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“That Other Country, Right Or Wrong”: Republicans Are Saying They Are More Solicitous Of Israel’s Interests Than America’s

There’s a new Bloomberg poll out that shows the strange behavior of Republican politicians towards Benjamin Netanyahu and everything having to do with Israel is in fact a pretty good reflection of the GOP rank-and-file’s proclivities.

Yes, the poll shows the depth of the GOP base’s antipathy towards Barack Obama, with Republicans saying they are more sympathetic to Netanyahu than to Obama by a 67/16 margin.

But here’s the most startling question and answer: given the choice of agreeing that “Israel is an ally but we should pursue America’s interests when we disagree with them,” or that “Israel is an important ally, the only democracy in the region, and we should support it even if our interests diverge,” Republicans choose the latter proposition by a 67/30 margin. That’s with no mention of Obama or any particular dispute, mind you.

Now I guess the word “support” in this context is a bit ambiguous. But it sure appears Republicans are saying they are more solicitous of Israel’s interests than America’s.

I find that hard to square with self-defined patriotism, frankly. You can have all sorts of disagreements over what constitutes your country’s interests, of course. But flatly asserting they should be subordinated to another country’s interests is hard to accept from people who have a bad habit of thinking of themselves as the only real Americans.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April, 15, 2015

April 16, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, Republicans, United States | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Reminder About Netanyahu, Iraq, And Iran”: George W. Bush Listened To Netanyahu And The Neocons. The Rest Is History

Just a few weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked like a figure with huge influence in American politics. There he was addressing Congress, with Republicans practically carrying him into the House chamber on their shoulders. He was on every American television show he wanted, delivering his dark warnings of the second Holocaust to come if an agreement was signed with Iran. And now? Even after winning re-election, as Dan Drezner argues, Netanyahu has become irrelevant to the Iranian nuclear debate. There’s no one left for him to persuade.

And even though his argument always verged on the nonsensical—that any agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program “paves Iran’s way to the bomb,” whereas if we just walked away then Iran would abandon such ambitions and everything would turn out great—it is now becoming almost comical. He’s now demanding that Iran recognize Israel as a condition of any agreement, which as Josh Marshall notes would certainly be nice, but is completely irrelevant to the question of whether Iran has nuclear bombs or not. The agreement will succeed or fail, no matter what Benjamin Netanyahu thinks of it.

At the risk of piling on, I want to draw your attention to this piece by J.J. Goldberg of the Forward, which reminds us of just how spectacularly wrong Netanyahu has been on questions like this in the past:

In early January 2002, four months after the September 11 attacks, Israeli national security council director Uzi Dayan met in Washington with his American counterpart Condoleezza Rice. She told him—to his surprise, he later told me—that President Bush had decided to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. A month later Dayan’s boss, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, met with Bush in the White House and offered some advice, based on decades of Israeli intelligence.

Removing Saddam, Sharon said, according to three sources with direct knowledge, will have three main results, all negative. Iraq will implode into warring tribes of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. You’ll be stuck in an Iraqi quagmire for a decade. And Iran, a far more dangerous player, will be rid of its principal enemy and free to pursue its ambitions of regional hegemony. Bush didn’t agree.

Israeli leaders continued pooh-poohing Iraq all spring. Dismissal turned to alarm in August, when Iranian dissidents released evidence that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons. In September Sharon told his cabinet to stop discussing Iraq. It was annoying the White House.

On September 12, however, a different Israeli voice visited Washington: ex-prime minister-turned-private citizen Benjamin Netanyahu. A longtime Sharon rival, closely allied with Washington’s neoconservatives, he’d been invited to address the Republican-led House as an expert on Iraq. Baghdad, he said, was hiding mobile centrifuges “the size of washing machines.” Moreover, “if you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.” Throughout the Middle East, including Iran, populations will be inspired to topple their own dictators.

Bush, of course, listened to Netanyahu and the neocons, not Sharon and his generals. Alas, Sharon was right. Iraq imploded. Iran surged. The invasion had reverberations, but hardly positive. The rest is history.

I sometimes feel like as a country we’re already beginning to forget what a spectacular catastrophe the Iraq War was. It was probably the single biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy, and part of what made it so maddening was the insistence of its boosters that it was going to be not just easy but the source of unending joy and happiness for the United States, the Middle East, and the world. They mixed their frenzied fear-mongering with the assurance that anyone who raised any doubts was a Saddam-coddler who didn’t really want our Arab friends to receive the blessings of democracy, prosperity, and peace that were sure to result from our invasion. They didn’t say, “This is going to be difficult and unpleasant, but we have to do it”; instead, they said, “This is going to be great!”

And today, the conservative narrative is that, sure, a couple of things went slightly wrong along the way, but if Barack Obama hadn’t come along and screwed everything up, today Iraq would be thriving and peaceful and it all would have turned out just as they predicted in 2002. That belief forgives them for their part in the calamity, of course.

