Yesterday, before the Republican Jewish Coalition, GOP candidates lambasted President Barack Obama’s policies toward Israel, accusing him of mollycoddling Iran, spoiling terror groups, and fussing over Palestinians at the expense of Israelis.
Policy prescriptions ranged from “regime change” in Iran in Syria to the relocation of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Newt Gingrich promised to reappoint ultrahawk John Bolton to his UN ambassadorship, which drew applause from the packed house. Not to be outdone, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney threatened Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with indictment “for the crime of incitement to genocide.” However loathsome the Iranian president, it is not immediately clear [under the auspices of which international criminal court the United States does NOT recognize] where Ahmedinejad would be tried.
I think we all would like to see the emergence of friendlier regimes in Iran and Syria. But frankly, we have very little say in the matter. John Bolton certainly wouldn’t be my first choice to represent American interests at the UN, but at least that’s an attainable policy aspiration. Likewise, the repositioning of the U.S. embassy is something an American president could arrange — however, that’s a very touchy subject in peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Aside from Newt’s encouragement of the daily shadow war we’re already fighting against Iran, most of this does little, if anything, to actually help Israel. If these candidates want to demonstrate a real commitment to assist our friend and ally, they first need to recognize Israel’s weaknesses and how we can help address them.
In May 2009, shortly before assuming office as Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren identified “seven existential threats” facing Israel for Commentary. They are as follows (summary notes within parentheses are mine, unless in “quotes” in which case they’re taken directly)…
1. The loss of Jerusalem (political and spiritual state capital, critical to realization of Eretz Israel)
2. The Arab demographic threat (“a binational state…would spell the end of the Zionist project”)
3. Delegitimization (international isolation at the global stage)
4. Terrorism (lack of success dealing with low-intensity conflicts launched by Hamas, Hizbullah)
5. A nuclear armed Iran (unstable nuclear neighborhood)
6. Hemorrhaging of sovereignty (illegal Arab workers, Israeli Haredim, etc.)
7. Corruption (breakdown of public morality…”greatest single existential threat to Israel”)
Upon consideration of Oren’s “existential” threats… there’s not a whole lot America can do for Israel that it’s not already doing. Would moving our embassy shore up Jewish resolve to protect and defend Jerusalem? Doubtful. I figure they already feel pretty committed to the city after three millennia. But it could demonstrate our support, even as the Jewish state faces increasing hostility at the world stage.
Israel is on its own when it comes to demography, sovereignty and corruption. We’re already doing everything we can to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, short of strategic bombing — which I believe would like only cement support for a broadly unpopular theocracy and commit the nation as a whole to the task of nuclear armament — which would merely impede, not destroy, their weapons program.
Thus, we stand with Israel against policide…even if there’s little we can do to prevent the absolute evil of terrorism within the Israeli state. Panetta’s policy speech was ridiculous, and Guttman’s “gutlessness” shocking. However, both instances demonstrate that our support for Israel — or lack thereof — is often nominal.
Ah, but what about the $3 billion we spend every year in military aid? Well, I think there are some real questions we can ask about how these funds support or undermine the Israeli military and economy. To be perfectly clear, I am not advocating a blanket erasure of support -- however, a recent report by the free market think-tank, the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, suggests that American aid comes with hidden costs.
For instance, under the terms established, Israel is obliged to buy weaponry from America that is priced considerably above market value, at the expense of a robust domestic arms industry. Likewise, American military sustenance of more dubious partners across ensures that Israel must direct more resources toward countering potential threats - but we feel a need to maintain leverage in the Arab world as well. In 2010, former PM Ehud Olmert advised a decrease in Israeli defense budgeting to buttress fiscal policy. However, when a great proportion of that budget comes from a foreign ally, efficiency succumbs to moral hazard. For free-marketing Republican candidates, this shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Finally, as opposed to endless billions in military aid that comes with hidden terms and conditions, our support for Israel should allow full exercise of diplomatic self-determination. For instance, America has demonstrated a heavy-hand when it comes to squelching Sino-Israeli strategic partnerships. This is inappropriate, and unhealthy for both sides.
Believe me, I’m not trying to go all “Ron Paul” on you here, but I’m wonkish and academic by nature. Effective foreign policy demands that we read between the lines. If we’re going to have a frank discussion about how America can support Israel, we need to consider the reality of our relationship, not shout platitudes at the echo chamber. That’s called being a false friend, and it does nobody any good. Least of all the Israelis.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online