What's more dangerous diplomatically than having Joe Biden give an impromptu toast at the wedding of a mixed-race, handicapped couple with swine flu?
SYMBOLIC gestures are the tools of any leader’s trade, but nowhere do they spell the difference between life and death quite like the Middle East. For example, the visit in 2000 by Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister, to Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the site of two Islamic shrines, helped set off the second intifada.Thus when Pope Benedict XVI visits Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories starting on Friday, the world may be excused for holding its breath. In his four years on the job, this pope has not always demonstrated a deft symbolic touch. If he simply manages to get back to Rome without starting a war, some might declare the trip a success.
Yeah, if he can do even that. What a vote of confidence from the New York Times. Because we all know how volatile those Germans are.
But oh, sayeth the standard bearer of the Left - we need him to advance our agenda.
If he plays his cards right, Benedict could move things forward in four ways.
First, the pope can emphasize that the “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflects a global moral consensus . . . Wielding the bully pulpit of the papacy, Benedict can stress that respecting the natural right of Palestinians to sovereignty isn’t about statecraft but about justice.Second, Benedict can insist that the Palestinians reject extremist elements within their leadership — an application of his broader push for a reformed Islam that respects both faith and reason.Third, Benedict can energize support for Christians in the Holy Land, who are poised on the brink of extinction. During the British mandate in Palestine, Christians were around 20 percent of the population; today they’re under 2 percent because of tremendous emigration.
Do you want to know why? See # 2 above - it's that pesky lack of "reformed Islam." By the way, I don't recall the two-state solution being a "global moral consensus," unless you restrict the globe to the United Nations.
Fourth, Benedict can advance the end game of the peace process by urging the leaders he meets with to bring Iran on board in all regional discussions . . . Moreover, Roman Catholicism and Shiite Islam, which dominates Iran, have a natural affinity: a strong clerical hierarchy, popular devotions and saintly intercessors, and a core theology of martyrdom. Benedict could open the door, leaving it up to the Iranians to walk through.
I can just picture a typical reader at the corner of 54th and Lexington, sipping a latte, saying, "Yes! And they're both medieval!" Of course, one problem is that those radical jihadists want to help us - and others - achieve that martyrdom all too soon.
In the Middle East, religion is either part of the problem or part of the solution. The drama of the pope’s voyage comes down to which way he nudges things along.
And if he doesn't - it's his fault. Looking for a scapegoat? John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter seemingly offers one up in the editorial pages of the Grey Lady.