In the normal swirl of the days in our little bitty slice of the world, it’s easy to become engrossed in such grave concerns as the harsh brightness of the new landscaping lights on St. Armands Circle; whether dogs should be allowed on Longboat Key’s beach (we heard a few dog owners are planning a 100 Mutt March on Town Hall); if Longboat Key should tax teachers at the Longboat Key Education Center; or where Longboaters will get their groceries while Publix is closed for remodeling.
It’s natural to be myopic and live in our own little worlds.
Thankfully, there are people on Longboat Key with broader perspectives. People like Longboat resident Lois Stulberg and the American Jewish Committee. They sponsored the visit last week to Longboat Key of Bret Stephens, foreign affairs columnist for The Wall Street Journal.
We wish Stephens would have had a national audience. His message was a foreboding combination of grave, scary and infuriating — a loud, ominous siren we wish all Americans would heed.
Here’s the sound bite, in our translation: Before the presidential election in November, either Israel or the United States — most probably Israel — will bomb Iran. Another war is inevitable.
It’s all about whether Iran should have nuclear weapons.
Stephens is adamant it should not.
If Iran is bold and crazy enough to send terrorists to blow up a Washington, D.C., restaurant without possessing nuclear weapons, Stephens said, what will it do with them? If Iran’s leaders have no qualms about killing 100,000 of its own children in minefields in the 1980s, to think of “containment is ludicrous,” Stephen said.
Said Stephens: “We should be very alarmed that Iran will cross the nuclear finish line.”
To listen to Stephens describe the volatile portrait that exists in the Middle East is to feel the intense passion that makes him one of this country’s most cogent, connected and knowledgeable observers of the Middle East. As former editor of the Jerusalem Post, he has seen and lived that world firsthand. Even from his office in New York, he spends his work days talking to Middle East leaders, business executives and scholars at the highest levels. He travels the region frequently. If you heard him at the AJC’s Lunch and Learn event Feb. 15 at the Longboat Key Club, you had to walk away rattled by his analysis of what’s ahead for our country and the world over the next nine months.
To begin with, Stephens noted, while major news-media organizations heralded with joy the “Arab Spring,” it was much more of a cold, dark, Arab winter. From Tunisia to Libya to Egypt — all struck with revolutions — the anti-West, fundamentalist Islamic Brotherhood has taken control. There are no democracies and freedom. Those countries remain cauldrons of instability and sympathetic to the “wipe-out-Israel” mantra of Iran.
On top of this, with the United States’ military withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, the message and perception throughout the world, especially among the radical Islamicists, is the United States is in retreat. We are perceived as weakening and in decline. Worse, we’re viewed as untrustworthy. Stephens says our longtime allies don’t know if they can count on us.
More gloom: The Obama administration has been extraordinarily naïve. Trying to talk with and imposing sanctions on Iran have done nothing — except give Iran more time to develop its nuclear capabilities.
So we are fast approaching checkmate: the decision to destroy those nuclear capabilities.
Stephens argues they must be destroyed. If not, the alternative is a scary, scary proposition. Nuclear weapons in Iran will mean nuclear proliferation throughout the Middle East — in Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and on and on. And it will spread while Europe continues to decline economically.
For Stephens and other Mideast watchers, the unanswered question is this: Who will bomb Iran — the U.S. or Israel?
As Stephens sees it, the “day after” is worse if it is Israel. Stephens says the militant Hezbollah in Lebanon has 200,000 missiles aimed at Israel. It will launch them, triggering what Stephens said could be a second 1967 Six-Day War or a more protracted 1973 Yom Kippur War (19 days).
This could get bloody, messy and complicated. Unknown is how all of Iran’s sympathetic sovereigns will respond, including Russia. And how will the United States respond?
Stephens argues a better scenario is for the United States to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities. The U.S. has far more might and power than Israel, and the ayatollahs know it. The Iranians would be far less likely to retaliate immediately in a full-scale response because they know they could be wiped out.
But here’s the biggest question of all: Will Barack Obama order the strike? Stephens doesn’t believe he has the will.
Come summer, we’ll have far more concerns than where to buy groceries or the brightness of the lights on St. Armands Circle.
+ Speaking of the Circle …
The nature of news is to focus on the unusual and extraordinary. And as we all have learned in this modern media era, that usually means the bizarre begets the biggest headlines, or the badder the news the bigger the story.
But a lot of media outlets, including ours, have gotten the message: Celebrate the good.
Here is one of those good-news stories: the St. Armands Business Improvement District.
This is the special taxing district that St. Armands landowners created, via the Sarasota City Commission, to impose an extra tax on themselves to fund physical improvements around St. Armands Circle.
It’s not a sexy story — full of dramatic heroism and feats. But it’s a story of Aesop’s famous race, “The Tortoise and the Hare” — slow and steady wins the race.
You may have seen last week in the Longboat Observer the long list of the BID’s accomplishments over the past 10 years, the most noticeable, of course, being the most recent — the four lushly re-landscaped medians. It was also behind the installation of new street lights and 122 outdoor Bose speakers, new and repaired sidewalks, brick-paved crosswalks and the funding of a long-range master plan for the Circle.
All of this may not seem like much, but if you think back 10, 12, 15 years ago, slowly and steadily a ragged-around-the-edges St. Armands Circle has been showing continued improvements.
The BID was a smart idea, and its three board members — Marty Rappaport, clearly its champion, Michael Valentino and Gavin Meshad — should be recognized for their positive contributions. We know merchants feel they are ultimately responsible for providing the property-tax dollars to the BID via the merchants’ rental payments. But another way to view that is this: The landowners could eliminate their taxing district and divert that BID money to other uses than the Circle. With the BID, dollars are forced to flow back into the Circle. Everyone benefits — landowners, merchants, the city and surrounding property values.
Clearly, it would behoove the landowners to extend the BID another 10 years. That is especially so because the work of the BID is not finished. There are two more crucial projects that need to be accomplished:
• A parking garage, with public restrooms;
• And, an extension of the new landscaping to create dramatic entrances to the Circle from Sarasota and Longboat Key.
Knowing how the city of Sarasota operates, no one can expect instant miracles. But if the St. Armands Business Improvement District, St. Armands merchants and St. Armands residents continue in the vein they have over the past 10 years, to be sure, slow and steady will win the race.
+ Ahh, the market at work
When Longboaters heard their Publix Super Market would be closed during the summer, many fretted: Ugh, we’ll have to drive to Sarasota or Anna Maria.
We took delight, however, reading on our front page last week how market-responding entrepreneurism is already at work. Harry Christensen, Reed Savidge and Nazeela Rahman-Shaw — three independent Longboat Key retailers — are planning to fill the void. Capitalism at work: Selfish interests that will benefit us all.
UPDATE: TEACHER TAX
Susan Goldfarb, executive director and owner of the Longboat Key Education Center, informed us that Longboat Key Interim Town Manager David Bullock agreed that taxing Goldfarb’s instructors as businesses was … well, how shall we put it … absurd.
As Goldfarb told us, Bullock made the issue go away. Forever, we hope.
Woo-hoo. Progress on Longboat Key.