Should Israel be in Bush’s Back Seat?

Ever since Israel’s invasion of Lebanon last summer, I’ve been wondering about the changing nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship — it was plain in that conflict that the Bush Administration actually wanted Israel to go a lot further than Israel was ready to go in terms of committing forces to a battle to eliminate Hizballah. We’d all watched over a couple of years how Ariel Sharon had cynically walked back a hopelessly naive Bush and Rice from most traditional U.S. positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — much to the chagrin of Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft. But still, the expectation was that the U.S. ultimately needed to balance Israeli interests with those of those of its Arab allies (even if, under first Clinton and then Bush, that balance was increasingly, untenably tilted in favor of Israel). Israel’s neophyte leadership plunged into Lebanon, no doubt assuming that the U.S. would soon enough call a halt, allowing Israel to make a symbolic “deterrent” point without getting too mired (or bloodied) in a ground war in Lebanon. Instead, it found the U.S. essentially demanding that it finish the job. Where once the U.S. had acted as a restraint, now it had created a vacuum. And for an Israeli leadership weaned on the principle that the U.S. would always set the limits, this was a disaster.

It’s gotten worse. Now, you have a situation where Israel is actually able to resolve its differences with Syria, but the U.S. is warning it off talking to Damascus. And Washington is trying to engineer Palestinian political outcomes in ways that the Israeli security establishment recognizes as disastrous. Unfortunately for Israel, the game changed when the U.S. invaded Iraq, and became a direct player in a Quixotic bid to remodel the region on its own terms. That effort is doomed to fail, and the refusal of the Bush Administration to recognize the failure of its grand plan is only raising the cost of that failure.

So, while some like to believe that Israel is directing the U.S. Middle East policy, I think something quite different is afoot. Sure, a number of the people driving the agenda in Washington are in many cases neocons with strong roots in Likud, but they’re hardly representative of the Israeli political consensus. On the Israeli spectrum, those driving the policy in Washington are broadly akin to Benjamin “Newt” Netanyahu (and I say “Newt” because like Gingrich, he’s a discredited crank who only gets media attention by tossing out alarmist bon mots that headline writers seem to like — Newt: It’s World War III all over again; Bibi: It’s 1938 all over again…) Bibi can remain on the margins in Israel, because his ideological soul mates are running things in Washington. In other words, the hard-right position in Israel triumphs because it is dominant in Washington. This is not good for America, and nor is it good for Israel.

Hence my new op-ed in Haaretz, “Should Israel be in Bush’s Back Seat?. Extract:

When Ehud Olmert tells the world that President Bush’s invasion of Iraq has made the Middle East safer, at least he can fall back on the excuse that sarcasm is a mainstay of Israeli discourse. But when Olmert says Israel won’t talk to Syria as long as President Bush won’t, Israelis ought to be worried. More worried, still, when Condi Rice comes hawking fantasies about Israel concluding peace with the Palestinians while Hamas is swept away by Mahmoud Abbas (or is it Mohammed Dahlan?) playing a Palestinian Pinochet, while the likes of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt somehow contrive to reverse the train wreck of Iraq and scare Iran back into its shell.

Olmert appears to be outsourcing Israel’s strategic decision-making to a White House that has repeatedly demonstrated a catastrophic failure to grasp the realities of the region. Betting Israel’s security on the ability of the Bush crowd to transform the strategic landscape in the Middle East is rather like leaving a party in the backseat of an SUV whose driver is cradling a bottle of tequila and slurring his words as he rebuffs offers by more sober friends to take the wheel…

…The failure to impose Pax Americana on Iraq or even Afghanistan has therefore had profound consequences throughout the region. The Iraq Study Group recognized that the United States is simply in no position to dictate terms to its rivals and enemies in the region, and instead advocated pursuing a new stability based on recognition of the real balance of power, rather than the fantasy one concocted by the White House. But Bush remains in denial, pressing ahead with short-sighted, aggressive strategies that will only compound and accelerate the demise of U.S. influence in the region. …

To read the whole thing, click here

This entry was posted in Situation Report, Unholy War. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Should Israel be in Bush’s Back Seat?

  1. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Excellent analysis! (Which, on this site, doesn’t come as a surprise.) I

    ‘ll make one additional comment.

    Talking to Syria is especially problematic for Washington because a deal on the Golan Heights would require the opposite of regime change. Israel would ask the US to guarantee the survival of Bashar’s regime. (Who would sign a peace treaty with a regime that might be toppled tomorrow?)

    Remember how Bolton added Syria to the Axis of Evil in 2002.

    So, an Israeli overture to Syria would be the final nail in the coffin of the Bush doctrine.

  2. Kel says:

    Excellent analysis. I hadn’t actually thought of it in that way, but Olmert probably did expect to be pulled back by the US during the Lebanon invasion. That would explain a lot of the actions Olmert took where he simply didn’t appear to have plan at all.

    And, of course, we know that Bush actually hoped Olmert would expand the war into Iran and Syria.

    And Bush is in denial regarding the new reality and, with Bibi’s words of encouragement ringing in his ears, Bush may well fall into the trap of attacking Iran.

  3. Camille says:

    Bush is a desperate wife.

  4. Charles says:

    I heard it on tv and i couldn’t agree more. Yeah, Bush reacts like a Desperate Wife.

    Who said it?

