The America & Israel Lockstep
In his pre-Super Bowl interview on Sunday night, President Obama went farther than ever before to assert that U.S. and Israeli interests are identical. Obama even one-upped Vice President Joe Biden, who has repeatedly said that there must be "no daylight — no daylight" between our policies and theirs.
Obama's statement was more disturbing because he was not speaking in the abstract but about the possibility of war with Iran. The president said, "My number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel."
I'll repeat that: "My number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel."
That is a remarkable statement, so much so that I'll leave it to someone with more impressive credentials than my own to challenge it. Paul R. Pillar is a 28-year veteran of the CIA who, before his retirement, became chief of analysis at the agency's DCI Counterterrorist Center. He now teaches at Georgetown and writes for The National Interest. He also served in Vietnam between 1971 and 1973.
Here is his reaction to the president's statement:
Wait a minute-shouldn't the security of the United States be the number one priority of the president of the United States? Rather than merely sharing the top spot on the priority list with some foreign country's security?
Any national political leader in the United States should be expected to give clear, consistent, overwhelming priority to U.S. interests-never equating, much less subordinating, them to the interests of any foreign state. Relationships with foreign governments can be useful in advancing U.S. interests, but they are always means, not ends. ... Suffice it to note that the policies of the current government of the foreign state in question are not only not to be equated with U.S. interests but are seriously damaging those interests, whether through risking war with Iran, undermining efforts short of war to resolve differences with Iran, or associating the United States with a highly salient and unjust occupation. Even with an alternative government that was less destructive (to Israel's own interests, let alone to those of the United States), the interests of the United States should not be equated with the interests of this foreign state any more than to those of Denmark, Thailand, Argentina or any other foreign country, no matter what fondness individual citizens may feel toward those or other places.
Pillar goes on to mention the statements of the various Republican candidates (except Ron Paul) whose pledges to Israel are even more self-abnegating from an American point of view. He reserves special scorn for Newt Gingrich's top donor, Sheldon Adelson, (expected to soon move over to the Romney campaign) who has said that he regrets serving in the U.S. military over Israel's. Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum have all made clear that, to them, Israel is not a foreign country but an adjunct of the United States (somewhere near Florida, perhaps).
The good news — if there is any — about these statements from the president and his opponents is that it is unlikely any of them are sincere.
I certainly do not believe that Obama, in any way, puts Israel's interests on par with those of the United States. Not even close. Frankly, I don't think the Republicans do either.
The ugly part is that these candidates believe that making such statements is necessary to please donors (and perhaps some voters).
Where would they get that idea?
Well, they get it from the various organizations (led by AIPAC) that constitute Binyamin Netanyahu's lobby in America, as well as from members of the House and Senate who are Bibi's cutouts. (Check out AIPAC's website.)
That is why Obama caved on the issue of Israeli settlements (going so far as to veto a United Nation resolution condemning the, even though it was completely in sync with long-standing U.S. policy). That is why we pulled out all the stops to prevent the United Nations from recognizing a Palestinian state. That is why Obama insists that war with Iran remains "on the table" while unconditional negotiations with the Iranian regime have apparently never been contemplated. And that is why it is quite possible that the United States could find itself at war with Iran either directly or because we join Israel in a combined military assault.
Pillar points out that in the same interview Obama said the U.S. is "going to make sure we work in lockstep" with Israel on Iran. As Pillar notes:
If working in lockstep means that Israel defers to U.S. interests and preferences, that would be fine for the United States. But of course the deference nearly always works the other way around.
After all, it is America that is the superpower while Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the world.
It should be said that the Israeli people (most of whom oppose war with Iran) do not benefit from the supine position in which our politicians approach their government. As for the two Iran hawks running Israel's foreign policy, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, they can hardly be blamed if they view these statements as evidence that the United States will not oppose anything they do. Congress, of course, will do what AIPAC tells it to do.
In short, Israel is freer to get us and itself into a war with Iran that will cost God knows how many lives and shock the world economy into a deeper recession than the one we are in. Knowing Netanyahu and Barak, it will be hard for them to resist this temptation.
On March 4, some 10,000 AIPAC delegates from around the country with gather in Washington for the group's annual policy conference. The president and some 350-400 members of Congress will be in attendance. (Candidates from both parties will raise huge sums of money in special side rooms deemed independent of AIPAC so that the organization can continue to claim that it does not fund candidates.)
And the message the politicians will hear is that AIPAC is ready for war. If the past is prologue, every reference to diplomacy by speakers from the president on down will be met by silence. Every reference to war will be met with thunderous applause.
The government officials and candidates will go home happy to have pleased some key donors. The Israeli government officials will go home believing that America will back absolutely anything they choose to do. As for the American people, they will barely know that any of this is happening.