There are no bad countries, only bad regimes and bad governments. Even in the most obnoxious or geopolitically dangerous state, the average citizen awakes in the morning to put on their clothes and conduct the business of their lives. This lesson is often forgotten in the heat of political posturing. When George W. Bush announces a crusade against the moment’s “Axis of Evil”, he renders invisible the aspirations and perspectives of millions of Iraqi, Iranian and North Korean people, wiping them away in one blinkered, rhetorical flourish. Iraqi women, Iranian reformers and peace activists across the Korean peninsula were instantly rendered invisible and irrelevant. The battle lines were drawn: Us vs. Them. This is the ethos of the War on Terrorism, whether articulated from Washington, Tel Aviv or Moscow. Palestinians, Chechens, even Muslims in general are rendered in thick, imprecise lines. As a result, the agendas of elites become cloaked in the legitimate desire for security and justice, and the very necessary fight against fundamentalist terror is weakened. The real enemy goes unnamed.
At its best, the Left at home and abroad is very effective at seeing past this “othering” tactic. Anti-war activists in the US covered telephone poles with pictures of average Iraqi citizens, and international movements like the People In Black attempted to cut through the din of war drums by expressing a cosmopolitan regard for human life. It is peculiar, though, that it is so difficult to apply this same sophistication to the United States or Israel. While justifications for “essentializing” the US and Israel run the gamut from academic to knee-jerk, the results all end up mirroring W’s own “Axis of Evil” formulation. Setting up the United States and Israel as monolithic enemies obscures the fact that enemies of those states are not necessarily friends of the Left. More crucially, forgetting that Israelis and Americans form dynamic and contradictory polities is a strategic dead-end.