Monday, January 23, 2012

Who's Bowing to Foreign Leaders?

      Ever louder and more mainstream is the alarm over one of America's great parties becoming prostrate before Netanyahu.

Image: AP Photos

      Republicans love few lines more than their mockery of an American president "bowing to a Saudi king," a mistake that, granted, was likely made in some misguided deference to supposed royal protocol but was nevertheless close to meaningless. Now consider into what the GOP's own position on the Middle-East has mutated: complete deference in U.S. policy to the head of a foreign, right-wing coalition governing a small nation in the Middle East - a country which has historically been a strong ally, but one whose current leader has taken every opportunity to undermine and embarrass the President of the United States.
      Disagreement over foreign policy, it was once said, stopped at our borders. Not anymore.
      The RNC unanimously adopted a resolution seemingly aborting support for their own president's conception of a two-state solution.
      David Bromwich, in a long-form piece at the New York Review of Books, examines the candidates' positions regarding same:
...the most belligerent Republican on Israel and Iran has turned out to be Santorum: he asserted, in a recorded conversation with a voter on November 21, that “all the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis, they’re not Palestinians. There is no ‘Palestinian.’” A few days earlier, Santorum had said about the threat of Iran: “A country that is developing a weapon of mass destruction to use it to destroy another country must be stopped in a preemptive strike.” And on Meet the Press on January 1 he affirmed his view in different words: Iranian leaders must open their facilities to inspection and begin to dismantle their advanced equipment, or the US will attack. 
This statement comes at a moment of enormous tension—heightened by Israel’s warmest supporters in Congress. The Iran Threat Reductions Act, proposed by the Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, passed in the House of Representatives on December 14 by a vote of 410–11. This crudely assertive and possibly unconstitutional bill would prohibit all contact between Iranian and American officials without fifteen days’ prior notice to Congress. Bill Clinton, in 1996, complained of the “scandalous electioneering” practiced by Benjamin Netanyahu from abroad. 
Fifteen years later, ever since his visit to Congress in May, Benjamin Netanyahu has been working to intimidate the president and pull from Republican candidates and from Congress at large professions of loyalty to his project of bombing Iran to reduce its possible nuclear capability. 
There has been a change, however, since 1996. Clinton’s anger was registered in private. But it was Thomas Friedman, the American opinion-maker most highly regarded in Israel, who wrote in a column of December 13 that Netanyahu’s standing ovation in Congress last May “was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” And five days later, there occurred a remarkable exchange on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN programGlobal Public Square. The subject was how the Republicans try to outbid each other in submissive postures of unconditional loyalty to Israel; the immediate pretext was Gingrich’s having said on December 9 to an interviewer for the Jewish Channel (a cable station) that the Palestinians are an “invented” people. Zakaria and his guests then passed on to the broader subject of avowals of love for Israel and unquestioning support for Likud policies: 
 Zakaria: Michele Bachmann trumps them all by saying, “I went to a kibbutz when I was 18 years old.”
David Remnick: A socialist experiment, I might remind her. A socialist experiment. You know, as a Jewish American I find it disgusting. And I know what he’s going after. He’s going after—he’s going after a small slice of Jewish Americans who donate to political funds—to campaigns and also to Christian Evangelicals. It’s—the signaling is obvious. What they’re doing is obvious. But what they’re describing in terms of the, say, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has no bearing on reality whatsoever. It’s ignorance combined with cynical politics and irrelevance. It’s really awful. It’s really awful.
Zakaria: Do you agree? 
Peggy Noonan: Yes, I do.
Zakaria: Gillian?
Gillian Tett [of the Financial Times]: I do. And I think that actually given the current moves in Iran at the moment and what’s happening elsewhere in the region, that kind of rhetoric is likely to become more and more relevant going forward.
Zakaria: And then the other place where I noticed that there is some traction is Iran. There’s this feeling, again, I think somewhat unrealistically that we’re going to be tougher on Iran. We’re going to be, so that Gingrich says he wouldn’t bomb Iran, but he would effect regime change. Good luck, you know?
This was a breakthrough. Remnick’s comment is especially notable because it gives up the euphemism “Jewish voters” and refers frankly to Jewish donors. It is millions of dollars and not just a few thousand votes that the pandering Republicans are trawling for. Meanwhile, Israel itself has witnessed a development germane to the Republican pledges in Iowa of implicit support for any action by Israel. The majority of Israel’s intelligence establishment has actively argued against or publicly spoken to oppose the adventurist policy of Netanyahu and his description of Iran as an “existential threat.” These last words have been discountenanced by the present director of Mossad, Tamir Pardo, and, more sternly, by the retired director Meir Dagan, as well as by the former head of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate, Amos Yadlin, the former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, Gabi Ashkenazi, and the former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin. Opposition within Israel apparently succeeded in thwarting an initiative by Netanyahu to attack Iran in 2010. It remains to be seen whether it can do so again. 
Probably none of the Republicans who clocked in at the Iowa debates to back aggressive US support of Israel against Iran was aware of this internal division—easily discoverable in recent stories in Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. Such an uprising from the military and intelligence establishment itself, against an intended military action by an elected government, is exceedingly rare in the history of democracies. So we are at a strange crossroads. The right-wing coalition government of Israel is trying to secure support, with the help of an American party in an election year, for an act of war that it could not hope to accomplish unassisted; while an American opposition party complies with the demand of support by a foreign power, in an election year, to gain financial backing and popular leverage that it could not acquire unassisted.

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