Nowadays one is constantly urged to see things through the eyes of the “other.” Liel Leibovitz, applying this logic to the Passover story, draws an unusual lesson from the holiday. At the outset of the Exodus story, he notes, Pharaoh’s efforts to subdue the Israelites prove successful: so demoralized are they by slavery and infanticide that they initially reject Moses’ mission to set them free. Only God’s most awesome miracles render them willing to leave Egypt—a point lost on many who wish to draw analogies from the Haggadah to contemporary politics:
Talk to any enlightened soul, and you’ll soon hear [that] Israel’s struggle against Palestinian terrorism is futile; America’s war on the marauders of Islamic State is a waste of time; Europe’s attempt to identify and arrest its homegrown Islamist fanatics is doomed. Why? Because our understanding of the world is weirdly Haggadic [in that] we believe that each oppressed people, whether afflicted by real burdens or by imagined slights, is destined to pull itself forth and march itself out of its own private Egypt. In this reading, any use of might is useless because the mighty, just like Pharaoh, can never really win: just as the Egyptians failed to crush the Israelites, so is the collective will of indigenous peoples and divergent religious groups bound to persist.
[But] if Pharaoh is any example, you can comfortably wage a gradually escalating war against your perceived foes and achieve a victory so crushing that the Lord of the Universe himself would have to emerge and speak and perform strange miracles in order to undermine your efforts.
If this possibility troubles you, try to imagine [its application]. What, for example, if our endlessly erratic president followed up his missile strike on Syria’s Shayrat airbase with increasingly robust measures aimed not only at the murderous Bashar al-Assad but at his enablers and financiers in Tehran? What if, after a decade of trying to appease the homicidal mullahs [of Iran] largely because we didn’t believe a military option could lead to concrete victory, we gave the Pharaoh Doctrine a go? What if we set out to eliminate those foes who endangered our strategic interests and inflicted untold pain and suffering on millions of innocent human beings? To read the Passover story literally, it’s quite possible that, crushed by might, our enemies would do what all humans do under similar circumstances and abandon hope for any resolution save for that which arrives from the heavens. And if might can be used for good, hallelujah!