Saturday, April 17, 2010

Real Support for Israel

Talleyrand, the late 18th- and early 19th-century French diplomat, referring to a particular policy with which he disagreed, famously said that "it's worse than a crime, it's a mistake." While the Obama Administration's spasm of outrage over the announcement of the Israeli plan to build more housing units in Jerusalem, along with its all too public snubbing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his recent trip to DC, certainly felt like a crime to many of us on the Right. But it, too, was actually worse than that as those episodes are looking more and more like a deliberate shift in U.S. policy toward Israel, a shift that is, at least in part, a product of a mistaken reckoning of core American interests in the Middle East.

For years, much of the American Right's nearly unwavering support for Israel has been explained, as well as criticized, as an idealist departure from an otherwise stubborn demand on its part for the pursuit of a more realist U.S. foreign policy. Critics have insisted that a hard-nosed realist calculation of American interests in that region of the world would have counseled the U.S. to place more emphasis on better relations with the Arab states, even if that emphasis threatened its solid relationship with Israel. Why? Simply because the Arab states possess the relatively cheap oil reserves the U.S. economy desperately needs in order to flourish. In light of that, perhaps a reordering of American foreign policy goals in the Middle East is long overdue.

And maybe just that kind of re-calculating of interests in the region explains the White House's change in policy. The U.S. needs cheap and available petroleum and our relationship with Israel sometimes gets in the way of that sure supply from the oil-rich Arab states. No doubt, that's part of it. (Although, I will point out something I've also mentioned in a previous post. From this president and this administration, governing decidedly from the Left as they do, much of the shift might also be explained by a good measure of old-fashioned anti-Westernism. That reflex is simply part of who they are.)

But, in the final analysis, it really doesn't matter why the Obama White House is doing this. This policy change, whatever its origins, is a mistake and, therefore, as Talleyrand instructs us, worse than a crime.

Contrary to the commonly received understanding, I think it more than possible to make a strong realist case for our continuing support of Israel vis a vis the other states in the Middle East. Quite simply, Israel is our only reliable ally in that region of the world. Because of the very strong historical and cultural ties we share with them, we can count on the Israelis in a crisis. Or, and this is almost as good, if we ever came to doubt their fidelity in a crunch, it's possible for us to shame them back into it.

We have no such relationship, no such leverage, with any Arab or Muslim state. Even now, as we wait nervously for Iran to achieve nuclear weaponization of some kind, posing thereby an undeniably real and present threat to our interests in the region, we remain severely constrained from acting decisively. So, as a last resort, to whom do we turn? Israel, of course.

Idealism may indeed drive much of our relationship with the Israelis. (Idealism? Heck, the bonds are almost as sentimental as those that exist between us and the British.) But a solid relationship with them for that reason does not make it any less the demand also of a hard-line realist foreign policy. This Administration would do well to remember that before they make the mistake that's worse than a crime of thinking our interests are better served elsewhere, or in a different fashion.

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