On a crisp fall evening, Iran's threat to America, Israel's changing political philosophy and America's grappling with socialistic rumblings were among the topics filling the air at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.
Those subjects were built around the theme "From Iran Aggression to U.S. Recession: The Challenges Ahead."
The subject matter certainly resonated, drawing 850 people to the Jewish Policy Center-sponsored forum. The JPC, based in Washington, D.C., is not for profit and unabashedly pro-Israel. It seeks to provide scholarly perspectives on foreign and domestic policies affecting the American Jewish community and the broader American public.
The Zionist Organization of America- Michigan Region invited the discussion panel of four of America's top conservative political observers. By their applause and questions, the audience was decidedly Zionist.
A Nuclear Iran
Frank Gaffney, director of the Washington based Center for Security Policy, delivered the most haunting message in response to moderator Michael Medved's question about the threat to America a nuclear-armed Iran would pose. Gaffney was President Reagan's assistant secretary of defense for international security policy. He founded the center in 1988, following Reagan's presidency.
While Israelis and diaspora Jews about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's boasts to destroy Israel with a nuclear blast, America shouldn't discount such a blast over America, Gaffney said. Ahmadinejad repeatedly talks about a "world without America" being not only desirable, but also achievable.
An Iran-launched atomic bomb - developed in part by scientists from such far-flung places as North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and China - would wreak havoc if detonated in space 200 or 300 miles above the continental United States. Unleashed would be a strategic electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.
"It would be a burst of intense electromagnetic energy," Gaffney said. "To give you a sense of the magnitude of it, it could be, by some estimates, a billion times the power of the most powerful radio signal on Earth."
The U.S. electrical power grid would bear the brunt, triggering catastrophic consequences, according to a blue ribbon commission reporting to Congress twice in the last two years. At least half the country could be affected, Gaffney said. Such an interruption would couple with our failure to find substantial alternative energy resources.
"I think of it as transforming the United States pretty much in a blink of an eye from a 21st-century superpower into a pre-industrial society, one in which most of us over time would not be able to subsist; in other words, a world without America," Gaffney said.
Gaffney reminded listeners that Iranian leaders parade their advanced missile, capable of being launched with a nuclear warhead from a freighter in international waters, through the Tehran streets with a sign on it saying, "Death to America, Death to Jews."
A Failed Policy
Daniel Pipes, director of the Philadelphiabased Middle East Forum and whose column often appears in the Detroit Jewish News, took issue with Israel's change of heart toward its Palestinian adversaries since the 1993 Oslo Accords. The Israeli government has made a fundamental shift from a policy of military deterrence to one of diplomatic resolution.
While good in theory, it has proven anything but practical, Pipes said.
"The last 15 years," he said, "have seen one Israeli concession after another in terms of land, recognition, money, training and arms. The result has been decreased resolution. Compare the situation today to 1993 and Israel's status and standing is far diminished."
Israelis should seek victory considering that Israel's destruction remains a core of the Hamas charter.
But compromise and remediation, not victory, is what's on the minds of Israel's top tier of leaders, Pipes said.
"And that won't work with an enemy who wants your elimination," he said. "Victory must be sought for Israel to remain strong and secure."
The Israeli military still hasn't rebounded fully from its 2006 war along the Lebanon border with Hezbollah, he added.
A Better System
Mona Charen, a Virginia-based syndicated columnist and political analyst, addressed moderator Medved's question whether the financial crisis could end America's freemarket economy.
Financial shockwaves aren't unheard of in capitalist societies. There's no reason to think our free market won't bounce back. "In all of human history," Charen said, "the great engine for prosperity and for improving the lives of human beings, particularly those on the lowest end of the economic ladder, has been capitalism. There's simply no other system that has ever been so successful at improving people's lives."
She fears what some disbelievers in capitalism are gleaning from the financial tea leaves: reason to become like Europe and scrap the free market. In its place would be a government run and regulated economy, a more socialized economy.
In that scenario, our healthcare network would be hit hard. "As you look around the world at economic systems that have socialized healthcare, they control costs by rationing care," Charen said. "They'd rather ration care by forbidding people of a cer-tain age to get certain treatments."
She warns Americans not to panic amid the financial crisis and fall behind a more socialized healthcare system and a more socialized economy in general.
"I think that has to be resisted strenuously," she said, "because this country will become a very, very different place - much less productive, much less free and much less inspiring if we go the way of socialism."
Medved reinforced how a free market has elevated Jews in America.
"If there's one group of people, above all others in the United States of America, who should feel eternal gratitude for the dynamism and the openness and the opportunity of a free market people, it's us," he said.
Audience members were quick to weigh in on the lively discussion.
Allan Gale, associate director of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit, said Israel must continue to oppose anti-Israel incitement in Palestinians society. It also must support Palestinian moderates in striving to boost democratic principles, political stability, financial transparency, economic development and Palestinian-Israeli coexistence efforts.
"These are all elements which will bring us closer to peace," Gale said.
Burton Zipser of Oak Park described Daniel Pipes' comments about Israel's tactical change from deterrence to resolution 15 years ago as "quite sobering."
"The policy for the past 15 years," he said, "has been to negotiate instead of seeking victory over extreme Islamists who want only victory. Their victory would result in elimination of the State of Israel and isolation and eventual elimination of America as a superpower."
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