Thursday, July 17, 2014

Why Does the US Continue to Support Israel?

 I have several friends who are outraged. Another war in the Gaza Strip. Another incident of Palestinian civilians getting killed by air strikes and artillery fire. The images flow into our computers and TVs. The old emotions are sparked. The weary attitudes of 'these people have been killing themselves forever,' are invoked. The calls for America to get tough on Israel fall on fallow ground. The wars seem like they will continue for decades.

 I have no strong opinions about either side's right to kill their so-called enemies. Every few years, it seems like there is some eruption. Despite the latest round of international outcry, nothing is going to change in the US/Israeli relations. This consistent mutual support isn't because of some Zionist conspiracy or even Israeli's powerful block of right-wing billionaires who spread their money between the two nations. This loyalty isn't the result of AIPAC having some mythical spell over the Congress, although they do have a strong lobbying interest in Washington (as well as many other countries with strong ties to the US). The reasons are pragmatic.

The US continues to support Israel because:
1) they have been a consistent ally for anything/everything America has done for over 50 years (the only country in fact) and that's what being an ally is about in the international arena.
2) they have been and are the only stable and prosperous democracy in the Mideast decades.
3) Israel is the only nation which provides consistent, reliable intelligence on Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Turkey.
4) it's a military outpost for America without having to use American troops.
5) culturally it's moderate enough to allow for all different voices of opposition, whereas in other societies these expressions would not be tolerated.
6) Netanyahu IS NOT Israel, but a temporary regime. The US State Department realizes they've gotten an extreme right-wing outlier. And even Netanyahu is more stable and moderate than 99% of the rest of the world.
7) diplomacy is a slow game with mid-level and low-level lifers who get to know each other over decades. Israeli diplomats and American diplomats (the ones who do the actual grunt work that makes the world run, not the celebrities like Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, etc) have had working relationships with each other for decades. There is no country in the Mideast that has kind of diplomat infrastructure and stability.

Yes, some of the international protests against Israel is always going to be tinged with anti-semitism and centuries of hatred. But I think the rabid protests are imbalanced. Where are these protesters for Belarus and it's heinously oppressive regime. Where were these protesters for Russia's expansion into other countries? Where is the outrage for the many injustices that exceed Israeli's surgical strikes on an enemy (Hamas) that intentionally lives among civilian population while launching rockets from them?

Furthermore there has and will always be a peace-wing in American and Israeli culture that protests any war, no matter how justified. That's because both countries are moderate and sane. They allow for dissension, even in war time. Although these voices are getting crowded out by the right-wing media, it's easy to forget that it's kind of incredible that a society is able to engage in sophisticated debate about its own war policy, while in the midst of an actual war. That shows intelligence, moderation, and stability on a level that is missing from most of the world.

I think Americans who protests Israel while ignoring our own role in militarizing and radicalizing the region miss the big picture. At one time, the US did have enough sway with the world to broker peace in the Mideast. At one time, there was a chance for a lasting partnership. American presidents -from Truman all the way through Clinton- have repeatedly pushed the issue. For the most part, Israeli prime ministers have been amenable and -in the case of Yitzhak Rabin- lost his life in the pursuit of an American brokered peace. The only thing missing was an Arab counterpart to force the Palestinians to the table. These diplomatic pursuits just didn't go on for a few years; this was decades and decades of failed attempts. These failures hardened the right-wing and emboldened their power play in Israel politics. Now we have the result of decades of cynicism and fear from being constantly at war with its neighbors: Benjamin Netanyahu.

I'm hopeful that things can change. Netanyahu can't be prime minister forever. In our life time there may be a single Arab democracy that will rise up and have some stability and diplomatic influence. But for now, the US State Department, all Presidents, the Congress, and the US military are going to continue to bet on the only sure and stable capitalist democracy in the entire region. 

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