Republican Foreign Policy Follies

Foreign policy is admittedly not the strong suit of the Republican presidential candidates, but if there is one candidate who does have genuine experience in that area it is Jon Huntsman, the former government of Utah and U.S. ambassador to China. Huntsman outlined his position on America’s foreign and security policies on Columbus Day. Interestingly, he veered toward the positions taken by Ron Paul, stating that interventionism (though he didn’t call it that) combined with nation-building (he didn’t call it that) had exhausted the United States both financially and in terms of resources available to engage fully internationally. He would shrink the size of the military, and he called for retrenchment (though he didn’t use the word) and a focus on reviving the U.S. economy while dealing only with foreign interests that are absolutely vital. He did, of course, make one exception, stating emphatically that he as president would stand absolutely “shoulder to shoulder” with Israel, with “no daylight” between.

There are two ways to look at Huntsman: Either he doesn’t get it at all, or he does get it and is calculating that being a friend of Israel is a sine qua non for someone who wants to get elected president. If he honestly believes that standing by Israel no matter what Israel does is a wise policy, then he almost certainly has a screw loose somewhere. But if he is calculating that the media and the Israel Lobby will savage him if he (a) rejects interventionism or (b) does not make an exception regarding interventionism on behalf of Israel, then he probably is supporting his own self-interest, though it also means that he is unambiguously putting Israel’s interests ahead of those of the United States.

Today, when the virtual blackout of U.S. mainstream reporting critical of Israel prevailing up until a few years ago has been partially lifted due to the rise of the alternative media, it is no longer plausible that anyone who has seriously thought about the issue should think that Israel is anything but a liability to the United States. I would refer readers to Ambassador Chas Freeman’s masterful dissection of the case for Israel as a strategic asset, which notes that since the Cold War ended there is no valid argument for supporting Israel as an American surrogate. So Israel is not good for the United States, unless one believes the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal or anything at all appearing in The Weekly Standard. Other constituencies resistant to any fact-based analysis include the Armageddonists who want to see the second coming of Christ and be raptured to heaven and members of that dwindling neoconservative band that insists that Tel Aviv’s and America’s interests are identical. Members of Congress are also easily disposed to accepting two or more contrary notions at the same time.

With the exception of Ron Paul, the other Republican candidates are even worse than Huntsman. Mitt Romney famously has accused President Obama, who has virtually performed proskynesis before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of “throwing Israel under the bus.” In his recent foreign policy statement, “An American Century,” Romney promised to restore American leadership over the world by increasing the defense budget and getting rid of all the limp-wristed accommodators in the State Department. In his 44-page review he curiously only mentions major ally Japan in passing and friends in Europe not at all. But he cites Israel repeatedly and even has an entire section of his paper dedicated to that country, which he describes as a “beacon of democracy and freedom.” He also states his belief that Israel is threatened with annihilation by Iran, intoning that “a nuclear Iran will pose an existential threat to Israel, whose security is a vital U.S. national interest.” He then goes on to say, “To ensure Israel’s security, Mitt Romney will work closely with Israel to maintain it strategic military edge. The United States will work intensively with Turkey and Egypt to shore up the now fraying relationships with Israel that have underpinned peace in the Middle East for decades. The United States must forcefully resist the emergence of anti-Israel policies in Turkey and Egypt, and work to make clear that their interests are not served by isolating Israel.”

Romney also has some advice for the Palestinians, noting how they have benefited from the Obama administration’s lean in their direction, a predilection that is in reality damned difficult to detect. “The result has been to encourage Palestinians simply to hold out and wait for Washington to deliver more Israeli concessions on a silver platter. Why, after all, should the Palestinians even negotiate with Israel if the White House is pressuring Israel without extracting any price from the Palestinians in return? As president, Romney will reject any measure that would frustrate direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He will make clear to the Palestinians that the unilateral attempt to decide issues that are designated for final negotiations by the Oslo Accords is unacceptable. The United States will reduce assistance to the Palestinians if they continue to pursue United Nations recognition or form a unity government that includes Hamas, a terrorist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction. The United States needs a president who will not be a fair-weather friend of Israel. The United States must work as a country to resist the worldwide campaign to delegitimize Israel. We must fight against that campaign in every forum and label it the anti-Semitic poison that it is. Israel’s existence as a Jewish state is not up for debate.”

It does not take a genius to note that Romney is shaping American foreign policy in light of Israel’s perceived interests, not the interests of his own country. By his analysis, key Muslim states Turkey and Egypt only enter into the equation of U.S. foreign policy insofar as they are nice to Israel. The Palestinians only have any human rights at all if they submit themselves completely to Israeli “negotiation.” Where is the U.S. horse in any of these races? For Romney, the American horse is Israel.

Herman Cain has said that when you “mess with Israel. you’re messing with the United States.” Michele Bachmann believes that if “we don’t completely support Israel. God will curse us.” Rick Perry affirms that “I also as a Christian have a clear directive to support Israel. So from my perspective, it’s pretty easy. Both as an American and as a Christian I am going to stand with Israel.”

Accepting that the praise and uncritical support of Israel appear to be something like a knee-jerk reaction among both Republicans and Democrats, why is it important to take it seriously when it surfaces? It is important to do so because, far from being a meaningless gesture, it has real-world consequences. Some believe the United States invaded Iraq because Israel wanted it so. Many are convinced that if Washington goes to war with Iran it will be because of Israel. Defending Israel has poisoned the well of America’s relationship with nearly every Arab country. And it costs the United States taxpayer billions of dollars every year, both in money that goes directly to Tel Aviv and in the bribes paid to neighboring states like Egypt and Jordan.

Though the United States has far-flung and global relationships, the foreign policy is increasingly Israel-centric, at least as it is defined by the aspirants to high office. If America is ever to become a sane country again, this must stop. My intention is not to demonize Israel. It has legitimate security concerns and must act in its own interests, just like any other country. But the problem is that it is not just any country; it is a tiny state that leads the United States around by the nose because the politicians we send to Washington recognize that it is easier to agree with the powerful Israel Lobby than it is to raise objections to the damaging policies that it supports. The real tragedy is that mindless adherence to what Israel sees as its needs is not good either for Israel or for the United States. It makes the Israelis unwilling to make the concessions that will have to be made to survive in the Middle East, and it makes the United States a pariah among nations for supporting the particular brand of apartheid that Tel Aviv has developed. Can we look forward to a presidential campaign in which Israel is not mentioned even once? I doubt it, but it is certainly something to hope for.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.