Bibi Netanyahu wasn’t an “expert” on Iraq, and he isn’t an expert on Iran. Perhaps after the last couple of months, we can finally put to rest the idea that we should take his opinion on anything into account as we’re considering what we should do.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 7, 2015

April 8, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Policy, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Bibi Makes Israel The Latest Culture War Pawn”: If He Can’t See The Consequences For His Country, He’s Just A Madman

So now Lindsey Graham has called Bibi Netanyahu to congratulate him on his great victory and to reassure him that Congress will be passing its gimlet eye closely over any deal the Obama administration strikes with Iran. This news comes hard on the heels of John Boehner’s announcement that he suddenly feels moved to go visit Israel.

I can’t begin to conceive what these people are thinking. What does Netanyahu think he’s accomplishing by making Israel a right-wing cause? Does he really think this is how he saves Israel? Does he forget that this is a country in which 70 or 80 percent of Jews vote Democratic? Did he not see the recent poll that had his approval rating among Democrats at 17 percent? I see here that last November in a J Street poll, his approval rating among U.S. Jews was 53 percent. I bet after this past month, they’re down in the low 40s or high 30s.

Netanyahu knows this country. He lived here—high school in Philadelphia, college in Boston, and a stint in New York (when he was Israel’s UN ambassador, during the Reagan years). He knows our political culture. He understands what a radical-right party the GOP is becoming, and thus he presumably understands that the vast majority of U.S. Jews are never going to be able to vote Republican, whatever the two parties’ Israel lines. He knows full well that the perfervid support for Israel in evangelical-right precincts has far less to do with love of Jews than with hatred of Arabs, or, for many, the belief that Armageddon in the Middle East means Jesus is coming.

He knows all this as well as most senators and congressmen. So why does he persist in making Israel a Republicans-first issue, and for that matter why do Republicans do it too?

Well, it’s not hard to figure why Republicans are doing it. It’s partly about Barack Obama, and the visceral loathing of him among their base; the Muslim Other-ing of Obama and all that. But they clearly must think this is going to get them more Jewish votes at the presidential level. They think back to Ronald Reagan’s time. In 1980, Reagan got 39 percent of the Jewish vote, against Jimmy Carter’s 45 percent (independent candidate John Anderson got the rest). That’s as close as a GOP presidential candidate has ever come to winning the Jewish vote since Israel became a state. (Amusing side note: In 1948, the year of Israel’s creation, the Republican candidate, Tom Dewey, did worse among Jews at 10 percent than left-wing third-party candidate Henry Wallace, who polled 15 percent; Harry Truman got 75 percent.)

But there’s no remotely Reaganesque figure on the horizon. And anyway, by 1984, things were back to normal—Walter Mondale, even as he was getting pasted by Reagan overall, won 67 percent of the Jewish vote. And more to the point, as I noted above, this Republican Party is not the Republican Party of Reagan’s time. That was a conservative party that still had a large number of old-line moderates, like senators Charles Percy and John Heinz. Today’s party is far more right wing than that one was. Very few Jews are going to vote for a party like that—especially against a Clinton, if Hillary is the Democratic nominee, but in fact against pretty much anyone.

So that’s what they’re thinking, farkakte as it is. But this doesn’t explain Netanyahu. He truly believes that a nuclear Iran is an existential threat, fine. But that doesn’t explain this behavior. If he truly believes that about Iran, then the logical, self-interested thing for him to do, especially knowing that most Jews are loyal Democrats, is to get as many Democrats in Congress as possible to choose his point of view over Obama’s. Given AIPAC’s muscle and the traditional pro-Israel posture of most Democrats in Congress over the years, that should not be a heavy lift.

But instead he does the opposite. Recall that about a month ago, he pointedly refused to meet with Senate Democrats. Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein, who invited him, were obviously tossing him a lifeline, saying to him: However bad your relationship with Obama, come square things with us, and we’ll still have your back. But no. He said he feared it would look partisan, you see, because his speech to Congress, well, that was bipartisan! Once you’ve entered the Hall of Mirrors, it can be hard to find your way out, I guess.

It’s one thing to alienate Obama (and Obama, to be fair, has done his part to sour the relationship as well). But it’s quite another to alienate rank-and-file American Jews, and still another to alienate Democrats in Congress. Not an easy trifecta to hit, but he is managing it.

If he can’t see the consequences for his country, he’s just a madman. Let’s just say hypothetically that the Obama administration follows through substantively on spokesman Josh Earnest’s astonishing comments last week about the potential policy implications of Netanyahu’s pre-election comportment. Let’s say, for example, that the United States decides to stop blocking a vote at the United Nations on recognition of a Palestinian state. Right now, about 135 nations recognize Palestine. Very few Western European countries are among that number. Many of them withhold their support simply or mainly for the sake of not crossing the United States.

