There are two kinds of politicians in democracy: merchants and ideologists. The former are willing to say and do anything that will get them elected. As far as they're concerned, everything has its price, and all that's left is to name yours. The latter—the ideologists—are limited by the confines of their own perspective. After they are elected, they usually freeze up, attempt to survive within a cruel reality, and eventually they disappear. Currently, it is US President Barack Obama who represents the ideologists in American politics. The catastrophic mistakes created by his foreign policy, starting with his first term, have been a result of his world view.
Obama truly believes you can speak about human rights
at Cairo University on the eve of the Arab Spring. He really does not see modern Islam as the leading source of world terror. He stumbles through the Middle East with a sincere wish to help, not hinder. Ideals can be very romantic, but they turn into a very real source of danger when they are aimed in the wrong direction.
The political merchant is currently personified by both contenders for the US presidency, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But while Clinton is merely a mediocre salesperson, Trump is an excellent one. He is a cool professional selling his merchandise, though he has no idea what it can be used for. One of the items he is selling is "Make America Great Again."
Trump has been quoted as saying "Let's make America great again" on a number of occasions. How about we make it excellent, though, or good? I think the sun setting behind the mountains near my home is great, the sunrise is good, and occasionally I come across some excellent music. But how do you make a country great? Answering this question requires a plan, setting priorities and providing knowledge. Trump has no intention of supplying these items.
From my own provincial perspective as an Israeli, I am wary of political merchants just as much as I am of ideology-led politicians like Obama. When I hear Trump saying that he supports building in the settlements because rockets are being fired at them, it is clear to me that he has no idea where the settlements are located or what is threatening them. If he were to be elected, I think Trump would have no qualms about bluntly telling Israel, "Make a deal with Palestinians. Retreat to the '67 borders, with all these rockets being fired at you, it's not such a big deal. I want peace, and I want to make the world great." At any price, of course, as merchants are wont to do. And while Clinton is not any better than he, hers is at least a familiar and well-worn story.
I am focusing on the distinction between these political attitudes since the current struggle between two merchant politicians means that for the first time in human history, terrorism may become a strategic tool that could affect the fate of the entire world. Ever since the invention of the term "terrorism," which means fear, it has been influencing people on a tactical level. Terrorists have managed to damage symbols and top leaders, and it has also killed thousands of people. The terrorists did not, however, manage to change the world; unfortunately, we here in Israel have seen too many bloody intifadas, as has the US post-9/11. You can trace the events that led up to certain operations, and you can find wars that stemmed from large-scale terror attacks, but what they end up amounting to are footnotes in the pages of history.
The present situation with ISIS, coupled with Obama's head-in-the-sand policy, is unlike anything else we have seen. When ISIS first came on the scene, I was a bit dumbfounded by what I felt was an excessive amount of world interest. With all due respect, how are a few thousand lightly armed, cruel Muslims with trucks scaring the Western world? What was the worst that could happen? Maybe commandeering more land in Iraq or Syria. The entire organization could be wiped out by an infantry operation or massive bombing campaign. Nevertheless, the West was scared. At the time, I did not yet realize that it was scared of itself.
ISIS has no real assets apart from its place in the public's consciousness. Its soldiers are photographed beheading people, slaughtering women and children and proudly boasting about murdering gay men. On the same day as the Orlando massacre, ISIS butchered several dozen Muslims in Syria. No one seemed to care. But when something happens on American soil, ISIS wins the battle over public consciousness. And it is precisely for this reason that it now has an opportunity to affect the world at large.
A deadly attack on the eve of the elections would tip the scale in Trump's favor. While President Obama still refuses to name the source of the violence—radical Islam—the American public will bounce back from this even stronger. As president, Trump will change the face of the democratic world. He has already begun changing the political spheres around him. I do not know how he will achieve this, yet I am already afraid. A Jew like me always fears the unfamiliar.