders in the political realm, which is the last place life-and-death decisions should be taken. At a time when we should all be pulling together as one people, we will continue to pull apart for some political advantage that has nothing to do with right and wrong. Chances are good that whatever is said will be mostly wrong.

As if the embassy attacks aren’t enough of a challenge in that same vital part of the world, the threat of nuclear war looms large as Iran gets closer to obtaining nuclear status. Our country’s best and most loyal ally, Israel, is the first target for annihilation, according to the Iranian leadership, so it is no wonder that those folks are more than a bit nervous about the prospects of a nuclear Iran.

And to be perfectly clear, the United States and American interests around the world are a close second!

What has been the closest of alliances for more than 60 years — that between the U.S. and Israel — is being tested. That is in part because a nervous Israel, intent on stopping Iran at all costs, is not hearing or seeing all it wants to hear and see from its senior partner in that part of the world. The U.S. has made it crystal clear that it will not allow Iran to go nuclear, but those are only words, and if the worst were to happen, Israelis will pay the horrendous price. And that is unacceptable.

It is no secret that the relationship between Israel’s leadership and our own is a bit strained, especially during an election season in which people on both sides think some exploitation is in their own interests. But while the experts in both countries will confirm that the cooperation and support between the U.S. and Israel has never been better, the personal relationship could be a lot better.

In fact, I believe that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s public scolding of President Obama is a first, and ill-conceived at that. Partners argue, but when it comes to life-and-death decisions, those arguments must and should be private, not for public consumption and exploitation.

And the fact that it is occurring in an election year around an issue vital to a large voting bloc of Americans should not be lost on those who are trying to understand what this is all about.

This is about an existential threat that is felt far more strongly on one side of the partnership than it is perceived to be felt on the other.

Killing innocent Americans in Libya and elsewhere in response to some childish humiliation is never, ever justified and must be condemned by every Muslim the world over — but so too must the frustrations of allies be dealt with, away from the public discourse where every nuance and every word can be twisted by others and used for evil purposes.

Both a nuclear Iran and an unchecked and irresponsible Arab uprising against innocent Americans are dangerous occurrences that could have existential implications. They are serious and they must be dealt with in as thoughtful a way possible.

It helps, though, when considering our next moves that we understand that Sunday night marks the beginning of the New Year for the Jewish people who have been recording such events for 5,773 years.

It should help a little bit, as our leaders struggle to find the right answers and take the right actions, to keep all of this in perspective. With any luck at all, we will be celebrating for another 5,000 years, at least.

Happy New Year to all people of good will.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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