Questions over US policy on Middle East conflict

In the US military and diplomatic establishments a consensus has long existed that Israel is a strategic liability. Following the wars of ’67 and ’73 corporate elites also came to share this view. Now Mossad chief Meir Dagan is admitting that Israel is becoming a strategic burden for the United States. His honesty is refreshing. One wishes Jewish liberals in the US would be as forthcoming as Jewish rightists in israel. Alas, with some honourable exceptions, this hasn’t happened. The Israel lobby, which has fought a historically uphill battle trying to convince politicians that Israel is a strategic asset, has found an unlikely ally in some figures on the left. The most prominent of course is Noam Chomsky, but there is also a legion of his followers who keep parroting this line. The dangers of this a-historical and contranalytical (not to say counterintuitive) view have been highlighted by Michael Neumann and M. Shahid Alam among others. Following the recent Obama-Netanyahu row, and statements by Gen. Petraeus, one would have thought this issue would be settled. Yet, like a zombie this dead and bogus argument determinedly marches on. In its latest, oddly timed, iteration Mark Levine offers the same stale hand-me-down Chomskyisms to convince readers that Israel is a strategic asset for the United States, because it helped defeat Arab Nationalism in…1967! He seems unaware of the fact that Arab nationalism was hostile to the US because of its support for Israel; and Nasser has been dead for 40 years. What’s the rationale for supporting Israel today? He doesn’t say. While he rightly points out that Israel couldn’t get away with what it does without US support, he tells us nothing as to why the US behaves the way it does.  We do not learn anything about the key determinant of the policy — the Israel lobby. Instead we get a view of foreign policy as a subjectless, metaphysical phenomena.

For a useful corrective, check out this report by Al Jazeera’s brilliant Clayton Swisher. Also see this assessment by Col. Pat Lang:’The Turks will not back down and as Erdogan says their hostility is likely to be enduring…Time is starting to run out for an Israel whose policy is based on bullying and domination.’

6 thoughts on “Questions over US policy on Middle East conflict”

  1. dear mr. idrees, you seem to imply that chomsky and mark levine both argue israel could be a strategic asset to the united states. have i got this right? if not could you clarify? i should say that it is saddening to me personally that differences of opinion with chomsky (for instance on binationalism) seem to have reached a stage where his name is used frankly as an insult “stale and me down chomskyisms”. do you seriously believe such an effort helps to challenge the state of israel, or that chomsky is somehow waiting to be embraced by AIPAC?

    1. Thanks for your comment faiz. The difference is not a trivial one. The claim that Israel serves some strategic function is bogus. It undermines the Palestinian cause. Not only does it falsify history, it also has the effect of immobilizing political action against this unquestioning US support for Israel. If Israel is indeed a strategic asset for the US, then obviously citizen action is going to mean little since like any rational state, the US is going to keep its national interest above moral concerns. On the other hand if the US supports Israel against its own best interests because of domestic political concerns — the Israel lobby — then citizens can hold their representatives to account, demand transparency, and shine a spotlight on lobby group power peddling. In other words, it is possible to change policy through citizen action. Dogmatic leftists have for too long deflected attention from the Israel lobby so that they can blame US support for Isarel on abstract concepts instead. The record needs to be set straight. There is a strong moral case for ending US support for Israel; but the strategic case is even stronger.

      1. thank you for this reply. years back i argued with a friend who said that the cause of palestine needed more Edward Saids (articulate, well dressed etc, as he described it), to place its case to the US media. my response was to say such an approach undermined the agency of the palestine people, that it was better to focus less on the US media and more on local agency. In terms of what you state above, i wonder if it is really a dead end to talk of israel as a liability or an asset to the US (though I agree with you that it is a moral and strategic failure for the US or indeed any country to support the state of Israel at present). it seems the key issue is not only swaying the US people but (sigh) a serious alliance between Hamas and Fatah, so that the Palestine people are able to show unity… anyway thank you so much,

  2. Faiz – One key reason why Fatah and Hamas are fighting is that the US, influenced by the Israel lobby, has trained and funded Fatah militias to take on Hamas. The US, influenced by the Israel lobby, refused to talk to Fatah until it turned itself into a collaborators organisation.

    Yes, of course what the Palestinians and Arabs manage to do will ultimately decide the conflict. But it is important to know th enemy and how he works. Zionism would never have got off the ground wiothout the Lobby. It is important to show Americans – and not just the tiny minority of radical, politically-educated Americans – that Israel and its lobby is acting against US interests.

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