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“The Limits Of “Israeli Exceptionalism”: The Perilous Path The Current Israeli Government Is Pursuing

This incident from the 2008 campaign, relayed by Matthew Duss at TNR, tells you a lot about trends in U.S. thinking about Israel in the Netanyahu era:

[R]epresentatives of the Obama, McCain, and Clinton teams appeared at a Jewish community forum. Daniel Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, spoke for Obama, explaining that he wanted to see a “plurality of views” on Israel. Clinton adviser Ann Lewis responded that the United States should simply support Israeli policy, regardless of its content. “The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel,” she said.

It was a pretty strange statement (is there any other country in the world to whose electorate anyone would similarly suggest outsourcing U.S. policy decisions?), but it does accurately describe the operating theory upon which much of conservative pro-Israel advocacy in Washington is based.

But it’s an increasingly rare point of view outside the conservative opinion bubble. After her service in the Obama administration, it’s pretty clear Hillary Clinton would not again allow herself to be represented as simply ratifying whatever policy is yielded by Israeli elections (presumably the only way one is permitted to deduce “decisions of the Israeli people,” who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s policies towards Palestinians and indeed towards the rest of the world).

It’s against this backdrop of a growing tendency among Democrats to reject the idea of “Israeli exceptionalism” as the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy that you can understand the perilous path the current Israeli government is pursuing in demanding the same–or perhaps greater– unconditional American support as in the past. This posture is not only liberating Democrats to assert national interests as superior to those of any foreign country in formulating U.S. foreign policy, but as I think we will see in 2016, leading public sentiment in the same direction.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Wasgington Monthly, June 17, 2015

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Policy, Israel | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Things Could Get Complicated”: If Netanyahu Loses, Will Republicans Still Be ‘Pro-Israel’?

The Israeli election takes place tomorrow, and there is a real possibility that Benjamin Netanyahu will lose. While the election will be close and the intricate coalition system the country uses leaves lots of room for uncertainty, the final election polls showed Netanyahu’s Likud Party trailing the Labor-led Zionist Union; Netanyahu is even telling his own supporters he could be headed for defeat, which is not something one ordinarily hears from a politician on the eve of an election.

Here in the United States, that raises an interesting question. In recent years, the Republican Party has elevated “support for Israel” to a level of passion and consensus usually reserved for things such as tax cuts and opposition to abortion rights. But that happened during a string of conservative Israeli governments. If Israel is led by a Labor Party prime minister and begins to change some of its policies, will Republicans decide that “support” is more complicated than they used to think?

It may be hard to remember now, but Israel became a Republican fetish object relatively recently. At times in the past, support for Israel was seen as a liberal cause, but as the Labor Party’s long dominance of the country’s politics faded and policy toward the Palestinians hardened, Republicans became more and more devoted to the country. The real shift probably started in 2001, when Ariel Sharon took over for the last Labor prime minister, Ehud Barak. Since then, the opinions of Democrats and Republicans about Israel have diverged, and the Republican evangelical base has grown intensely interested in the country. These days, one of the first things a freshman Republican member of Congress does is book a trip to the Holy Land (lots of Democrats go, too, it should be said). Mike Huckabee leads regular tours there. Sarah Palin used to brag that she displayed an Israeli flag in her office during her brief tenure as governor of Alaska. Given the rapturous reception he got from GOP members when he came at John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress, Netanyahu could become the 2016 Republican nominee for president in a landslide, if it were possible.

But what you don’t find within the Republican Party when it comes to Israel is anything resembling a debate. As far as Republicans are concerned, Israel is just right; whatever Israel wants to do is right; and whatever Israel asks of the United States is precisely what we should do. The only question is whether you’re “supporting” the country with the proper zeal. Republicans don’t concern themselves much with the lively debates over policy within Israel, because the government is controlled by conservatives (Netanyahu’s Likud Party has ruled since 2001, with an interregnum of control by Kadima, a Likud offshoot). “Support for Israel” just means support for the current Israeli government.

But tomorrow, Republicans could learn that by the standard they’ve been using, most Israelis are insufficiently pro-Israel. And then what? What if a Labor-led government moves toward a two-state solution, or a curtailing of Jewish settlement in the West Bank? And what if those changes are enthusiastically supported by President Obama and Hillary Clinton? “Support for Israel” sounds great when the country’s prime minister and a Democratic president regard each other with barely disguised contempt, but things could get complicated.