  5. Danny says:

    Maybe because I’m Israeli I don’t buy the stance that the Americans are tying Olmert’s hands. Goodness knows, Israel has some influence in Washington, and if peace with Syria was what the Israeli gov’t wanted, they would try to talk the Americans into being more flexible. The problem is that after the war Olmert’s leadership is completely discredited, he has the Attorney-General on his ass with a corruption investigation, and he is just trying to hold on. He is in no position to sell to the Israeli public a peace deal with Syria (whom we don’t trust) in which we give up the Golan (a piece of land we have become attached to). This means that he’s utterly useless and he’s gotta go, preferably to be replaced by Livni: she seems to have more balls, and bringing her in would not require new elections (Bibi maybe very well be Newt, but if there elections tomorrow, he would win).

  6. Alex Morgan says:

    Yes, Tony’s analysis is always thoughtful and thought provoking, even if I don’t always reach the same conclusions.

    I’m sure the U.S. was hopping Israel would “finish the job” – in that, they overestimated the difficulty of such a task (what a surprise – look at Iraq!).

    However, I doubt Olmert was counting on the U.S. words of concern to be the cover for a limited response.

    First, Olmert has the same problem as most doves the world over – they have to “prove” themselves tough, and work so hard against the stereotype of the limp-wristed bleeding heart liberal, that they can participate in some appalling conflict escalation (Vietnam anyone?).

    Second, the Israeli leadership seems to have genuinely miscalculated the difficulty of the task – just as the U.S. has… amazing, but true… for all the vaunted talk from Israelis about how they know the region because they live in it, I’ve found many Israelis quite uninformed and misinformed and living in a world of myths and stereotypes about Arabs and the ME in general. Not exactly a reality based community, Israel.

    Third, and most importantly, you forget that virtually the entire Israeli public was baying for some ayrab blood. Israelis felt they were attacked without provocation, it was intolerable and absolutely imperative to respond in the strongest way possible – in this virtually the entire population was united – left, right and center – polls showed well over 90% support for the vicious and indiscriminate bombing of Lebanon… that’s right, again, Israel is not a reality based community when it comes to their security needs in the context of having to live with their neighbors long-term.

    Thus, the U.S. didn’t need to egg on Israel to do the deed. And I don’t think Israelis were in any mood to be restrained, or counted on being restrained by the U.S.

    In fact, if anything, the Israeli public wanted a ground invasion and much bigger escalation, which fortunately for the Israelis (and Lebanese) didn’t really happen.

  7. Tony says:

    Danny — you may have “grown attached” to the Golan, but it isn’t yours, and international law dictates that you give it back — international law, and also common sense. You don’t trust the Syrians? I’m sure they don’t trust you either. You’ll never have peace until you get used to the idea that the 1967 borders are where Israel ends.

    Alex — Olmert isn’t a dove; he’s more like an opportunist who always played the Sancho Panza role to Sharon, and found himself unexpectedly thrust into the role for which he is entirely lacking. Of course there were many factors in play, but the Israelis were genuinely surprised that the U.S. was encouraging them to invade Lebanon — something many Israeli commentators said Sharon would surely have avoided…

  8. Alex Morgan says:

    I shouldn’t have used the word “dove” to describe Olmert – he is an opportunist (as most politicians are!) – what I meant is as distinguished from the folks on the right like Netanyahu. My larger point stands though – Olmert had no real military background and felt he needed to prove himself “tough”, as one of the accusations against him was always that he’s inexperienced in military matters. If Olmert ever hoped to pull back from any of the occupied territories, he couldn’t afford to look “soft” or “weak” (as the right-wing charges went). Of course, ultimately it was all a miscalculation, but I think the political context in which Olmert was operating has to be taken into account.

    I don’t know if Sharon would have invaded or not, but at least he wouldn’t have been politically vulnerable to the “weak” or “soft” charge, and perhaps he’d have a greater political margin of operation, so perhaps he could afford not to invade. But still, the baying for blood from the public at large was very loud and very clear, and it would have been hard to resist.

    So I still maintain that whatever the American position wrt. Lebanon, this war was driven largely by Israel’s internal situation. I just don’t buy the thesis that the Israelis sat around saying “we’ll go in, and count on the Americans to protest early on, and then use that as a cover to limit the incursion”. It doesn’t make sense on so many levels. Anyhow, that’s my humble opinion.

  9. Danny says:

    Tony – you’re getting the wrong impression of my political beliefs. I do favor withdrawal a land for peace deal in the Golan – I believe I criticized Olmert’s lack of leadership & cowardice on this issue.

    About returning to the 67 borders – I agree completely, I probably dislike the settlements even more than you do. It’s going to be 40 years of occupation this summer, and I hope you believe me that I am ashamed. However, you’re many posts about Zionism’s illegitimacy points that it won’t end there. Whatever borders we occupy, to the Arab world we are crusaders, sooner or later to be either swallowed or disgorged.

  10. Pingback: Rootless Cosmopolitan By Tony Karon Blog Archive Should | Wood TV Stand

  11. For seat covers, i prefer to use cotton or polyester woven fabric because i like its feel.;”‘

  12. F*ckin’ tremendous issues here. I’m very satisfied to look your article. Thanks a lot and i am taking a look ahead to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?

  13. Best prices black friday deals 2011

  14. payday loans says:

    ugzheb fmworbdxjuk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *