From Israel, a lesson in optimism
Like many other Americans, I have always had a desire to travel to Israel and visit firsthand the many historical sites of spiritual significance. I was recently afforded the opportunity to fulfill that desire and was not disappointed.
In addition to being greatly inspired, I spoke with numerous Israeli citizens from a variety of backgrounds. One overwhelming theme in those conversations was the feeling of abandonment by the United States government. Some of the more diplomatic individuals said they felt sidelined by a U.S. government that had more important issues to deal with. Of course, they had not forgotten the times that our military and financial aid saved them from utter defeat at the hands of their numerous local enemies.
We must remember that Israel is a small country, about the size of New Jersey, with only 8 million people. It is surrounded by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, with several other hostile nations in proximity. Enemy forces are in control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which consists primarily of Samaria and Judea. If not for the Iron Dome missile defense system, the multitudinous rockets launched at Israel this summer from Gaza would have wreaked unimaginable damage on the tiny country. Many Israelis believe, probably correctly, that the aggressiveness of the hostile nations surrounding them is increased when the perception exists that we in the United States are not seriously committed to their protection.
Some will say we have no more of an obligation to Israel than we do to any other country in the Middle East. Perhaps they have forgotten that Israel is one of our staunchest allies and has collaborated with us on many innovative and mutually beneficial products. Having a strong and dependable military ally in what is arguably the most problematic area of the world right now is certainly a tremendous benefit. As a nation, we have a strong Judeo-Christian heritage, which is important to our identity and the strong value system that once characterized our nation. Other nations watch how we treat our longtime ally, since that might serve as a harbinger of how we would treat them.
In my conversations in Israel, the level of optimism I found impressed me. Despite the fact that Israelis must send their children to school in armored buses and take many other life-changing precautions on a daily basis, most did not seem to be bitter, and they were determined not to let terrorists take control of their lives. The opportunity to visit their thriving and innovative technology sector will never be forgotten. While birthrates are declining in America and Europe, the Israeli birthrate, slightly over three children per family, is actually increasing. Historically, pessimistic people do not tend to have increasing birthrates. If they can be optimistic while facing death and attempted destruction every single day, is there a lesson there for us?
We live in a country with significant personal freedom, a formidable military, significant levels of common decency and numerous economic opportunities. Additionally, we are on the verge of gaining energy independence, which will positively impact our portfolio of diplomatic options. With the courage and fortitude to take advantage of these and many other benefits, there is no reason that optimism should not reign supreme in America.
Ben Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University.