Thursday, February 22, 2007

U.S. and Israel

The Nixon Center hosted a luncheon discussion today on the U.S.-Israel relationship (with Dov Zakheim, Robert Satloff, Geoff Kemp and Shibley Telhami). Quite an interesting affair. Since there will be a report up at National Interest online. I won't summarize, but several points that struck me in the discussion.

One is whether or not the U.S.-Israel relationship has been run through a cost-benefit analysis where the advantages and disadvantages have been processed--or whether the relationship is based on affinities and ideological sensibilities. To me if it is the latter then over time if the affinities of the two populations change the relationship changes, whereas if it is based on the first set of criteria then it is a more substantial and lasting arrangement.

Another is whether the U.S. and Israel have a true identity of interests and whether it matters or whether perceptions matter more.

Finally it is the extent to which these types of discussions--civil despite disagreements--which can take place among foreign policy experts can or cannot be translated to the larger discourse.

Sean Singer's article on the event, "A Tie that Bonds or Binds?" is now up.
As a realist one has to take into account the emotional aspects of human politics.

The emotional attachment of many US Jews and Protestant Christian church-going populations must be included as a fact and dealt with it.

Whether this attachment's manifestaion in Foreign policy of US is malignant or benign is beside the point.

And in my opinion, the US polity on the whole has more affinity with UK and Canada than with Israel. In fact, Israelis do not like US - they find her decadent - they like Germany and her orderly society.
The religious right is peculiar in its support for Israel. It is not based on any concept of national interest but on interpretation of belief that the existence of the state is needed to gather Jews together--including implicitly out of the US so the US can be true Christian society. So if that interpretation were to change, and US support for Israel is not in popular mind based on any advantage US gains from it, then that could be real danger for Israel.

Biggest mistake for Israel is to tie their support in US to those who are anti-semites at home and who think that to live in US you need to accept Jesus as your God.
Anonymous 2:19:

Might also add that it is risky for Israel to continue to use Holocaust as basis for support. Look at trajectory for Armenians. Once generation that experienced the tragedy dies out and once there are newer tragedies to take their place, then the impact of the earlier genocide fades away. Jewish people have gone through several holocausts (Babylonians, Romans, Cossacks) prior to Nazi one and survived. Israel must cultivate friends who care about its future not people who think they are paying for a past debt that they have no memory about. Look at shifts in German opinion on Israel from those who remembered Holocaust and were ashamed versus those for whom Holocaust is as distant in past as Napoleon or Thirty Years War.

Israel needs to build support in such a way that in ten years when Muslims have AIPAC equivalent in DC the strategic benefits of the relationship are so apparent that no one can say support for Israel comes only from some supposed Lobby.
Well, as for whether such a debate can be translated to a larger public discourse: we should probably look at what happened to the to eminent scholars of international relations, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, when they decided to publish their thoughts on the issue.

I would argue that each state has different reasons for its relationship. For the US, the relationship is based perhaps solely on "affinities and ideological sensibilities," whereas for Israel the relationship has immense strategic value. This perhaps makes for an even stronger relationship than the binary if-then mentioned above.

As for whether or not identity of interest actually matters, I tend to think not. In the grand scheme, the circumstances of the international system are shaped by power disbursement among its units. Identity is a second order concern. This is probably the way Israeli policy makers see it. Why should we be hesitant to evaluate the issue in a similiar fashion?
"Pray at the feet of the outcast one"

All the worlds socalled religions are catastrophic failures as religious institutions. As realists, I would challenge all my sisters and brothers here to present on single shred of evidence that any religion on this wild and violent earth is focused on, and working for anything other than that religions political, or economic gain.

None of the socalled religions actually abide by the teachings and principles of their socalled religions, - and in factbased reality all religions PERVERT, BASTARDIZE, and DISMEMBEMBER the core teaching and principles of each respective religion.

All fundamentalism, regardless of the flavor is the bane of humanity and he death of us.

A pox on all their houses. All the patriarchal religions supress and abuse the goddess, and ignore the underlying principles that ultimately unite all humanity.

That said, Israel has the right to exist, not to occupy and savage Palestine. Palestinians who resort to terrorist activities prevent any hope of ever reaching any agreement with Israel. Until, wise minds prevail, and realworld solutions are forwarded with regard to a Palestinian state, water rightes, the Jeruselam issues, and the existance of Israel and Palestine and independent nations, - there will be no peace.

America must compromise, Israel must compromise, and the various factions of the Palestinian leadership must compromise, and work in intelligent ways to reach these agreements.

This endeavor will require intelligent, wise, aware, and compassionate leadership - which precludes any involvement with the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government, the zionists freaks in AIPAC, and the bloodthirsty mass murderers of Hamas, - so from a realist perspective until and unless new leadership is introduced into the calculus the future in the ME is doomed to neverendiingwar, division, aparthied economics and fundamentalist hatreds preventing any hope of progress.

"Deliver us from evil!"
According to Reuters, Israeli officials are denying a report in the Daily Telegraph (London) that they have requested an air corridor over Iraq through which to conduct an air strike against Iran. Israel is clearly trying to press the Iranians to halt their nuclear work. But it also looks like we are moving closer to a military confrontation.

