(October 28, 2013 / JNS)
NEWTON, Mass.—One might refer to retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters as a military Renaissance man. The strategic analyst for Fox News has authored 29 books and novels, including “Cain at Gettysburg,” which earlier this year earned him the W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction from the American Library Association.
A Pennsylvania native of Welsh and German descent and the son of a coal miner and unsuccessful businessman, Peters is also a vocal supporter of Israel whose career success has been colored by Jewish formative influences.
“I started reading about Maimonides and other Jewish figures,” he told JNS.org. “And when I was at Penn State [University] becoming a writer, Jewish teachers took extra time with me—they saw something.”
In an Oct. 23 briefing in Newton, Mass., organized by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) in memory of General Counsel David Wolf, Peters urged over 200 attendees to renew “the effort to make Israel’s case to the American people.”
“American soldiers have been out in the Iran and Iraq world, and for the last dozen years, they have heard Arabs say they have no problems with America, but just with Israel,” he told the crowd. “It starts sinking in. They start believing that Jews are using America. It’s not epidemic, not virulently active, but it’s there—the question of ‘Why are we supporting Israel?’”
Peters said the 65,000-member CAMERA’s “work exposing dishonesty wherever it is found in the media is absolutely vital.”
The military expert’s talk was admittedly not one laden with solutions.
“I don’t have answers,” he said. “I’m just trying to lay out the problem—the smart people here have the answers. I don’t have a crystal ball. I have a military experience, a pretty good track record of analysis, but I may get it wrong, too.”
One thing Peters is certain of, though, is the need to protect Israel, which he linked closely to the West. “Israel geographically is in the Middle East,” he said. “But in every other respect, it is about 20 miles off the coast of Florida.”
Peters denounced those who associate Israel with Western imperialism.
“They were fighting with homemade weapons against tanks and modern arms,” he said of Israel’s battle for independence. “There are few David and Goliath stories in history that are so inspiring.”
Israel is hated because it is a success story, and its neighbors share humiliation over watching the Jewish state ascend from a collection of kibbutzim to what it is now, Peters said.
“Who started with less than the original Zionist settlers in Israel, not least of which the starving wretched refugees of the Holocaust?” Peters asked. “What did they have in 1947 and 1948, and look at what Israel is today. What a stunning triumph!”
The Arab world with great pride recalls its ancient empires, but since the invention of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press in the mid-15th century, its lead in scientific thought was quashed when writing was unleashed and modern technology came to the fore.
“The Middle East today is about where Christianity was in the 12th and 13th centuries,” Peters said. “Now, they not only can’t build a competitive automobile, they can’t build a competitive bicycle. What you’ve got now is a Middle East that has failed catastrophically in every field of human endeavor—technology, productivity, the law.”
Peters asked the audience to go into a mall and see how many products are made in the Arab world.
“The hotels [in Arab countries] are even run by Europeans,” he said. “Israel is dealing with a civilization that has collapsed before our eyes.”
That civilization’s fate, Peters said, breeds resentment of Israel.
“It is inevitable that societies that are so broken for so long have grown jealous,” he said. “And jealousy is a powerful force that is ignored by the governments. It ruins the lives of nations and entire civilizations.”
“It’s so much more satisfying to blame Israel, the Jews, the U.S., than to look around at your devastated society,” Peters added.
Asked if there was any way to reverse the deep resentment felt by Arabs, Peters told JNS.org, “In order to give Arab societies a chance, you’ve got to put down terrorists. The best thing we can do is build our own society and treat them fairly, but we can’t pander.”
Apart from the Arab mindset, dysfunctional borders are a major contributor to Middle East instability, the military expert told the crowd.
“To understand the upheavals in Africa, the Middle East, and other areas, you have to understand where we are in history,” said Peters. “This genuinely matters. The borders of the Middle East were largely drawn at the Versailles Conference, amid arguments over who gets what. They only make sense if they’re drawn in Fontainebleau or in Europe somewhere, but not in the Middle East. They either pushed people together who didn’t want to be together, such as in Iraq, or pushed them apart, such as with the Kurds.”
European powers, “sometimes malform, sometimes deform, and sometimes reform the globe, for up to 500 years,” and their decisions “cannot be undone in one or two generations,” Peters explained.
But Peters believes that Arab radicals killing other Arab radicals is not necessarily a bad thing for the U.S. and Israel, since it means they aren’t killing Israelis and they aren’t killing Americans. Israel, he said, has more room to breathe with Egypt’s new military government than it did under the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi. Peters also does not fear Syria, which is in the midst of a bloody civil war under President Bashar al-Assad.
“What is the threat [posed by Syria] to the U.S. and Israel? A weak Assad, or a jihadi state next to Israel?” he asked.
Peters does worry that the U.S. is being manipulated by Iran, through its new apparent willingness to negotiate concessions on its nuclear program.
“It is not enough for the Iranians to smile and say nice things in Geneva,” he said, referring to recent nuclear talks with the West. “[Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani said he wanted to see change in three to six months, and our president missed a chance to say ‘great—then we expect it in three months.’ You’ve got to call their bluff.”
A political independent, Peters criticized each of the last two U.S. administrations.
“Obama prefers to focus on domestic politics. He doesn’t know these [foreign policy] things, and those around him don’t,” he said.
The George W. Bush administration, Peters said, was “also awfully naïve about the Middle East situation.”
Washington must understand the power of religion, he said.
“Think of the empires that have risen and fallen, the people who have disappeared from the face of the world—but the religions are still there,” Peters said. “The problem in Washington is willful ignorance.”
While hardcore Al-Qaeda types view death “as a promotion,” Washington officials dismiss their talk as merely a power trip, Peters explained.
“But religion has power,” he said. “[Osama] Bin Laden was well-educated. The greatest Al-Qaeda affiliates are brainy. Yet people from Harvard don’t blow themselves up for God’s will.”
Peters said many religious leaders of the past were not extremists as they are now.
“The PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) was not originally religious—their original credo was to wipe out Israel, but not wipe out Israel for Allah,” he said. “It happens when a very powerful, external culture, such as Rome in the Roman Empire, or the Western World with its explosive capabilities in the 1920s, poses a threat. And then when they fail at matching that, they default to religious extremism.”
Karen Epstein, director of events for CAMERA, said Peters in his talk “brought a rich historical overview and fresh insight into the daunting challenges facing the West and Israel.
“There are few analysts anywhere who can pull back and see the global tides the way he can, from the legacy of fallen empires and arbitrary colonial borders to the collapse of Arab regimes today,” she said.