That might actually force Republicans to think about Israel, and America’s relationship to it, with a little more nuance. They’d have to admit that when they used to say “I support Israel,” what they actually meant was that they support the Likud and its vision for Israel’s future. More broadly, they’d have to acknowledge that one can disagree with what the Israeli government does and still support the country, since that’s the position they would find themselves in. They might even realize that you can take a one-week trip to the country during which you climb Masada and go for a dip in the Sea of Galilee and still not know everything there is to know about the Middle East.

Maybe expecting Republican politicians to arrive at a complex understanding of an important foreign policy concern is a little too much to ask. But there’s always hope.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, March 16, 2015

March 17, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What About Israel’s Nuclear Bomb?”: The Tangled History Of Israel’s Poorly Kept Secret

After Bibi Netanyahu’s provocative speech to Congress, The New York Times provided helpful clarifications in an article headlined “What Iran Won’t Say About the Bomb.” Written by two superbly expert reporters, William Broad and David Sanger, the piece walked through the technical complexities for non-experts (myself included) and explained key questions Iranians have failed to answer.

But this leads me to ask a different question: What about Israel’s bomb? Why isn’t that also part of the discussion?

In the flood of news stories about Iran’s nuclear intentions, I have yet to see mention of Israel’s nuclear arsenal (if I missed some mentions, they must have been rare).

Yet Israel’s bomb is obviously relevant to the controversy. The facts are deliberately murky, but Israel has had nuclear weapons for at least forty years, though it has never officially acknowledged their existence. The Israeli diplomatic approach has been called “nuclear ambiguity.”

I asked a friend who’s a national-security correspondent in Washington why news stories don’t mention Israel’s bomb. He shrugged off my question. “Because everybody knows that,” he said. Probably that’s true among policy elites and politicians, though I am not so sure this is widely known among average Americans.

In any case, if everyone knows Israel has the bomb, why not acknowledge this in the public debate?

I asked another friend (a well-informed journalist sympathetic to the Palestinian cause) why reporters don’t talk about the Israeli bomb. “Groupthink,” he said. “It’s almost as though Israel gets a bye from the media.”

The Iranians, he added, have raised the issue of the Israeli bomb many times in the past, but their complaints were generally ignored in the Western press. Iranian diplomats pointed out that Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and submits to international inspections as the treaty requires (though Iran still hides stuff, as The New York Times account described). Israel has never signed the NPT and therefore does not submit to inspections.

My point is, the existence of Israel’s nuclear superiority is clearly a pivotal fact of life in the chaotic conflicts and occasional wars of the Middle East. It should not be left out.

Israel’s bomb might be an important factor in motivating Iran to seek a nuclear bomb of its own (though Iran denies that intention). It might also be the subtext for Netanyahu’s bellicose warnings and his occasional calls for bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Bibi’s country would lose valuable leverage if it no longer had a nuclear monopoly in the region. Yet it might be considered a provocative act if Israel bluntly acknowledged its nuclear arsenal.

According to Wikipedia’s account, largely based on scholarly sources, Israel has seventy-five to 400 bombs (others say it is more like 100 to 200). It has never threatened to use them anywhere, though during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 Israeli leaders put eight of its nuclear-armed F-4’s on alert. Its adversaries no doubt got the word.

Other nations with nukes are Pakistan, India and North Korea as well as the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. The United States is the only nation that has ever used atomic bombs on people in another nation—Japan at the close of World War II.

The Center for Public Integrity in Washington published an article in September 2014 by Douglas Birch and Jeffrey Smith that described the tangled history of Israel’s poorly kept secret. Some scholars, they wrote, complained that the lack of candor complicates efforts to confront Iran, since the US government cooperates in the pretense of not knowing.

Back in 2009, President Obama was asked about whether Israel possessed nuclear bombs. “With respect to nuclear weapons, you know, I don’t want to speculate,” the president said. In US terms, it is an official secret. The government can even prosecute people with security clearance if they tell the truth to the American public.

In a sense, Israel’s nukes have been like an “invisible hand” that warns hostile neighbors and keeps them from going too far. At the same time, however, Israel adopted an “option of pre-emption”—attacking neighbors like Iraq and Syria with non-nuclear bombs if they seemed to be developing nuclear arms.

Israel’s essential rationale was described by various sources cited by Wikipedia: “It cannot afford to lose a single war and thus must prevent them by maintaining deterrence including the option of preemption.”

That brings the story back around to Bibi. For roughly twenty years, Netanyahu has now and then called for bombing Iran to crumple its nuclear intentions. The Obama administration is attempting to accomplish the same result peacefully, through negotiations.

