Edward N. Luttwak: Obama Should Adopt the Ben-Gurion ModelRoundup: Historians' Take
Now an international airport and a university, as well as any number of boulevards in Israeli cities and towns, David Ben-Gurion—the man—was born in Płońsk, the Russian-ruled part of Poland in 1886. When he read Israel’s declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, thereby inaugurating the first government of the first Jewish state in two millennia, he was already 62. In the years since, some 150 new states have been established. Most of these were the gift of colonial powers that handed them over to their new rulers as complete packages with everything ready from internationally recognized borders to a ministry of finance and a prison service. That was true of the post-Soviet states as well, except for the democratic bits, which their rulers mostly ignore anyway.
It was entirely different for Ben-Gurion. The state he led from its birth until 1963, with a fateful gap in 1954 and 1955, had to be created from the ground up, and he had to do much of the creating. The British left abruptly without any organized handover, evacuating their camps and abandoning their offices after taking away all removable equipment. To find clerks and office furniture was nowhere near as hard as finding weapons for an army, air force, and navy—and double-quick because Arab armies were already advancing. Stringent British and U.S. embargoes in the name of peace (with the already equipped Arab armies, including the British-officered Arab Legion left unmentioned) were meant to ensure the expected outcome. But even that near-insurmountable challenge was overcome under Ben-Gurion’s leadership by a variegated cast of unlikely characters that briefly included Josef Stalin (to hurt the British), the irrepressible Hank Greenspun of Las Vegas, the frighteningly smart secret agent Ehud Avriel, a British gentile RAF pilot who could fly any transport any distance, and others worthy of full-scale biographies.
Yet the greatest obstacle to the creation of the Jewish state were the Jews, or rather the Zionist leaders themselves. For all their talents, many were so conditioned by deeply rooted mental habits of dependence that they simply did not understand the absolute imperative of possessing state power. Some, including the religious, could not bring themselves to accept its inevitable military aspect. Guns were for Cossacks, not Jews—an attitude, or mere pose, that long lingered and indeed lingers still in benighted recesses, such as the editorial office of the New York Review of Books....
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