The two major American political parties differ on most things, but they generally agree on foreign policy. In particular, they bow to Israel's right wing as a major driver of U.S. actions in the Middle East. At the moment, this applies primarily to the Iran issue. It is now obvious as well as convenient that the subject does not have to be analyzed and discussed in code anymore, or only tackled by groups outside Chomsky's "parameters of respectable debate." Just a few short years ago, Mearsheimer and Walt had to seek out a foreign periodical for their critique of the Israel Lobby's clout, so forbidden was their daring. But now, just after the U.S. congressional elections, the two most politically powerful American billionaires have discussed their plans for the 2016 election cycle: to ensure that what they consider Israel's interests are protected.
Media mogul Haim Saban and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson are both supporters of the right wing in Israel, and proud of it. "There is no right or left when it comes to Israel," said Saban, when the two addressed the plenum at the post-election conclave of a new interest group, the Israeli American Council. Saban, a patron of Hillary Clinton, was dismissive of President Obama's Iran diplomacy: "too many carrots and a very small stick." He also offered a suggestion for what to do if he thought Israel were at Iran's mercy: "I would bomb the living daylights out of the sons of bitches." One wonders if he means using tactical nukes. For his part, Adelson pooh-poohed the very idea of democracy for Israel and declared the Palestinians "an invented people," as Newt Gingrich has put it.
No one's hair seems to be on fire over these revelations. Andrew Sullivan wrote in his blog the next day, "We're so used to this astonishing display of extremism and tribalism that it no longer manages to shock." Well, I for one was shocked, as I had been at the loose insider chat thrown around (or planted) just prior to the election. Someone on President Obama's team called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "chicken[droppings]" for his failure to rein in the extremists on his right. Of course, they are his base, after all. It may be naïve to expect him to challenge them on the only issue they care about: taking over the whole of Greater Israel.
The more appropriate question is, why can't the American president stand up to the Likudniks? Now that the midterms are over and there is no one to "protect" until the Hillary campaign two years from now, perhaps Obama might "dare to speak out," as former Congressman Paul Findley titled his book about this subject 30 years ago. Recent violence in Jerusalem points up the urgent need for U.S. action, but the possibility of rebooting diplomacy, this time with more courage, looks remote. This was the subject of our Council's most recent Capitol Hill conference (see the edited proceedings, p.1, or view the entire event on our website: www.mepc.org.
In addition to the core issue of Palestine, the contents of journal 122 touch on most of the major U.S. policy concerns in the region, for one, the movement called ISIS, ISIL or Daesh (see Ahmed Hashim's history of the group, p. 69, and also the recently declassified document "Islam in Egypt," written in 1982, just after Anwar Sadat's assassination, by the U.S. ambassador to Cairo, Roy Atherton). There are reports that ISIS is burying the hatchet with al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front, to form a united and even more intimidating presence. And President Obama has pledged to include the Syrian government in our target list. Let's consider what the fallout might be for Syria's minorities if, in our eagerness to bring down Bashar al-Assad, we were to help the Islamic State take over the western heartland of Damascus and Aleppo. The flood of minority-group refugees would dwarf the numbers now stuck in camps far from home, if they were so lucky as to survive.
The dread of U.S. involvement in such an eventuality may be prompting Russia and Egypt to try to restart peace talks on Syria. Some very astute analysis of the current war fever can be found at Council board member Pat Lang's blog, Sic Semper Tyrannus (turcopolier.typepad.com). For even more provocation, see Andrew Bacevich's review of General Daniel Bolger's new book, Why We Lost: A General's Insider Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (New York Times Book Review Section, November 16). Is Iraq War III really going to follow the model of the failed Iraq War II — except with (maybe) fewer American boots on the ground? At least the Iraq war of 1991 was followed by the noble culminating activity of the international peace conference at Madrid. The well-meaning diplomats had to back off, however, when the new Rabin government in Israel said, in effect, "We've got this," and signed a separate peace with Yasser Arafat at Oslo.
On my desk is a framed copy of a paragraph that I have cited here before from Les Gelb's article, "Mission Unaccomplished" (in Democracy, A Journal of Ideas, no. 13, summer 2009):
My initial support for the [Iraq, 2003] war was symptomatic of unfortunate tendencies within the foreign-policy community, namely the disposition and incentives to support wars to retain political and professional credibility. We "experts" have a lot to fix about ourselves, even as we "perfect" the media. We must redouble our commitment to independent thought and embrace, rather than cast aside, opinions and facts that blow the common — often wrong — wisdom apart. Our democracy requires nothing less.
Palestine might be too hard for Congress to tackle, but, now that the relatively more enthusiastic supporters of U.S. military intervention have been rewarded with additional power, it would be well to consider the costs and how to provide for them. Rather than sending a small group of soldiers on multiple tours of duty, a larger pool — as well as higher taxes — might be items to discuss publicly. General Stanley McChrystal is promoting universal national service for everyone aged 22-29. Could this be the back door to a draft down the road?