Sunday, April 18, 2010

OK, Let's Be 'Realists': What Makes Israel A Key US Ally

The New York Times reported on a recent press conference that Obama gave:
Mr. Obama said conflicts like the one in the Middle East ended up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure” — drawing an explicit link between the Israeli-Palestinian strife and the safety of American soldiers as they battle Islamic extremism and terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.The full transcript of Obama's press conference can be found here.
One response to Obama's policy comes from Rep. Pete King (R., NY):
No American ally is more trusted or reliable than Israel. Throughout the darkest days of the Cold War, and now in the war against Islamic terrorism, Israel has stood with the United States every step of the way. Israel shares our democratic principles and always has the courage to do what has to be done. The value of this unique alliance has been shared by all our Presidents — Democrats and Republicans alike.
Going a bit further, Lee Smith writes in his book, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, And The Clash of Arab Civilizations:
Getting local allies to protect U.S. interests and do the dirty work so that Washington doesn't have to dispatch troops is called "off-shore balancing," a strategy that worked well in the eastern Mediterranean, where Israel's might, and staunch American support, have prevented the outbreak of a full-scale, or state-versus-state, war for over thirty-five years.
Too bad the US has no similar ally in the Persian Gulf.

Later in his book, Smith rebuts the arguments of political "realists" and gives some examples of why Israel is a significant asset to the US:

Critics of U.S. Israel policy--at least those who are not constitutionally anti-Zionist--tend to fault Israel as a strategic liability. Their argument is that because the Arabs and the Muslim world generally dislike the policies or even the fact of a Jewish state in the Middle, U.S. support for Israel means that we are unnecessarily antagonizing hundreds of millions of people, many of whom live on the world's largest known reserves of oil. Leaving aside the dubious wisdom, never mind the moral clarity, of choosing allies and making policy based on the emotions of other countries' citizens, for whom by definition U.S. interests are not paramount, the reality is that Israel is the United states' greatest strategic asset in the region.

Consider the history: in 1970 the Israelis stopped the Syrians from making a move on the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan at a time when the United States was too busy in Vietnam to commit troops to protect an Arab ally. In 1981, the Israelis attacked Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak, an operation that at the time met with opprobrium from the entire world, including the Reagan administration, but made it possible a decade later for U.S. troops to take action against Saddam and liberate Kuwait and protect Saudi Arabia without fear of an Iraqi nuclear response. In June 1982, Israel destroyed Syria's Soviet-made surface-to-air missile battery in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley--an event that reverberated throughout Moscow defense circles when they realized that Israel's U.S.-made technology was far superior to their systems. And hence some analysts believe that this battle, effectively a proxy war, was part of the "cascade of events" that led to the fall of the Soviet Union. To be sure, there are other features that bind the U.S.-Israeli relationship--intelligence sharing, joint projects between the two countries' defense industries, and of course the overwhelming support of American votes, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, for Israel--but for more than thirty-five years, the core of the alliance has been cold strategic calculation.
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is quoted by the New York Times as having described Obama this way:
He knows that personal relationships are important, but you’ve got to be cold-blooded about the self-interests of your nation.
If only.

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