"’He’s a cowboy,’ one soldier said as the brown pit-bull terrier prowled an Israeli hilltop encampment overlooking the city of Nablus.
"’He barks a lot,’ said a second.
"’But he’s useless,’ another chimed in."
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
Never mind that their equipment their tanks, their guns, their ammunition, their uniforms are all paid for courtesy of the US taxpayers. It doesn’t matter to these people that George W. Bush has personally gone out of his way to express his unyielding solidarity with Israel in her time of need. And please don’t tell them that what the President is asking for Israeli withdrawal from the West bank towns and cities it has occupied, and a halt to the offensive is what would best serve Israel’s interests, in the long run. Fuggedaboutit! I would also save my breath reminding them that the President’s entire Middle East policy has at least, up until now been built around Israel’s strategic needs, not America’s. Remember, those Iraqi SCUD missiles can’t reach New York, but Tel Aviv is within range. None of this is going to impress those soldiers, and their American cheering section. Their attitude is: Thanks for the subsidies, thanks for the memories, but that was yesterday. What can you do for me today?WHO DA BOSS?
The outrage, and the insults to an American President when he dares get in General Sharon’s way is not limited to the IDF, but extends to Israel’s foot-soldiers in the American punditocracy, who are now baying for Bush’s blood. John Podhoretz declares that "Sharon doesn’t work for Bush"! Yeah, but, you know what? Neither does Bush work for Sharon and that is precisely what has Israel’s amen corner apoplectic. Poddy Jr. is sooo upset with all this talk about a US-Israeli split, and pooh-poohs the whole thing:
"The media want Israel to end the war. That doesn’t seem to be what the Bushites want, and the Israelis know that."
Let’s see: the President said first that he wanted a withdrawal from the occupied territories, and then he said he wanted a withdrawal without delay and, today [April 10], the Washington Post is reporting that a "Defiant Sharon [is] Losing Support in the White House." Top White House "aides" are cited as the source of a story that the administration is now making a crucial distinction between support for Sharon and the fundamentalists in the Likud party, and support for Israel.
Podhoretz says that the importance of Israel to the US shrank in the post-cold war era, and that is certainly true. But even truer is the simple fact that the post-9/11 world has seen a more radical US-Israeli divergence. As much as the Israel lobby in the US has made the case that Israel’s fight is now America’s fight, because both are targets of Arab terrorism, the geopolitical reality is quite the opposite: post-9/11, the absolute necessity of reaching out to the Arab world has been brought home to this administration as never before.
THE LIKUDNIKS’ LAST STAND
This has been the linchpin of US policy for a simple logistical reason: without support from the Pakistanis, the Saudis, the Jordanians, Egyptians, and the sheiks of the Persian Gulf states, the terrorist network could never be traced and uprooted. Without vital intelligence from the nations of the region, we would never even know the whereabouts of Al Qaeda, let alone take them out. The whole thrust of the Bush policy has been to avoid the fondest hope of the Israeli lobby: that the US would stand, alone, with Israel against the Arab world indeed, against the whole world. Now that Powell is about to meet with Arafat, in the context of an increasingly insistent US demand that Israel must withdraw, the Likudniks who control Israel’s government find themselves increasingly isolated on the world stage and, also, in America.
Poor Billy Kristol is practically foaming at the mouth: he wants the name, rank, and serial numbers of these anonymous "aides" who dared blab to the Post about the administration’s internal debates, demanding: "’Senior White House Aides’: Speak Up!":
"Who are these "senior White House aides"? For months we’ve been reading about the unprecedented discipline of this White House–how no one speaks to the press without authorization. So we can safely assume that only the highest officials in the White House could be making statements with such significant policy implications. People at the level of, say, Andrew Card, Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Condoleezza Rice, and Ari Fleischer."
Oh, heads will roll, eh Billy boy? Oh, but I think not .
SHARON’S WAR: THE WASHINGTON FRONT
In seeking to isolate the US from its Arab allies, the American Likudniks have only succeeded in isolating themselves. They are furious with Bush for allowing Powell to meet with Arafat, and will cheer at every obstacle Sharon puts in the way, but in breaking with the President they will have abandoned their Republican base. Their only possible allies are nutball Christian fundamentalists who have a theological interest in provoking a Mideast Armageddon, and a whole passel of Democrats.
Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), whose budding presidential campaign seems to have a strong foreign policy emphasis, took the opportunity to introduce Benjamin Netanyahu to a group of Senators on Capitol hill. The only man in Israeli politics who makes Sharon look like Neville Chamberlain urged the expulsion of Arafat, the destruction of the Palestinian Authority, and the continuation of Palestinian helotry under Israeli occupation into the indefinite future. A move is afoot in Congress to pass a bill co-authored by Senators Diane Feinstein (D-California) and Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to deny visas to PA officials, close down the Palestinian office in Washington, and have the PLO declared a terrorist organization on the same level with Al Qaeda. At this rally of Capitol Hill Likudniks, Lieberman took the Netanyahu party line, solemnly averring that this is "a moment of crisis for Israel and the United States, and it is a crisis that we share together" Israel and the US are "victims of the same assault, of the same war.".
OH THE HORROR! THE HORROR!
But are we fighting the same war? Clearly not in Palestine. Sharon and his government have launched a war aimed at destroying the only possible negotiating partner for a Mideast peace plan, while the American Secretary of State meets with the man Sharon has targeted as "the enemy." Indeed, as Powell traversed the region, declaring that his goal is the establishment of a Palestinian state, and reiterating the US view that Israel is not withdrawing fast enough, the secretary of state’s words must have filled the Likudniks (especially their American franchise) with horror. We must, said the American secretary of state on his arrival in Israel,
"Show the Palestinian people that there is hope out there, hope for them to have their own state, living side by side in peace with Israel."
THE FUNDAMENTALIST FACTOR
To this, the Likudnik answer is: never! Sharon’s political support is founded on the prevalence of an ultra-fundamentalist brand of religious messianism that, in Israel, has taken on a political coloration, and had already shifted the country to the far right long before the advent of the suicide bombers. The settlement movement, and the National Religious Party, as well as multiplying varieties of fundamentalist sects and messianic grouplets, have all coalesced around the Likud coalition into a broad popular movement of extremists who see Israeli expansionism as a religious duty. Their program is to expel all Arabs from the country, annex the occupied territories, and launch a war for a Greater Israel, or Eretz Israel: that is, the land supposedly promised to the Israelites in the Bible. It is interesting to note, in this context, that Sharon once proposed, at a 1993 Likud Party convention, that the party should officially endorse the concept of establishing "biblical borders." Today, he is carrying out his campaign promise and, if he fails to follow through, there’s always Netanyahu waiting in the wings, more than willing to take the reins and unleash the full power of Israel’s military might.
ATTACK OF THE 800-POUND GORILLA
For the truth is that Israel has the military resources to wage a war for years without American help. As a very interesting piece in the Seattle Times put it the other day:
"There was a time when the United States was the unquestioned military superpower in the Middle East and drew obedient if grudging respect from all sides.
"Now Israel is the region’s superpower, and where it once looked to the United States not just for diplomatic support but also for military rescue, now Israel can thumb its nose at Washington and go its own way."
With the ability to field 19 divisions, as against the 13 divisions of the US, and the advantages of geography, Israel could move faster and far more effectively in the region long before American troops got anywhere near the Middle East. The Israeli air force, bought with US tax dollars, can fly 3,000 combat missions per day; the US can only launch 1,600 sorties per day. "We have created an 800-pound gorilla," says Kenneth Brower, a strategist and military consultant to the Pentagon and the Israeli Defense Forces. And now the gorilla is trying to drag us into World War III .
IS THAT A THREAT?
Does that last little remark sound like propagandistic hyperbole? If only it were so. Listen to what the American Likudniks are threatening:
"Israel has been building nuclear weapons for 30 years. The Jews understand what passive and powerless acceptance of doom has meant for them in the past, and they have ensured against it. Masada was not an example to follow–it hurt the Romans not a whit, but Sampson in Gaza? With an H-bomb? What would serve the Jew-hating world better in repayment for thousands of years of massacres but a Nuclear Winter. Or invite all those tut-tutting European statesmen and peace activists to join us in the ovens?"
Rather than give one inch of occupied land, rather than negotiate a settlement, David Perlmutter, the author of this outrage against reason, would rather pay back "the Jew-hating world" in the coin of radioactive revenge. This is really a terrorist manifesto, one that is every bit if not moreominous than those issued by Osama bin Laden. It is a sign of the times that such a statement could come from an educated and thoughtful man. We should take it in the spirit in which it was written: that is, as a threat.
