A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Olmert and Antony & Cleopatra


Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in directing his country's fight with Hezbollah, now finds himself at the same crossroad where once stood Antony and Cleopatra.

As you will recall, the two lovers faced off against the Roman empire, or actually, Antony with part of the Roman army faced off against Caesar with another part. Dared by Caesar to fight by sea, Antony and Cleopatra both immediately accepted, throwing away the advantage Antony’s army held as a land-fighting force (yare means nimble on the water):

Enobarbus: “Your ships are not well manned;
Your mariners are muleteers, reapers, people
Engrossed by swift impress. In Caesar’s fleet
Are those that often have ‘gainst Pompey fought;
Their ships are yare, yours heavy. No disgrace
Shall fall you for refusing him at sea,
Being prepared for land.”

Ant: “By sea, by sea.”Eno: “Most worthy sir, you therein throw away
The absolute soldiership you have by land…”.

Ant: “I’ll fight at sea.”

Thus has Ehud Olmert, Israel’s Prime Minister and Mark Antony’s modern-day embodiment, thrown away the magnificent land-based advantages of the Israeli army in favor of the chimera, not of sea power, but in Olmert’s case of air power. The result: Israel has been playing whack-a-mole in civilian areas with Hezbollah rocket launchers. And since Hezbollah’s major strength is the moral equivalence of a Jew-hating Europe, the resulting deaths to Lebanese civilians has enabled Hezbollah to reap its intended public relations coup.

Nor has Olmert, by all indications, lent his attention exclusively to providing his military with what it needs to achieve victory. In the midst of war, Olmert announced his intention to proceed with the highly divisive policy of unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. Can you spell t-i-m-i-n-g? Olmert proposes this idea even as young Israeli men who bitterly oppose it face death upon his vacillating orders.

Apparently, the Cleopatran siren song of international approval, the smiling embrace of Kofi Annan, Jacques Chirac and, who knows, perhaps someday Venezuela’s Chavez or even Mel Gibson himself, seem to weigh more heavily in Olmert’s mind than the need to win an existential war.

Eno (to Cleopatra): “…’tis said in Rome
That Photinus, an eunuch, and your maids,
Manage this war.”

Antony and Olmert are appealed to once more by a soldier and Canidus, Antony’s counselors, representing the Shakespearean equivalent of the blogosphere (and in particular the military-oriented “milblogs,” who reflect considerable military expertise), but to no avail:

Soldier: “By Hercules, I think I am ‘I the right.”

Can: “Soldier, thou art; but his whole action grows
Not in the power on ‘t. So our leader’s led
And we are women’s men.”

Antony’s sea campaign, like Olmert’s air campaign, is a disaster, and what’s more, in the middle of it, Cleopatra’s ship, bearing the United Nation’s flag of armed neutrality, takes flight. Ignominiously, Olmert and Antony pursue her, pursue the evanescent image of world approval, and the battle is lost. Afterwards, as a sated Hezbollah and Iran carve up the remains of Israel before a pacifist, shoulder-shrugging, world-weary world, Olmert approaches his beloved, his Kofi Annan in Egyptian dress, his Cleopatra:

Cleo: “…forgive my fearful sails.”

Ant: “Egypt, thou knewst too well
My heart was to thy rudder tied by the’ strings,
And thou shouldst tow me after. O’er my spirit
Thy full supremacy thou knew’st, and that
Thy beck might from the bidding of the gods
Command me.”

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