As Juan Cole has written in The Nation, that may be a false choice, because Israeli intelligence and a former defense minister have admitted that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. Cole explained: “Nuclear weapons are in any case defensive, not offensive, and Iran could not deploy a bomb (if it had one, which it doesn’t) against Israel because the Israelis would retaliate by wiping Iran off the map,”

In other words, even if Tehran were to acquire nukes, it could not use them against Israel. Both nations would become prisoners of the stalemate that ruled the United States and Soviet Union for forty years during the Cold War. The doctrine was known as Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD for short..

That’s an unsatisfying result for the hawks in Israel but also the hawks in the United States. Remember Senator John McCain singing his light-hearted little ditty? “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran.”

But isn’t talk-talk preferable to risking massive human slaughter and the destruction of nations? The war party in Washington evidently doesn’t think so. Inspired by Bibi, wannabe warriors are brutally trashing their American president. Their logic assumes the mullahs in Tehran are crazy fanatics and that crazy people are not deterred by the prospect of self-destruction.

If Obama’s negotiations fail or Republican meddling derails them, then Americans would face the ultimate question. Do we really want to go to war—again—in the Middle East? Israel might face a different question. Do Israeli citizens really want to bomb Iran if their American friends say, No, thanks—this time you’re on your own?

Maybe the Times reporters, Broad and Sanger, could do another article about the Israeli bomb that has been absent from the debate.

 

By: Wiliam Greider, The Nation, March 12, 2015

March 15, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Israel | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Viva La Incompétence!”: Boehner’s and Bibi’s Blunders ‘Liberate’ U.S. Foreign Policy From NeoCons

It’s all happening because I am completely ignoring every urge towards common sense and good judgment I’ve ever had–George Costanza, “Seinfeld”.

President Dwight Eisenhower warned against the growing power of the military-industrial complex, but even the former 5-star general Supreme Allied Commander in World War II couldn’t do it. The quagmire of Vietnam couldn’t do it. The quicksand of Iraq couldn’t do it. The killing fields of Cambodia couldn’t do it. The Bush/Cheney failure on 9/11 couldn’t do it. Allowing bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora, and then failing to find and capture him, couldn’t do it. Allowing Pakistan to develop the “Islamic bomb” couldn’t do it.

Even the election of the Iraq invasion’s opponent as president couldn’t do it.

But, John Boehner (R-OH) has done it.

He cannot do much else, but he has achieved what no other politician could do for half a century: expose the entire Republican national security “brand” as a fraud.

Remember the pious platitudes about the first function of government to be protecting the American people? Remember the decades of demagoguery skewering Democrats as being lax on security issues, the disgusting draft-dodging Saxby Chambliss leveling that accusation on war hero and triple amputee Max Cleland (D-GA) in the waning days of a senate campaign? Recall the Bush/Cheney 2004 ads showing snarling wolves that would be unleashed against the American people if John Kerry were elected?

Now, thanks to Speaker Boehner, the Republicans have no credibility or standing on national security. None, zero, zorch, nada. The next time you hear a Republican bleating about national security, you can have a good laugh.

They were willing to leave us vulnerable, and took their threats to the brink.

A minimally competent Democratic party should be and would be screaming bloody murder. After all, Republicans are playing political games with our lives and our families’ security. Democrats would be filling the airwaves and the (now-neutral!) net non-stop, spreading the alarm to “every town, middlesex, village and farm” that Republicans will sacrifice our nation’s safety, and raise legitimate issues about their love of country.

[Not hearing that? Well, do not ignore the qualifier “minimally competent”.]

Not to be outdone, however, Bibi’s blunder is even worse for the neoconistas. At least since the Yom Kippur war in 1973, and perhaps earlier as well, it has been virtually impossible for US foreign policy to diverge in meaningful ways (i.e., those that might actually lead to peace) from Israel’s as defined by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Any president, member of Congress, or candidate who criticized Israeli policy, who even spoke about pressuring Israel was immediately pounced upon by AIPAC, carrying with it the threat of political oblivion.

Until Bibi’s blunder, support for Israel was considered to be 100% support for whatever the government of Israel du jour decided to do.

The political price to be paid for deviating from that support was always more of the myth than reality. American Jews, although backing Israel, nevertheless vote more on economic and social issues than they do on competing claims of which candidates are helping Israel more.

Now, that myth is exposed. President Obama and many Democrats are shunning Bibi, but not wavering in their support of Israel. They refuse to be pawns in his political games to win the Israeli election. They refuse to scuttle prematurely the opportunity of avoiding another major armed conflict. They refuse to compromise the moral authority the US will have achieved by going the last mile with Iran if the negotiations fail.

From this day forth, presidents and members of Congress can oppose new settlements on the West Bank as impediments to peace without waiting until their retirements. They can let the Israelis know that our support is strong, but that we have expectations of them, too, that need to be honored.

