For several generations of foreigners, America has had the reputation of its nearly epigraphic hero, Superman, coming to the rescue of helpless victims at the darkest hour with super-human efforts, and ensuring the triumph of right over might, or rather, the triumph of even more might over might. The rescue of Europe in World Wars I and II, the rescue of Kuwait in 1991 and US intervention in Kossovo are pointed to as examples of the American will to do well by doing right. Thus it is, that many are appalled and disappointed by American failure to stand by Georgia. (see Middle East: Georgia on my mind
). In Ynet, grad student Ronen Yaniv joins
a great chorus of pundits who find special significance in US abandonment of Georgia, which he claims points to the need for Israel to find other allies in a hurry. This, according to him and many others, will also free Israel from the need to make compromises in its foreign policy dictated by US pressure.
The truth is somewhat different. Israel has always been in need of finding additional allies. Those allies however, are not likely to grant Israel the sort of policy latitude that people like Yaniv have in mind.
Since 1967, Israel has gotten more and more dangerously enmeshed in its dependency on the United States. (See for example The future of US-Israel Relations
and Israel, Europe and the future
). This is not because the US is particularly untrustworthy or the US picks on Israel, nor is the US reaction to the Georgian crisis is an atypical example of US behavior. Rather, it is a typical example that is of one piece with the tradition of US foreign policy or anyone else's foreign policy. For that matter, all of Europe has done less for Georgia than the US.
U.S. interventions have always been the exception, rather than the rule, and they were always undertaken at the eleventh hour and with the greatest reluctance, usually by exceptional presidents fighting a recalcitrant state department. That's the way it should be for every ressponsible state. That is the real reason why Israel or any other country must preserve its independence and ability to defend itself, and not rely on others to fight its battles for it.
Consider some examples from US history. For three years, the United States suffered German submarine warfare and watched as France, England and Russia nearly succumbed to the Central powers in World War I. Only after a German plot to start a war against the United States was revealed in the intercepted Zimmermann telegram did the US finally join World War I, at just about the last moment. From 1939 to 1941, America again stood aside and watched as the Nazis and their allies overran Poland, France, European USSR, Greece and Yugoslavia. Once again, America was quite willing to sell arms to its allies, but not to get involved. Following the war, even the formidable Harry Truman was unable to muster support for stopping the Soviet drive in Eastern Europe until it was almost too late.
In 1956, and again in 1967, the U.S. stood aside and did nothing when the Soviet Union crushed rebellions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, even though U.S. broadcasts had encouraged Hungarians to fight for their freedom. They did nothing, because, as in Georgia, they judged that they could do nothing. Very probably, they were right. From the U.S. point of view, encouraging resistance to the USSR by Hungarians was all gain and no pain: it created a problem for the Soviets, at no cost to the US and no risk of US lives. Soldier president Ike wasn't interested in a war with USSR and had no soldiers in place for such a war. Since Hungary is not Cuba, it did not occur to anyone to threaten Russia with nuclear war as was the case in the Cuban missile crisis. After all, only Hungarians were being killed, not Americans. The Hungarians had a different view of the matter of course.
In 1979, the US watched helpless and clueless as the Islamist
fanatics of the Ayatollah Khomeini crushed the government of their ally, the Shah of Iran. The major "contribution" of the US was to send a tough representative to warn Iranian generals not to put down the revolution by force, because of human rights considerations. The generals listened to the "advice" of their "ally" and were all shortly quite dead. In 1991, the United States And today, the United States and other countries have allowed genocide to continue untrammeled in Darfur
Consider the fate of the Kurds
, who were promised independence by the US and its allies after World War I and then abandoned to to their fate in Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Tens of thousands of them were killed and nobody lifted a finger to save them. The betrayal of the Kurds is a play in several acts. In 1991, the U.S pulled a "Hungary" in Iraq. Following Desert Storm, they encouraged Kurds and Shia to revolt. Then someone in the U.S. bureaucracy changed their mind, and Saddam Hussein was permitted to carry out a massacre. Public opinion forced the U.N. to grant the Kurds a tiny protected area consisting mostly of rural and desert regions. After 2003, the Americans were once again the long lost friends of the Kurds. That does not prevent the US from looking on idly while Turkey uses NATO weapons to attack Kurdish freedom fighters in Iraq. There were no irate protests from US taxpayers about how their weaponry is being used. Kurds are expendable. Business is business, after all.