If war with Iran comes, this is possibly the worst way it could begin: Israel carries out an attack instead of the United States, presumably because the President calculates that Congress and the American people are unwilling to have the US initiate hostilities, but the United States will be complicit and thus blamed by Iran, and Israel's involvement will unify Iranian and wider Islamic opinion against both Israel and America.

It may be too late to debate the larger future of America and Israel or the Middle East with events moving as they are, but if there is a war initiated in the above manner, historians may look back and write following:

"Before the tension in the Middle East became the full "clash of civilizations" predicted in the 1990s, a basic change came in the policy of America and the position of Israel. Before 2001, Israel defended itself at a relatively low cost because its security required only access to US conventional arms. But with a nuclear Iran on the horizon and the prospect that nuclear weapons would spread afterward to other states in the region, the cost of Israel's security went up catastrophically."

"Critics blamed the air strike on Israel's defeat in Lebanon the previous summer and on the failure of diplomacy to exchange peace for land, but these were not in the end what made Israel desperate. The problem was that the Middle East was a security vacuum that America's indecision had made worse: the United States could not decide whether it stood for changing the governments of the region or for making the existing states of the region more secure."

"By pursuing regime change half-heartedly, America both failed to change the region (whether stronger action could have done so will never be known but experience suggests it would not) and accelerated the region's quest for weapons of mass destruction. This situation, coupled with the Hitler-like intentions never convincingly disavowed by the mullahs in Tehran, left Israel no choice but to act in its own self-defense."

"In the longer run, nuclear technology would not have been possible to prevent from spreading to the major states of the Middle East, if nuclear technology could not be rolled back in other parts of the world. Israel could not have conducted attacks indefinitely to remove nuclear threats all over southwest Asia as they arose. But Iran was not a historic enemy of the United States or Israel, and with a different vision of the region America might have relieved at least for a time the tension that impelled Iran to arm itself in new ways that Israel could not accept."

"In a deeper sense, the war was a failure rooted in the fact that much of the planet still remained diplomatically in the world of the nineteenth century. The solution to this problem, a further step in the global pooling of military sovereignty or an extension of existing alliances, was unthinkable outside of those regions where national ambitions had burned themselves out in the world wars of the twentieth century."

Not much more to say until we know whether the Middle East does in fact cross the threshhold of war.
Anonymous 2:24

Maybe the Armenian Genocide makes the opposite point. Condoleeza Rice may not be the brightest bulb, but she is Secretary of State. So it was interesting to see the news a few days ago about how she was working with the Turkish foreign minister to head off a Congressional recognition of that historical atrocity and precursor to the holocaust.

The fact that the Sec. Rice thinks she can casually brush away some inconvienient Armenian history is illustrative. If the Israelis were more quiescent about the Holocaust, the Condi Rice's of the world would also brush away any recognition of the event, if that was politically convienient.

Again - Rice may not be front row in the genius department, but she is very aware of the facts about what happened to the Armenians (unlikes some in Congress who only know what they are told by people they like). Yet - she is quite willing to bury that bit of history.

If present day Armenia covered the oil area of Azerbijian and if Turkey were less of an issue, then Rice would have been happy to recognize it.
Forgot to add that cost-benefit analysis is not always a good idea because it's faux-precise. People will come up with different calculations and formulas depending on how they weigh and value various variables -- In other words, it's a political choice. Support for Israel is best supported, imo, by the contrast with the horrible regimes in the region. Israel is so much more like the US that those countries - that all other considerations, save oil and some of Israel's policies, fade by comparison. Also - Israel will be much wealthier years from now than it is today and it will be on the basis of an advanced economy, not raw materials. But oil is important too - just rememeber that it's the oil though, otherwise there would be zero basis for our very close relationship with those regimes.
Anonymous 6:53--

Precisely. Inconvenient history gets buried. Armenian American lobby thought genocide was their ticket forever. My argument is that in 30 years a similar devaluing of the WWII holocaust is just as possible.
Why 9/11 was not a sufficient wakeup call to get us to move away from using oil as the main way to power our economy I don't know. Anonymous 7:16 raises the key point. You can't have an advanced industrial democracy without energy, and if those who have the energy are hostile, you come up with something else. Why could German scientists come up with oil substitutes during the Second World War and we can't today?
Anonymous 12:13

Thanks - maybe you can answer your question by looking at the correlation between Houston real estate prices, and high oil prices - tack on the Exxon stock price and Lee Raymond sending big chuncks of his paycheck to AEI.

It's unfortunate - Bush's credibility with the Limbaugh types would have enabled him to re-frame sensible energy policy - Right now the GOP is dependent on much of its base voters regarding conservation as effete blue state stuff - for vegitarians and soccer fans. The whole stupid party ethos is ascendent.
Anonymous 12:11

Hope you're wrong about that - but there's really no reason to expect a more peaceful century than the last one -

The Rawandan genocide has already faded in American consciousness - somewhere behind Anna Nicole's case.
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