Supporting Israel is in America's Best Interest; Can Obama Do It?
In a recent Foreign Policy article, former U.S. diplomat David Aaron Miller astutely states the obvious, predicting a very turbulent period of American-Israeli relations should Barack Obama be re-elected. The reason for this inevitable trouble, Miller notes, is Obama's own convictions, which are decidedly not pro-Israel and more simpatico with the Palestinians. This is not news to any reader of The American Thinker, but what is somewhat surprising is that the article has produced little or no push-back or commentary from the left-liberal media, who parrot Obama's claims of pro-Israel bona fides. The obvious reason for this silence is that just like AT readers, liberal pundits also know that what Miller says is true, but it would not help their man to say so.
So leave it to Foreign Policy's mostly liberal readership to state what Obama and the rest of the left's commentariat are thinking: good riddance. While the FP comments evince some pro-Israel sentiment, most embrace some version of poster HansCharlotte: "America does not need Israel, its [sic] not [sic] the other way around. If Obama doesn't like Israel, its [sic] their problem, not his, they should make some changes."
While many other posters have nastier things to say about Israel, the honest feeling that Israel is a drag on America, and that Israel needs us a lot more than we need them, is a fairly widespread view in this country -- not only on the left, but among many libertarians as well.
It is true, in a very sophomoric sense, that Israel relies on America more than America relies on Israel. That is inevitable when comparing two allies -- one a continental world power with a population of over 300 million, the other a regional power of 8 million. So-called realists leap from this fact to the conclusion that therefore, supporting 8 million Israelis, as opposed bashing Israel in order to supposedly improve relations with 372 million Arabs, is detrimental to the United States. Is it?
The answer is no. In fact, the question itself is misguided. The real question is: by what reckoning are good relations with Israel's chief antagonist, the Palestinians, beneficial to the United States? Because that's where Obama's sympathies lie, and those sympathies will presumably form the basis of his Middle East policy in a second term.
Take for purposes of argument the absurd Palestinian claim that they are a people who have existed 8,000 years. So, in all that time, what have they produced or accomplished that is notable or worthwhile to world history or to the United States? To do this you have to exclude, of course, all the "non-Palestinian" people who lived there, including most notably the Jews. Doing that, of course, the answer is next to nothing.
On the other hand, Jewish contributions to world history, and Israeli contributions to modern history, have been enormous, and the United States has benefited immensely from them. Even if on balance Israel has benefited from its relations with the U.S. more, how is it in America's interest to substitute the interests of the Palestinians for those of the Israelis?
The most common rationale is that accommodating the Palestinians is a way to better relations with the Arab and/or Muslim world. But there is absolutely no evidence, based on 60 years of history, that this is true. It is a chimera. And anyway, beyond providing a decreasing percentage of our petroleum needs and providing some military basing -- which we get from the Arabs anyway -- what on balance is their value to us as against the Israelis? The answer is little or nothing.
Every American president who has taken a confrontational position vis-à-vis Israel has seen that policy fail. Not because of the Israeli lobby, or politics, but because intrinsically, looking from the standpoint of American interests, standing by Israel is on balance beneficial to the U.S.
The other problem is that Realpolitik works both ways. Israel may be a minor power compared to America, but it is a dynamic and inventive one that can be a valuable ally for other countries. The U.S. wasn't always Israel's chief ally. In the 1950s and 1960s it was the French. It could ally with other nations in the future, like China, India, or Russia.
In 2000, under intense pressure from the Clinton administration, Israel canceled the sale of Phalcon AWACS command control aircraft to China. President Clinton was able in part to force the cancelation because the Israelis still saw him, and the U.S., as a friend they were loath to anger. But with the hostile Obama in office, the Israelis may be hedging their bets. Israel and China recently signed an agreement to build a railway to Israel's southern port of Eilat. Undoubtedly, China still covets Israeli military and technical know-how. Is it really in America's best interests to befriend the likes of Morsi, Abbas, Assad, and Abdullah at the expense of Netanyahu?
Thus, with regard to Israel, it really doesn't matter if a president likes the Jewish state or not. All the president has to do is keep the best interests of the U.S. in mind and not let his own feelings override those.
The problem with Obama is that his feelings on the issue probably are more emotionally and politically in line with the Palestinians than any other president's, excepting perhaps Carter's. But Carter, through an accident of history, held office during a period of mutual rapprochement between Israel and its most powerful Arab rival, such that his personal views became irrelevant. Whether that would have remained the case in subsequent years, we fortunately never got to find out, since Carter was voted out. Carter's bilious and irrational hatred of Israel got its expression with him as a private citizen. Whether that prejudice would have overcome his duty as president, to represent the best interests of the U.S., is something we will never know.
Obama is probably even worse than Carter. As Miller's article notes, Carter felt some religious historical connection to Israel through his biblical interests, even if he eventually came to detest the Jewish state's modern incarnation. Obama appears to have no connection whatsoever with Israel historically, ethically, or emotionally. Moreover, as essentially a solid "anti-colonial" leftist, who developed and became indoctrinated in that milieu, Obama's instinctive sympathies lie almost entirely with the Palestinians. This is abundantly evident in his pre-presidential friendships and associations.
Given that Obama almost certainly retains these feelings -- perhaps heightened, given his bruising at the hands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- the real question is whether, given a second term, Obama will express his feelings in terms of policy.
Obama, like any American citizen, is entitled to his feelings about things, no matter how wrongheaded I or somebody else might consider them. But as president, his duty is not to let those feelings override policy that is beneficial for the U.S.
Should Obama win a second term, will he overcome his pro-Palestinian views and still act in America's best interests, which will be to support Israel at the expense of the Palestinians? As a lame duck, without the pressure of another election, the only consideration restraining Obama from embarking on a potentially disastrous break with the Jewish state will be his own desire to support policies that are truly in this nation's best interest, rather than policies that please his own ideological leanings. That's the rub. Who really thinks Obama would do that?
Jonathan F. Keiler's recent novel Upfall is available at Amazon.com and other outlets.