The future has its surprises. Even the most farseeing among us, even the seers of the U.S. Intelligence Community, are -- for better or worse -- regularly caught off-guard by what tomorrow has to offer. Take the murderous acts of two disturbed young men. No, not Adam Lanza, but Jared Loughner wielding his Glock semi-automatic pistol with its 33-round extended magazine, and James Holmes with his "semiautomatic variation of the military's M-16 rifle, a pump-action 12-gauge shotgun, and at least one .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol."
The attempted assassination of a member of the House of Representatives in Tucson in January 2011 and the mayhem and killings in a movie house in Aurora, Colorado, in July 2012 shocked the nation. Each time, the president comforted an unnerved public, while a downsizing media leapt at the opportunity to focus on a single eyeball-gluing event for days on end (undoubtedly the cheapest way to go). When it comes to the coverage of slaughter-by-gun in America these days -- from teddy bear memorials to religious services, first responders to final burials -- you can almost do it by the numbers, with a rolodex already filled with grief counselors, psychologists, gun experts, religious figures, and the like.
If you had to guess, you might have said that no two events were more likely to put the issue of guns and gun control back on the American agenda -- and of course you would have been wrong. Afterwards, if you had read the experts and the pundits, you would have known that the issue of gun control was as dead as any of the victims of those massacres and off the American agenda for years, if not forever. The polls assured us of the same. The conclusion seemed clear enough: American innocents could die en masse at the hands of disturbed guys with access to powerful weaponry and the public would still prefer fewer controls on weapons.
All that held true until a disturbed young man, who had killed his gun-hobbyist (possibly gun-obsessive) mother and then employed a rifle that the New York Times described as "a semiautomatic... that is similar to weapons used by troops in Afghanistan," massacred 20 small children, a school principal, and five staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, a (gun-loving) Connecticut community.
Once again, we had days of obliterating media coverage, with the usual experts, pundits, and rites, including a community in shock, grieving, and pulling itself together, and of course President Obama comforting its citizens with "the whole world watching." Once again, mindboggling facts about gun-selling and gun-ownership in this country began making the rounds: there are only 14,000 more gas stations than federally licensed firearms dealers in the United States (143,839 to 129,817); more than nine times as many dealers as McDonalds (14,098); and by conservative estimate, 3.3-3.5 million of the AR-15-style rifle used by Lanza have been produced for domestic use since 1986 in the U.S.
This time, however, something different happened, something no one had expected or predicted, that, in fact, everyone knew was inconceivable: the polls showed sudden, spasmic surges of support for stricter gun laws (an overnight 18% rise in the latest CBS poll, for example). Suddenly, gun control was on everyone's agenda, a ban on assault weapons on lips all over Washington (and backed by the president), and movement in the air. In such a heavily armed and fear-ridden country, all of this may not, in the end, add up to a hill of beans (or ammo) in policy terms, but it remains striking nonetheless.
Looking ahead, the lesson is simple enough: when it comes to 2013, take the predictions of the pundits with a grain of salt. Ignore everyone who knows that the usual will be the norm and make a New Year's wish for the surprises that, looking backward, litter history. One possibility that not a pundit anywhere in the U.S. mainstream is likely to consider at the moment: that next year, for the first time in memory, the U.S. and Israel, as TomDispatch regular and professor of religious studies Ira Chernus suggests, may be genuinely at odds, and that Washington may, at long last, move to put the brakes on Israeli settlement expansion into Palestinian lands. Tom
Are the U.S. and Israel Heading for a Showdown? No One Thinks So, But It Just Might Happen By Ira Chernus
Here's the question no one is asking as 2012 ends, especially given the effusive public support the Obama administration offered Israel in its recent conflict with Hamas in Gaza: Will 2013 be a year of confrontation between Washington and Jerusalem? It's on no one's agenda for the New Year. But it could happen anyway.
It's true that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process appears dead in the water. No matter how much Barack Obama might have wanted that prize, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuffed him at every turn. The president appears to have taken it on the chin, offering more than the usual support for Israel and in return getting kloom (as they say in Hebrew). Nothing at all.
However, the operative word here is "appears." In foreign affairs what you see -- a show carefully scripted for political purposes -- often bears little relation to what you actually get.
While the Obama administration has acceded to the imagery of knee-jerk support for whatever Israel does, no matter how outrageous, behind the scenes its policies are beginning to look far less predictable. In fact, unlikely as it may seem, a showdown could be brewing between the two countries. If so, the outcome will depend on a complicated interplay between private diplomacy and public theater.
The latest well-masked U.S. intervention came in the brief November war between Israel and Gaza. It began when Israel assassinated a top Hamas leader deeply involved in secret truce talks between the supposedly non-communicating foes.
Destructive as it was, the war proved brief indeed for one reason: the American president quickly stepped in. Publicly, he couldn't have sided more wholeheartedly with Israel. (It felt as if Mitt Romney had won, not lost, the election.) In private, though, as he pressured Egyptian President Morsi to force Hamas to a truce, he reportedly pushed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just as hard.
The truce agreement even had an Obama-required twist. It forced Israel to continue negotiating seriously with Hamas about easing the blockade that, combined with repeated destructive Israeli strikes against the Palestinian infrastructure, has plunged Gaza so deep into poverty and misery. Talks on the blockade are reportedly proceeding, though wrapped in the deepest secrecy. It's hard to imagine Israel upholding the truce and entering into a real dialogue to ease the blockade without significant pressure from Washington.