26 April 2010

Israel and conventional wisdom, cont.

Despite what cable news might tell you, it is indeed possible to have a slightly more nuanced view of American-Israeli relations than simply reflexive support for (AIPAC) or opposition to (Jimmy Carter) anything Israel does.

Hats off to R.L.G. at the Economist's Democracy in America blog for spelling this out in surprisingly concise form.

As we've noted, a standard conservative talking point has been that the Obama administration has "coddled enemies" while "alienating allies," whatever that means.

While I found Obama's naivete off-putting with respect to negotiating with Iran, it's difficult to say that he is "coddling" Mahmound Ahmedinijhad. Furthermore, it's ridiculous to say that Obama is "alienating" any of America's allies. Hamid Karzai publicly threatened to join the Taliban. For God's sake, how do you expect an American president to respond?

Shortly before Bush left office, Netanyahu asked Bush for permission to bomb suspected Iranian nuclear enrichment sites. Bush said no. Bush (rightly) believed that an Israeli bombing of Iranian facilities would trigger a terrible set of consequences in the Middle East.

By AIPAC's standards, because Bush didn't completely, utterly capitulate to Netanyahu, he must be anti-Israel. This is obviously ridiculous, but it employs the same tortured piecemeal logic many in the conservative movement use to evaluate Obama's actions.

There is considerable nuance in any evaluation of the Middle East, particularly Israel and its relationship with its neighbors. Obama objected to Netanyahu's expansion of Jewish settlements into Palestinian-occupied territory for likely the same reasons Bush denied Netanyahu permission to use force against Iran -- we are on the verge of an unprecedented moderate Middle Eastern coalition lining up against Iran, and preemptively bombing Iran, or needlessly expanding Jewish settlements, will likely upset that balance.

So to say that Obama "hates" or is "alienating" Israel is absurd.

As we've noted, America does not owe Israel unbridled deference. We owe no country this. Isn't this the point of American exceptionalism? Isn't this at the heart of why we criticize an American president for bowing when he greets foreign leaders?

But this unbridled deference toward Israel is what the conservative foreign policy establishment pushes for.

It feels quite odd to be the one defending Obama from his detractors, but such is the state of conservative thought in 2010.

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