Ralph Peters is a jack of many trades and master of them all. He is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, a writer of both fiction and non-fiction (his newest novel, “Hell or Richmond,” set during the Civil War, has just been released) and a military analyst.
A columnist for the New York Post since 2002, Peters has written for USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and numerous other publications. He also serves as a Fox News strategic analyst. The Jewish Press spoke with Peters on a variety of issues.
The Jewish Press: Which of the several scandals swirling around the Obama administration do you feel will have the most resonance with the general public?
Peters: Each scandal is important in its own way. To me it’s neck and neck between whether the Benghazi scandal, with its implications for national security, or the IRS scandal, with its fundamental corruption of the government, is more powerful. But I suspect the scandal that may have the most lasting impact is the surveillance of the Associated Press because that’s the one that really hit the media. They have given Obama a pass on everything for the last five years now and suddenly they’re turning critical. We’ll have to see whether that critical stance, which is what the press is supposed to provide for our country, endures.
This administration is profoundly lacking in integrity. Of course, politics are politics. But when it comes to our national security, when it comes to the Constitution, politics have to take a back seat. And the distinguishing characteristic of the Obama administration is that everything takes a back seat to politics.
There are those who feel Americans will only really face up to the dangers of Islamic terrorism if, God forbid, there are more terrorist attacks committed here. Do you agree?
Unfortunately, yes. Until the terrorists go after the American educational association, the national press and academia, they’re probably never going to respond. Most Muslims on a day-to-day basis are just trying to get through the day and pay the bills. But we have to recognize that Islam is a cult that exploded. From the very beginning Islam was born in fire and won by the sword.
The politically correct notion is that Muslims are somehow better than Jews and Christians because they’re poor and oppressed. Well, the Islamic world of the Middle East is poor and oppressed because Arabs have done it to themselves.
Arab civilization is in collapse. You look at the trillions of dollars of oil money, and there’s not one worthwhile university to which you want to send your children in the entire Middle East. Where are the factories and productivity? Where are the universities, the hospitals? Where is a humane and decent society? A couple of expensive shopping malls and hotels are not a civilization. This is an entire civilization that in the 21st century not only cannot build a competitive automobile but cannot build a competitive bicycle. And they are enraged and jealous. Jealousy is a strategic factor. A fundamental reason why Israel is hated so viscerally isn’t just old Jew hatred. It’s because Israel succeeded.
Doesn’t much of Jew hatred simply boil down to jealousy?
Yes, certainly it does. If you look at [Germany] before World War II, the science, the culture, the education system, were enriched immeasurably by Jews – the authors, composers, scientists, doctors. And what did the Germans do? They give the world the Holocaust. Well, look what happened to Germany after World War II. What has Germany produced in the last half century? Gummy bears and automobiles. The culture’s dead.
In the United States if there is any immigrant group per capita that has contributed the most toward our society, it’s the Jews. As a non-Jew I say that if you attack Jews, you’re killing the goose that laid the golden egg. They make it all work. I look at Jewish Americans and think wow, we are lucky. We should have invited more in earlier.
Then look at the Arabs. For centuries they have achieved nothing. And here’s this irreplaceable, incandescent, tiny little state of Israel, starting literally from dirt with homemade tools and homemade weapons, that can rival any in the world in its productivity and its creativity. It’s humiliating for the Arabs.
The Arab world is profoundly dysfunctional. How can any society compete with Israel or the rest of the West if it oppresses half its population? And wastes the energy of the other half keeping them oppressed?
No matter how much oil money pours into the Gulf, they cannot buy the future. For the average Arab there is no future. The Arab Spring was a cry of frustration and look how quickly it’s been taken over in so many countries by Islamists. No matter what they try to do, they fail and it’s their fault. And human beings have trouble admitting when something is their fault, whether it’s individuals or an entire society. They blame the rich and powerful and successful. They blame the Jews. They blame Israel. They blame the West. Instead of rolling up their sleeves and fixing things, the Arabs wallow in an ecstasy of blame.
Israel faces threats on all fronts, including a possible nuclear one from Iran. Do you believe Israel is capable of handling them all?
When it comes to the Arabs, yes, for now and the intermediate future Israel can deal with them. The Arab states surrounding Israel are much less capable of launching a serious war against Israel than they were three years ago. They are doing a very good job right now of thwarting themselves. Although the Arab Spring or Winter has created dangers, it’s also turned the Arab states inward. At least for now, the Arabs are wrestling with their future. And when they’re wresting with each other, they’re not wrestling with Israel.
The Iranian nuclear threat is of an entirely different order. The IDF has the military capability to set that program back but not to terminate it. The danger from my perspective as a military man is that the IDF has the power to start a conflict but not to finish it. Should the Israelis attack, the Iranians will respond by trying to launch rockets at Israel. But they’ll also respond asymmetrically by attacking the world’s oil supplies, closing the Straits of Hormuz, attacking Arab gulf oil facilities, oil fields, and ships.
The Iranian response will be calculated to drive the price of oil off the charts in the confidence that if it happens, the Iranians won’t be blamed even though they did it. The world will blame Israel. And so my feeling is that if it has to be done I’d rather see America do it, even without Israeli participation.