THE PROPHETS VINDICATED
No, Perlmutter is not the Prime Minister of Israel, but men who hold views far more extreme and less thoughtful than he currently hold power there, and from them anything is possible. For years, we have bloviated against certain nations in the Middle East developing "weapons of mass destruction," but somehow Israel was exempt from this concern. No more. Would they drop the bomb? My own answer is: you betcha! After all, wouldn’t that fulfill the ancient biblical prophecies of "Armageddon" and confirm the theological hallucinations of messianists, both Christian and Jew? So who will notice that this particular prophecy was self-fulfilling? They’ll be too busy running to the nearest fallout shelter to know or care.
A GRIM SATISFACTION
Writing in the [UK] Independent, Robert Fisk takes on a "grim satisfaction" in the "uncomprehending" look on Bush’s face as Sharon continued his defiance, and averred:
"This week will be a crucial one in the American-Israeli relationship, a real test of the Bush presidency. We shall find out who the US or Israel runs America’s policy in the Middle East. It would be nice to think that it was the former. But I’m not sure."
What we can be sure of is that George W. Bush sure means to try. As to whether he will succeed or not: that remains, as of this writing, an open question.
The moment Powell announced he would be meeting with Arafat was the signal that the President of the United States does indeed intend to take back US foreign policy from the Likudniks, or at least make an attempt. How successful he will be depends, to a large extent, on the personal character of George W. Bush, and which influence, in the end, will have the last word. My guess and it is a guess is that the President, at this point, is taking the advice of his father, in which case the Likudniks’ goose is already half-cooked.
BATTLE FOR THE GOP
Politically, however, the President is under tremendous pressure, and his threadbare attempts to string the far-right wing of his own party along are increasingly ineffective. A coalition of Israel First Republicans and Lieberman Democrats could give him considerable trouble in Congress, and then there is the recurrent threat of McCainism an insurgency from within his own party, either a primary challenge to a sitting President or another third-party run. The first seems a little too outlandish, even for the megalomanical McCain, but the second alternative seems entirely plausible and far more probable after this intra-Republican contretemps over Israel.
Last time around, the neoconservatives didn’t support McCain en masse, except for Bill Kristol, who couldn’t even convince the entire staff of his Weekly Standard, let alone the GOP rank-and-file. But if there’s one thing that unites the neoconservatives, it’s absolute fealty to Israel first, last, and always. During the cold war, they were held together by two principles: the idea that we had to roll back Communism, while giving Israel unconditional support. Now that Communism is fallen, Israel is the neocons’ overriding foreign policy imperative and foreign policy is what has always driven them, while their domestic politics have been all over the map.BACK TO THE DEMOCRATS?
Could the neocons, self-described "Scoop Jackson Democrats," return to the party of their youth and, no, I don’t mean the party of the Trotskyist Max Shachtman, to which many of the older neocons belonged as young activists, but the party of Joe Lieberman, Al Gore, and the Democratic Leadership Council? Certainly it is not unimaginable. At least not as unimaginable as the Israelis nuking the Middle East into a glassy desert and, as we have seen, some people are already threatening us with that.
OUR BIZARRO POLICY REVERSED?
In the days of the old Soviet Union, the role of a satellite country was to do the bidding of its superpower patron; Bulgaria did not dictate policy to the Kremlin. But America, it seems, has been the originator of a unique Bizarro system, wherein the superpower revolves around its satellite. Now, it seems, there is an attempt to set things right, and, naturally, the issue came up first in the hardest case, that of Israel, the bossiest and certainly the most troublesome of our many "allies." Who knows what train of events opened up this promising new direction in American foreign policy? One source has it that it was the snub of US Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni that set the President off, but, in any case, the developing US-Israeli conflict arises out of the objective circumstances that is, out of a collision of national interests. The consequences of that collision, both at home and abroad, may very well set the stage for the biggest battle of George W. Bush’s presidency.
I CANT RESIST
I cant resist urging you nay, commanding you to go check out the Warblogger Watch, a great place to keep track of the foam-flecked rantings of the cyber-belligeratti. Tired of all that linking from warblog to warblog in search of the latest racist exhortation from Asparagirl? Tired of giving Glenn Reynolds all those hits just to read his latest apologia for Israeli atrocities? Then check out this useful summary of the latest from the land of the laptop bombardiers, created by "Eric A. Blair." Attaboy! Take back Orwell from these testosterone-poisoned nerd-boys!