Friday, February 4, 2011Back in 1996, a group of leading neoconservatives led by Richard Perle drafted a memorandum for then (as now) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recommending that Israel adopt a more aggressive and assertive policy towards its neighbors. They called it a "Clean Break" to suggest that it would be a major shift in policy. Today, as American foreign policy looks more like a shipwreck than a victory lap, there is perhaps a need for a Clean Break by Washington. As the relationship with Tel Aviv has an impact far beyond Israel’s size and importance it should, ironically, be the first element in the foreign policy disaster that is examined.
Many Americans who indulge in the mainstream media believe that Israel is a close friend and ally to the United States and that when it is criticized the complaints are often unfair and might even in some cases be motivated by anti-Semitism. Some Americans, mostly evangelical Christians, actually believe that Israel is a special nation either because it is the homeland of the Jewish people or anointed by God and that all other nations of the world should defer to it and protect it. Still other Americans realize that Israel is a nation with good and bad aspects but are intent on using American power and wealth to nurture it because they share either ethnic or religious ties with it.
Some Americans look beyond the bumper sticker definitions to recognize that Israel is indeed like many other countries in most respects but that it is also a special nation in that it has as its protector the most powerful and wealthiest nation on earth. Some think that role to be appropriate because the US has an obligation to guarantee Israeli security, while others would disagree. Those who disagree frequently do so because they find the Israeli influence over the United States to be a dark force, sometimes leading Washington and its elected officials to endorse policies that do not serve the interests of the American people. They would cite examples like the Iraq War, in which supporters of Israel played an enabling role, as well as the ongoing agitation to attack Iran, which would be a replay of Iraq only much much worse.
That Israel is able to control many aspects of America’s relationship with foreign nations is clear and the hubristic Israel Lobby makes virtually no effort to hide what it is doing. On January 18th, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling on the United States to veto any resolution in the United Nations condemning the Israeli settlements policy. The settlements are illegal under international law and the pending resolution in the UN carefully uses the precise language previously employed by US administrations to criticize their expansion in an attempt to create an acceptable document and avoid a veto, but the result is not good enough for Gillibrand. Joined by 15 other senators as cosignatories, Gillibrand maintains fatuously and falsely that any criticism of the settlements "hurts the prospects for a peace agreement and is not in the interest of the United States." In reality, as she well knows, it is US acquiescence in the settlements that damages the US standing in the world.
The past ten days has also provided several other examples of how Israel exerts a strongly negative influence on American foreign policy. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address urged support for democratic forces in Tunisia. But he did not provide similar support for the democratic forces in Egypt and for the new government in Lebanon, which are both nations currently experiencing political unrest. Why? Because both are frontline states with Israel, meaning that Washington can only consider its relationship to them in terms of whether their political developments are good for Israel or not. This has been excruciatingly clear in the numerous comments by US government spokesmen relating to developments in Cairo: Israel is almost invariably mentioned. The United States prefers to give Cairo billions in aid and covertly support the dictatorial rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak because Egypt has kept the peace with Israel. Washington will likewise oppose any government in Lebanon that is beholden to Hezbollah, even if it does not threaten the US or American interests in any way, because Hezbollah is the enemy of Israel.
Looking at the Middle East region objectively, one has to question Washington’s actions. The US national interest is to have a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, which would require an end to the Israeli settlement policy. It also mandates non-hostile relations with Lebanon and Egypt, nothing more. The Suez Canal is the only asset controlled by Egypt that has international significance and it is in Cairo’s interest, no matter what kind of government it has, to keep it open and bringing in revenue. Egypt, Palestine, and Lebanon produce nothing that the US needs to have and they are not important markets for American goods. None of them threatens any genuine American vital interest.
In another related development, last Wednesday newly elected senator Rand Paul said that he favors ending all foreign aid, including the aid given to Israel and Egypt, because the United States can no longer afford it. Rather than encouraging anyone to debate the issue on its merits, the Israel Lobby, Democratic politicians, and a representative from Paul’s own Republican Party immediately attacked him, saying the proposal was unthinkable. Well, think again. Israel gets billions of dollars yearly from the US for no good reason beyond its ability to manipulate Congress and the media. Paul’s opening the door to a serious discussion about ending that subsidy is long overdue.
Senator Gillibrand’s excursion into fantasy, Rand Paul’s experience in opening Pandora’s box, and the developing situation in Egypt together illustrate how Israel is a United States national security liability and always has been. The relationship narrows the options that US policymakers can pursue in dealing with problems relating to the Muslim world. Arguments that Israeli and American foreign policies are and need to be identical based on shared opposition to international terrorism and other such "values" are fallacious and are based on constructs that are essentially false.
Israel’s bad relationship with its Muslim neighbors has led to frequent wars and more limited military actions since the founding of the country. In a normal world, the onus would be on Israel to establish a modus vivendi with its neighbors, but it has regularly chosen to use the mailed fist as its first option. Since it is a small country lacking in resources, it has only been able to accomplish this by seeking out what might be described as a force multiplier. To that end it has opted to use its powerful lobby to shift US policy in its favor, relying on America as a source of funds and both political and military protection. Its leading politicians have even bragged about how the United States does its bidding. This has done extreme damage to the United States, which has initiated at least one war as a result, and has been engaged in what must be described as a nearly continuous and escalating conflict with the entire Muslim world on behalf of Israel. This has trashed America’s reputation and has come at a real cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. The benefit to the American people has been zero.
In accomplishing its strategic objective of making the United States its permanent protector, Israel and its lobby have also corrupted both Congress and the White House and have created a permanent distortion in how Washington sees the world and responds to it. Israel’s enemies, even if they do not threaten the United States in any way, have become America’s enemies. This has made the US in the eyes of much of the world the enabler of Israeli actions and has in turn made Americans the targets of international terrorism. Osama bin Laden was very clear on the subject, stating that the United States is a partner in the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. The Israel relationship is a recruiting tool for those who seek to do harm to the United States. Without the Israeli nexus, there would have been no 9/11 and there would be no hysteria about the danger from terrorists driving growth in government and the development of the anti-libertarian security state.
And the relationship is expensive. Israel seeks to militarily dominate its neighbors. It does so with American-provided weapons and maintains its edge through US coproduction agreements that essentially fund jobs in Israeli defense industries that compete directly with US companies that sell the same products. Even though Israel is one of the richest countries in the world, Washington gives it a vast array of advanced weaponry for free and also hands to it the technologies that enable it to eliminate American jobs. As Israeli companies can bid on defense contracts just as if they were American companies, they frequently also wind up getting the work that would go to Americans. Because of the high level of American direct aid plus unique tax breaks for American citizens who give money to Israel, Israelis have free medical care and university education, benefits that few Americans enjoy.
And, finally, Israel is not afraid to bite the hand that feeds it. It is annually rated by the FBI as the "friendly" country that is most aggressive in spying to obtain US defense secrets and advanced technology. The mainstream media is complicit in not featuring stories that relate to Israeli espionage, but the cases number in the hundreds. Several spies who have been caught in the act have received a slap on the wrist instead of real punishment. One, Ben-Ami Kadish, was even able to continue to receive his government pension after stealing and passing on defense secrets.
Now I will be the first to admit that my narrative presented above reveals my own biases in that I am appalled at what Israel and its supporters have done to my country. But I have to believe that by any objective standard, the relationship with Israel does nothing good for the United States and does, instead, a great deal of damage. That leading policymakers are afraid to challenge the billions of dollars flowing to Tel Aviv while US senators line up to sign on to a letter that opposes their own country’s interests is a tragedy of epic proportions. That Washington will define its own interests in the Middle East largely in terms of whether they are compatible with those of Israel is nothing short of betrayal of the Constitution, which established a national government that would benefit the American people and make them both safe and prosperous. One hesitates to borrow rhetoric from the neoconservatives, but sometimes even they get something right. It is indeed time for a clean break, but this time with Israel.