Once we signal that we won’t block a vote, the map of nations that recognize Palestine will presumably expand across Europe rapidly. The British and French have worked on the proper resolution language. As it happens, the Arab League is meeting this weekend in Sharm-el-Shiekh, and you can be sure that its officials are alive to this reality. And so Netanyahu might lose Western Europe, and then he’ll come crying to Washington, and it might be too late.

Strange way to save a country.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 22, 2015

March 25, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Congress, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Tom Cotton And The GOP’s Wimpy Fear Of Iran”: The Republican Party’s Judgment Has Been Grossly Distorted By Fear

When did the Republican Party become such a bastion of cowards?

That’s what I wondered the moment I heard about the letter to the Iranian government, signed by 47 Republican senators, that aims to scuttle U.S.-led negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.

Oh, of course the letter is meant to look like the opposite of cowardly. It’s supposed to serve as the latest evidence of the GOP’s singularly manly swagger, which the party has burnished non-stop since George W. Bush first promised to track down Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.” (Or maybe it goes back to Ronald Reagan insinuating that Jimmy Carter lacked the resolve to stand up to Leonid Brezhnev. Or to Barry Goldwater indicating that he alone had the guts to use atomic weapons against the godless Commies of North Vietnam.)

But it’s actually a sign that the Republican Party’s judgment has been grossly distorted by fear. That’s why critics who are railing against the letter for its supposedly unconstitutional subversion of diplomatic protocol miss the point. The problem with the letter isn’t that it broke the rules. The problem with the letter is that it’s gutless.

The ringleader of the senatorial troublemakers, freshman Tom Cotton of Arkansas, wants us to believe he and his colleagues have seen through Barack Obama’s dangerous willingness to capitulate to the mullahs in Tehran, and that they alone are tough enough to derail the bad deal the president is prepared, and even eager, to make.

But really, who’s wimpier? A party so terrified by the prospect of normalizing relations with a vastly less formidable foreign power after 36 years of rancor and distrust that it engages in unprecedented acts of diplomatic sabotage, thereby crippling the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy? Or that president himself, who believes that after those 36 years of rancor and distrust this vastly less formidable foreign power can be negotiated into delaying its nuclear ambitions for a decade?

I think the answer is obvious.

As The Week‘s Ryan Cooper has cogently argued, the GOP’s position seems to be based on the assumption that if Iran produced one nuclear device or a handful of them, it would launch them at the United States. I’ll admit, that’s a scary thought. But it’s also completely deranged. In the time it would take for an Iranian nuclear missile to reach its target, the United States could launch dozens if not hundreds of vastly more powerful and accurate retaliatory strikes that would leave Persian civilization in ruins.

Actually, that’s not true. There would be no ruins. Just uninhabitable, radioactive dust.

And here’s the thing: Iran’s leaders know this.

It’s one thing for a single terrorist to embrace suicide for what he takes to be a noble ideological goal and the promise of heavenly reward. It’s quite another for the leaders of a nation of 77 million people to act in such a way that every last inhabitant of the country and every product of its culture would be instantly incinerated. That, quite simply, isn’t going to happen.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fears about Iran’s intentions aren’t quite as pusillanimous as Tom Cotton’s. Iran, for one thing, is much closer to Israel than the U.S., which means that it can be targeted with much less sophisticated rockets that would reach their destination much more quickly. Moreover, one or two nukes is all it would take to wipe out Israel’s major population centers, making the country far more existentially vulnerable. And then there’s the burden of Jewish history, which understandably inspires more than a little paranoia.

But just because something is understandable doesn’t make it sensible. Paranoia, after all, is an irrational fear — and reason tells us that while Iran would very much like some day to succeed in building a single nuclear device, Israel already possesses dozens of nuclear warheads, as well as something even more valuable: its status as a staunch ally of the United States. Iran has every reason to believe we would respond to a nuclear strike on Israel just as severely as we would respond to an attack launched against us. That means that no such suicidal assault against Israel is going to happen either.

As usual, The Onion may have conveyed the absurdity of the situation more effectively than anyone, in a satirical headline from 2012 that’s gotten renewed play in recent weeks: “Iran Worried U.S. Might Be Building 8,500th Nuclear Weapon.”

When leading politicians in the most militarily powerful nation on the planet believe they see a mortal threat in a country with a GDP roughly the size of Maryland’s and lacking even a single bomb — well, that’s a sign of world-historical spinelessness.

Democrats should be saying so. Loudly and repeatedly.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, March 11, 2015

March 23, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Israel, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Naked Bibi”: In The Animal Kingdom, There Is No Creature More Dangerous Than A Panicking Politician

In the lead up to Israel’s March 17th election, Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, fearful that he might lose his reelection bid, threw caution to the wind making blatant appeals to scare voters into returning him to office. He did so not caring who he alienated or what might be the consequences of his behavior. I have always argued that in the animal kingdom there is no creature more dangerous than a panicking politician and, in the last few days, Bibi was one such creature.

