Call me old-fashioned, but I was disappointed to learn that the recently announced Oxford Dictionary “Word of the Year” wasn’t even a word.
As a sign of our declining ability to communicate in the digital age, at a time when we tweet and text instead of talk, the winner was an emoticon — in this case a symbol of a yellow smiley face with tears of laughter. The judges said that it “embodies a core aspect of living in a digital world that is visually driven, emotionally expressive, and obsessively immediate.”
But it ain’t a word.
For what it’s worth, my choice for 2015 is “double down.” Not only because I’ve heard and read it so much but because it symbolizes how world events have become so out-of-control scary this year.
Here’s how the dictionary defines double down: “To engage in risky behavior, especially when one is already in a dangerous situation.”
Examples abound. Too many leaders this year have stubbornly stuck with policies and proposals that aren’t working rather than trying something new and creative to resolve ongoing problems.
Just this week as world leaders confer on dealing with global warming and climate change, most Republican presidential candidates continue to refute the overwhelming scientific evidence that a man-made problem, notably the emission of greenhouse gases, is endangering the earth. And Donald Trump, the leader of the pack, has fashioned his disturbingly successful new political career by doubling down on any number of inaccurate, often outrageous statements, to the delight of many Americans fed up with the current political climate. The more he offends, the more enthusiastic the response.
Much of the political frustration in the U.S. has focused on President Obama, who has dealt with the Syrian crisis by doing all he can not to deal with it, a doubling down of inaction. Over the last five years the situation has worsened beyond description, with an estimated 250,000 deaths, millions fleeing Syria (which is no longer really a country) and ISIS, Iran, Turkey, Russia and France joining the fray along with rebels on all sides, a virtual world war. From the outset, Obama has called for the removal of President Bashar Assad, a demagogue whose brazen butchery of his own citizens surpasses even that of his father. But the president has insisted that this is of no direct concern to the U.S. and that ISIS, which has taken over a large chunk of Syria and Iraq, is a “JV” group of gangsters.
Unfortunately, while Obama’s unwillingness to engage in another war after our lack of success in Iraq and Afghanistan is understandable, ignoring the spreading conflict is not a solution. The bad guys are filling the vacuum in Syria, emboldened in their depravity. The number of fleeing refugees, a result of U.S. passivity, will only increase until the war ends, and Europe and the Mideast are suffering the consequences now. But the ripple effect is coming our way.
It’s time for a U.S.-led international effort that not only ends the bloodletting but also has a plan for a post-Assad Syria that doesn’t make things even worse. A tall order, yes, but doubling down on avoiding the problem won’t make it go away.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu certainly can’t be accused of inaction on the other major international crisis of the year — the Iran nuclear agreement. Quite the opposite.
After the Obama administration approved the deal, Netanyahu doubled down on his losing bet, fighting the pact even more vigorously in hopes of convincing Congress to veto it. Some had counseled Netanyahu to cut his losses at that point, with the president in the driver’s seat and only the slimmest of chances that Obama would not get his way.
The Israeli leader, to his credit, had waged a long and often lonely campaign on the singular dangers of a nuclear Iran, and had succeeded in making the issue a priority around the globe. Perhaps it was time, then, to face reality, improve his damaged relationship with the American president, and make sure Israel would be consulted closely on monitoring the deal as it goes forward.
But Netanyahu chose to fight to the inevitable end, widening the rift between him and the president.
The two leaders finally met at the White House in November and put on their best public faces for the occasion, pledging to work closely on the Iran issue. Perhaps they will. But their personal and professional relationship might have improved well before if the Israeli leader had not doubled down on the deal.
Finally, one more example, all too timely.
Today, as the wave of individual Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers enters its third month, it appears that Washington and Jerusalem are caught up in old-think to deal with a new crisis. The White House and State Department imply that both the Israelis and the Palestinians are to blame for “the cycle of violence” — reflected in the media as well — rather than differentiating between the attackers and the defenders. The U.S. deplores the situation but does nothing about it, hesitant even to note that Palestinian violence initiated and prolongs the crisis. The Israeli government focuses on military efforts to protect its people. But it avoids strategies that would deal with the ongoing and growing sense of Palestinian frustration.
There is no justification for the terror attacks. Period. But they are likely to continue in some form or other as long as young Palestinians see no hope or horizon for an improvement in the status quo.
In the meantime, both sides double down in dealing with the impasse, resulting in more innocent Israeli victims and more Palestinian “martyrs.”
It’s time for new approaches to old problems. If not, next year’s Word of the Year may well be an emoticon with tears of sadness.