Thanks to John Boehner (R-OH), Republicans have relinquished their (specious) claim to caring more and fighting harder to perform government’s primary mission, safety and security. Fearmongering 101 is not only no longer available to them, it will be fodder for mockery.

And, thanks to Bibi, liberated from the need to express support for everything any Israeli government does as a measure of how much they support Israel, the US will now become a more effective partner to bring peace and security to Israel and dignity to Palestinians.

Bibi has neglected to realize that Americans, like other people, do not appreciate a foreign leader who deliberately tries to embarrass the President, just like foreign countries tend not to enjoy being invaded and occupied.

There has always been a segment of the population who cannot abide a black man in the White House, especially exercising the powers of his office. The visual images rankle. [Obama is not just the first person of color to be president, he is the first black man ever to rule a white majority nation]. Some of that same segment, however, may find themselves for the first time siding emotionally with him as President when an Israeli (yes, Jewish) leader tries to embarrass him.

By asserting American priorities and not being cowed by Bibi’s influence in the US, the President will gain support among the American people, not just from his own base, but from die-hard opponents as well, exactly the opposite of what Bibi wanted.

Achieving the precise opposite of one’s intended outcome is one definition of incompetence. The US adventures in Vietnam and Iraq spring immediately to mind.

Boehner’s and Bibi’s blunders have liberated US foreign policy from the iron grip of the neoconistas.

Viva la incompétence!

 

By: Paul Abrams, The Blog, The Hufington Post, February 28, 2015

March 1, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, John Boehner, National Security | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Vagueness In, Vagueness Out”: Foreign Policy Is Hard For Mitt Romney

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Mitt Romney takes to the op-ed page to offer his vision for a new American policy in the Middle East. Apparently, the tragic recent events in Benghazi have convinced Romney and his advisors that something is going on over there, and though they aren’t sure exactly what, it’s definitely something, and therefore Romney ought to come and say something about it, to show everyone how wrong Barack Obama is. If you thought Romney was being vague about his domestic policy, that’s nothing compared to what he has to say about foreign policy.

The first half of the piece is the standard criticism of the Obama administration (he’s weak!), and here’s the part where Romney lays out in specific detail exactly what he’d do differently:

In this period of uncertainty, we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East—that is, both governments and individuals who share our values. This means restoring our credibility with Iran. When we say an Iranian nuclear-weapons capability—and the regional instability that comes with it—is unacceptable, the ayatollahs must be made to believe us.

It means placing no daylight between the United States and Israel. And it means using the full spectrum of our soft power to encourage liberty and opportunity for those who have for too long known only corruption and oppression. The dignity of work and the ability to steer the course of their lives are the best alternatives to extremism.

But this Middle East policy will be undermined unless we restore the three sinews of our influence: our economic strength, our military strength and the strength of our values. That will require a very different set of policies from those President Obama is pursuing.

The 20th century became an American Century because we were steadfast in defense of freedom. We made the painful sacrifices necessary to defeat totalitarianism in all of its guises. To defend ourselves and our allies, we paid the price in treasure and in soldiers who never came home. Our challenges are different now, but if the 21st century is to be another American Century, we need leaders who understand that keeping the peace requires American strength in all of its dimensions.

OK, so what do we have here? America needs to support our partners. We need to restore our credibility with Iran, by making them believe that we really, really don’t want them to have nuclear weapons. We need to place no daylight between ourselves and Israel. And we need to encourage liberty and opportunity. That line about “the dignity of work” is a little odd—maybe the problem they have in the Middle East is too many 47 percenters? So where’s the new policy again?

But in the next paragraph, he says he’s going to give us “a very different set of policies.” So here it comes, right? The answer is … “American strength in all its dimensions.” Ah yes. Strength. Resolve. If you ask “How, precisely, will you achieve these goals?” then you’re obviously a weakling who can’t grasp the full majesty of Mitt Romney’s chin, which when jutted in the direction of our adversaries will make them quake before us and submit to our demands.

I can muster a little bit of sympathy for Romney here. Middle East politics is hard! A permanent settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians seems all but impossible, particularly given that the policy of the Israeli government essentially comes down to “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” The question of Iran’s nuclear aspirations offers nothing but bad alternatives. Romney keeps saying he wants America to “shape events” in the Middle East, but as president after president has discovered, that’s a tall order. You can certainly shape events by invading somebody, but that tends to come with some problematic repercussions.

But the real reason Romney seems incapable of offering any specific policies he wants to change is that he can’t quite figure out which Obama policies he objects to. His criticism is that Obama is “weak,” so the alternative he offers is that he’ll be “strong.” Vagueness in, vagueness out.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 1, 2012

October 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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