The day before votes were cast, Netanyahu gave a series of interviews to friendly media outlets developing themes that preyed on Israeli fears: of Palestinians, of “foreign conspiracies”, and of Israel’s own Arab citizens. He charged, for example, that if his opponents won they would submit to the pressures of the international community leading to the creation of “Hamastan B” in Jerusalem. In another interview he said, “…anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian State and evacuate territory, gives territory away to radical Islamists”. And when asked if that meant he was backing away from his 2009 pledge to support a two-state solution, Netanyahu responded “Indeed”.

He further charged that “the governments of Western Europe…are funding the campaign that is designed to oust me from power”. And he claimed that “there is a massive effort, with tens of millions of dollars…to mobilize the Arab vote…to support Herzog…it’s a massive effort…some governments are involved”.

He tied many of these themes together by race-baiting Israel’s Arab citizens warning that “[if Labor wins] Herzog and Livni will become the prime ministers…with the backing of the Arabs…causing a monumental shift in policy that will endanger the security of Israel”. And on the day of the election, in a final panicked appeal to supporters, he warned “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them in”.

This was the honest Netanyahu, stripped of any veneer–not the one who once feigned support for peace or who begrudgingly pledged support for the idea of a Palestinian State. And this was the Bibi who won.

This was the same Netanyahu who once greeted the Oslo Accords with a campaign to discredit Yitzak Rabin in Israel and by teaming up with Newt Gingrich (then Republican Speaker of the Congress) to stymie the Clinton Administration’s efforts in Washington. This was the Netanyahu who was elected in 1996 on a platform committed to ending Oslo, and then acted on his commitment by, in effect, burying the peace process. And this was the same Netanyahu who, when pressured by the West, presented himself as a leader who wanted nothing more than peace, while he pursued policies that only further humiliated and provoked Palestinians, at the same time weakening and discrediting their leadership.

But Netanyahu is also a wily maneuverer. When pressed by President Clinton to sign an agreement with the Palestinians, he did. Upon returning to Israel, however, he did nothing to implement that agreement and, in fact, acted to sabotage it. Similarly, when he was pressed by President Obama, he stated his support for a “two-state solution”, but then added caveats that made mockery of this support.

In his last two governments, Netanyahu sought to hide his naked contempt for peace by adding to his coalition individuals who could provide political cover. Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni were known figures in the West, and Netanyahu cleverly used them to shield his government from criticism, while he aggressively pursued his anti-peace, settlement expansion agenda.

Now the cover is gone and Bibi stands naked before the world. He made clear his rejection of the two state solution and his contempt for the Arab citizens of Israel. And he won.

Now Netanyahu must govern. He has just enough votes on the far right to form a coalition government that can pursue his anti-peace, anti-Arab agenda. His coalition will include Avigdor Lieberman who recently said that Israel “needs to pick up an axe and cut off the head” of any Israeli Arab “who is against us”, and Naftali Bennett who said that Palestinians were like “shrapnel in your rear end” and pledged that “I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state”.

Netanyahu knows that this collection of like-minded bigots will only damage Israel’s relations with the West. And so just a few days ago, when faced with international outrage over his pre-election comments, Netanyahu once again attempted to cover his nakedness by denying that he had actually backed away from support for a two-state solution. What he may also do in an effort to hide his government’s racism is to lure one of the opposition parties into his coalition in order to give his government the veneer of respectability. He will make emotional appeals to national unity and call on his would-be “partners” to do their patriotic duty by joining with him to face the grave threats confronting their country. The question is will any of them fall for such a transparent ploy and agree to serve as Bibi’s newest stooge.

Looking at the polls in Israel, it was clear that the center-left never had much hope of forming a stable government. In the best case scenario, they could have only secured the 61+ seats they needed by relying on the strength of the Arab’s Joint List. This would have left them open to the same racist charge that Netanyahu and Sharon used against Rabin in 1993–that his decisions never had the support of a “Jewish majority”. This paralyzed Rabin and would likely have had the same impact on Herzog and Livni, neither of whom would have had the strength to take on the militant far-right and the massive armed settler movement.

The bottom line is that Israelis succumbed to Bibi’s race-baiting and fear-mongering and elected the government they wanted. It is as if George Wallace had won the US Presidency in 1972. The mask is off. The “peace process” is dead. What will the West do in response? Will they buy Bibi’s act one more time, or will they call his bluff and use the pressure they have long been hesitant to use? Captive Palestinians losing all hope while living under a brutal and humiliating occupation will not wait long for an answer.

 

By: James Zogby, President, Arab American Institute; The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 2015

March 22, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, Palestine | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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