Americans Pols Kowtow to a Foreign Leader

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When the President of the United States reiterated longstanding American policy in the Middle East — that the borders of Israel and a Palestinian state must be based on the 1967 borders, give or take a few land swaps here and there — was he really u201Cnot surprised,u201D as he claimed in his speech to AIPAC a few days later, by the ensuing uproar? That's what he says, but the reality is harder to discern: after all, this was the premise behind George W. Bush's — and, before him, Bill Clinton's — public statements on the issue, and the President had every reason to believe this time would be no different.

Yet it was indeed different, because — as I pointed out here — Israel is different, all these years later. And so is the United States. President Obama was caught flat-footed because he and his advisors failed to consider the full import of these changes.

In Israel, a right-wing government has as its relatively u201Cmoderateu201D element Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud-led government is backed in a coalition government by a number of extreme right-wingers who make the hawkish Likudniks look reasonable. Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is a thuggish radical whose racist anti-Arab diatribes have even Israel's hard-line partisans in the US desperate to keep him in the background. Lieberman's party, Yisrael Beiteinu, is a neo-fascist outfit which advocates the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and the creation of a u201CGreater Israel.u201D According to them, there are no Palestinians — only Jordanians who have infiltrated Israel.

In America, the power of the Israel lobby is much greater than at any time in the past, and certainly since the 1967 war. We are faced, here in this country, with the extraordinary spectacle of a US President confronting a foreign leader with a list of reasonable requests — negotiation in good faith, the abandonment of encroaching u201Csettlements,u201D an end to the arbitrary humiliations endured by a people under occupation — and the leaders of the opposition are taking the side of the foreign leader. This from a party that revels in its alleged super-u201Cpatriotismu201D! Romney, Huckabee, and the whole Fox network team went into overdrive, following the President's Mideast speech, flaying him for u201Cbetrayingu201D Israel. Fox News even ran a story warning that u201CJewish donorsu201D would not back the President's reelection campaign on account of his supposedly u201Cnewu201D stance.

Yet, as I am not the first to point out, there was nothing new in what the President said about the 1967 borders. That didn't matter to Obama's critics, however: so quick were they to pick up the latest party line from Tel Aviv that they didn't even bother to acknowledge this, but were only concerned with echoing every jot and tittle of the Israeli position. Not since the heyday of the old Communist Party USA, when the Daily Worker was adept at not only defending but anticipating the line handed down by the Kremlin, have we seen such a phenomenon: the kowtowing before a foreign leader by American politicians.

The idea that our leaders are intent on pursuing America's vital national interests abroad — that the formulation of our foreign policy has to do with determining what those interests are and how best to achieve them — is a myth. As is the case with domestic policy, foreign policy is a political question: that is, it's all about the internal pressures and interests competing for primacy in the policymaking process. Nothing underscores the dynamics of this decision-making procedure quite so starkly and dramatically as the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

The US military has been particularly insistent that the question of Palestine be resolved before we can achieve our goals in the Middle East, and secure the defense of American interests more generally. That our unconditional support for Israel has cost us dearly, in terms of our prestige and u201Cpullu201D in the Arab world, is undeniable. That we are fighting terrorists who use this issue to demonize the US, and provoke attacks on our interests and our citizens throughout the world, is likewise readily apparent.

Yet rather than give up this failed policy, which has led to nothing but trouble, our leaders in both political parties — including the President — have taken every opportunity to pledge themselves to an u201Cironcladu201D — as Obama put it — commitment to the survival of Israel as a Jewish state implanted in an Arab sea. And that, furthermore, this commitment is not contingent on Israeli behavior: our support is unconditional and permanent, no matter if Avigdor Lieberman comes to power and deports every Palestinian to the far side of the Jordan river.

In his u201Cmake upu201D speech to AIPAC, Obama once again reiterated this commitment and boasted about all the money we're shoveling over there so Bibi can build u201Csettlementsu201D and keep the Palestinians in subjection. US u201Caidu201D built the wall that separates the Israeli green belt from the great prison-house of the occupied territories, and which makes permanent a land grab on a vast scale. Without that aid, both military and economic, Israel would sink like a stone beneath the demographic waves.

In short, we have the Israelis in a complete state of military and economic dependency — and yet they are calling the tune, and not Washington. What's up with that?

What's up is the Israelis have a singularly powerful lobby in the US, which wields such political clout that no politician can afford to cross them. We are living in a country where the chief executive must constantly look over his shoulder and worry that Congress will support the position of a foreign leader over the President of the United States. As Pat Buchanan so memorably — and correctly — put it, Congress is u201CIsraeli-occupied territory.u201D And we aren't just talking about Republican members pandering to their u201Cborn againu201D Christian fundamentalist constituency, but also Democrats in thrall to a wealthy and well-organized urban constituency which puts Israel first, last, and always.

In Israel, too — where, after forty years of constant warfare, voters are not interested in compromise — domestic politics dictates foreign policy. The Israeli electorate is so far to the right, these days, that a neo-fascist party and a Jewish version of Hitler have made huge gains of the sort that were once unthinkable. In its religious fervor, and millennialist hysteria, the Israeli zeitgeist has abandoned its Western and European antecedents, and become almost indistinguishable from its Arab neighbors: fundamentalism is as much a problem in Israel as it is in, say, Egypt, or Jordan. Israel, in short, has returned to its Asian-Oriental roots, and is very far from the idealistic experiment its European founders envisioned at the beginning.

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Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.

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