Hizbullah, backed by Iran, is also a crucial problem – its rockets in the present and its future possession of weapons of mass destruction. The problem in the past with Hizbullah isn’t that Israel was too aggressive. The problem is Israel wasn’t aggressive enough. When your enemies are determined to kill you, you have to kill them.
Is there anything Israel can do to combat the anti-Zionism so rampant on college campuses here and around the world?
Focus on better public relations. Take the Hollywood film “Exodus.” It was a tremendous tool for bringing Israel’s foundation story to Middle America, to someone like me out of the coal towns of Pennsylvania. I grew up in a town where there was one Jewish family and then comes this movie with its brilliant packaging and casting.
In its early desperate days, Israel understood the power of good PR. The challenge is to bring Israel’s complex and rich and inspiring current reality to Middle America, to reach the average voter and convey that Israel is a vital part of our civilization, that Israel deserves our support, that Israel is us. Israel has dropped the ball in telling its story. You’ve got to tell your story.
Secretary of State Kerry has been eager to revive the 2002 Arab Peace Israel Initiative, based on an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, with minor revisions. Is this rehash of an old plan a non-starter or does it pose any danger to Israel?
It’s a non-starter. Israel can’t do that. It’s so infernally frustrating that you have all the politically correct people in the West who want to create a Palestinian state which would basically rape Israel’s security. Israel cannot evacuate the West Bank. I can’t see how Israel can be remotely defensible unless it controls the Golan Heights and has control of at least a demilitarized Jordan River Valley.
What people in the West don’t understand is that nothing will ever be enough for the Arabs, not just the Palestinians but for the Arabs overall. You give them Gaza and look what happens to Gaza. You give them the West Bank; that won’t satisfy them. They want the rest of Israel. Generations of Arabs have been so inculcated with this mission of destroying Israel that nothing will ever satisfy them.
Forty-six years ago this week the world rejoiced with Israel in its Six-Day War victory. To what do you attribute the steadily turning tide of world opinion against Israel?
The left cannot forgive Israel for exposing the fallaciousness of its theories on underdevelopment. The Western left believes the former imperial territories and the poor and wretched of the earth can’t get better – they’re so crippled by colonialism’s legacy that they can’t improve their own lives.
And then you have Israel. After the Holocaust, the grimmest and most savage events in history, the survivors, sick and emaciated, struggle their way to Israel and join the Zionist settlers. These people first have the world’s sympathy because they are the underdogs, but then it goes back to the great crime of success. They proved that even with sand, with dirt, with fallow earth, they could build a postmodern state in a matter of decades. And so what does that do to the West’s theories?
And let’s face it: the West’s attitude toward the Arabs, sub-Saharan Africans and others is racist. The underlying assumption of the academic left is that they can’t succeed on their own. They refuse to hold the Arabs to the same standards they hold Israelis. The only way the Arab world gets better, if it can indeed get better, is that everyone else holds them to the same moral standard.
You have traveled extensively and have had the opportunity to view many different cultures. Have those experiences strengthened your own values?
I think they’ve strengthened my values and moderated my prejudices. Anyone who has really touched all the types of civilizations I have, if you’re at all open-eyed and objective, cannot but conclude that Judeo-Christian civilization, for all its undeniable problems, is by far superior to any other civilization. It is more humane, decent, and productive.
The idea that all civilizations are equal is a paradox for the left. Leftists insist that Afghanistan, as backward and perverse a society as you’ll find on this earth, has the same legitimacy as American culture. Well, if Afghan culture is so wonderful, why do we spend billions of dollars trying to turn Afghanis into Americans? How can we claim that the Arab civilization of the last five centuries, which has produced nothing of merit, is equivalent to the world of Shakespeare or modern symphonies or Bach or Einstein or modern medicine or science or software? Leftists are so in love with their own pathetic theories that they’re blind to the fact that they couldn’t have their careers in any Arab country.
You have written about moral and economic decay in America. How is that decay affecting our country?
It is doing great damage to this great nation. The attack on American patriotism and values is dividing the country in ways that aren’t quite as clear as the media would have it. There’s still plenty of patriotism among the working classes. The problem is the elites. The elites believe that patriotism is a dirty word, that religion is for dummies, etc. So there’s a great divide between our ruling class and the rest of America.
Mitt Romney was torn apart for a remark he made that we’re becoming a nation in which almost half of Americans are dependent on some federal program. We’re becoming an entitlement society and that outrages me. You don’t make poverty comfortable – you make work attractive. We have created a new Marxist system where we now have a permanent underclass. America always had an underclass but it wasn’t permanent. Now we have a situation where especially for many minority Americans it’s permanent poverty – it’s acceptable.
And what the Democratic Party has done is recognize that people will always vote to keep their benefits. As we saw with the willful, aggressive expansion of benefit programs, such as the recent expansion of food stamps under Obama, the Democrats are aiming for a permanent majority of those who will always vote to keep their benefits. We’re becoming more European even as Europe is failing economically, and the Europeans are scratching their heads at what we’re doing.
The great challenge to America is how to break the hold of this mentality and bring all of this human capital into productive society, because we cannot afford to keep expanding benefits endlessly and have ever fewer people work.
I am very big on self-sufficiency. I believe in responsibility, hard work and education. Maybe I’m Jewish after all….