Henry Kissinger's memoir, The White House Years
, provides a glimpse of how these policies work from the inside out. This book, which I should have read long ago was a revelation to me. For many years, poor ignorant me was under the illusion that the United States lost the war in Vietnam, and that the North Vietnamese overran South Vietnam, its US ally, forcing the last Americans and their hapless allies to retreat from Vietnam clinging to the struts of helicopters. I must've been subject to some pernicious propaganda to fall into such a great delusion. Dr. Kissinger explains in his book how he guaranteed an honorable settlement for the United States in Vietnam by tough negotiations. That is his claim to greatness. I am not really sure it is so, because I cannot find the Republic of South Vietnam on the map any more, but who am I to argue with a Harvard professor and former Secretary of State?
Mind you, Kissinger was the hawk in that administration, representing a hawkish president who was fighting the policy of the State Department. The debate was about whether to lose in Vietnam immediately by precipitate withdrawal, or to obtain an "honorable settlement" as Kissinger did. Other allies suffered too. Kissinger explains how the US pressured its South Vietnamese allies into acquiescing in their own destruction, and likewise how the US pressured its Pakistani allies into accepting the dismemberment of Pakistan. He has some regrets, but as you may understand, "business is business." As Kissinger tells us, that most businesslike statesman, Otto von Bismarck, remarked that sentimentality in the conduct of foreign affairs is never reciprocated.
If we study the fate of South Vietnam, we can understand what the US considers to be an honorable fate for allies, when it is expedient. Kissinger's book with its absurd and pathetic assertions about the "honorable settlement" did not make him the subject of universal ridicule. Everyone understood. "Business is business" after all. Whether the Vietnam war was right or a mistake, the fact is that the US government found itself in a war it could not win, for objective reasons or political ones. Either allies had to be sacrificed or political expediency had to be sacrificed.
The Vietnam war was not an exception. The result was the same in other cases such as Iran in 1979 or Eastern Europe after World War II, where the cause was certainly worth fighting for in theory.
Kissinger believed, mistakenly, that the independence of State Department policy from executive wishes was an anomaly of the Nixon administration. In fact, almost any president who pursued an active foreign policy found the same opposition from career officials in the State Department and Pentagon, and the same penchant for trying to make policy in spite of the president. Truman's fight to recognize Israel was a famous example, but it was not atypical. Those who think that election of this or that U.S. President will make a very big difference in foreign policy are mistaken. In any case, no foreign country should count on interfering in the internal affairs of the United States in order to save itself.
A telling example
is given by Yehuda Avner, an aide of former PM Begin. who tells the inside story of the much heralded strategic agreement forged by the Begin government with the US. Ronald Reagan and Menachem Begin had agreed on a treaty, but Defense Secretary Weinberger was opposed. Weinberger told his aides:
"I want no publicity about this. The Israelis are going to do just the opposite. They'll want lots of publicity, and they'll want a binding document with lots of detail. We're not going to subscribe to that at all. Whatever we'll sign will be so general and so empty of content that we'll be able to defend it in the Arab world. And I want the negotiations to be held right here in Washington. I intend to control them myself.
Weinberger won. Avner observes, "What he [Begin] got was a brief 700-word memorandum of understanding that contained little that was new or substantive." This was sold to the Israeli public as a great Israeli diplomatic victory. Likewise, George Bush's letters of 2004 regarding status of Israeli settlement blocs in a peace treaty are not binding on the US government in any way.
Please do not misunderstand. I am not trying to demonize the United States. The United States is a bit better than any other country that has ever assumed world leadership, and it is a fairly good friend of Israel. But it is equally a mistake to think that United States foreign policy is determined by morality and magic. It is made in the same unpleasant way, and subject to the same constraints and exigencies and cynical calculations, as everyone else's foreign policy. Even the greatest person in the world is still human, and even the greatest country in the world is composed of humans and not supermen. Nobody wants to send their sons to die fighting for someone else's country or spend their money to prop up a regime in a foreign country, no matter how worth the cause.
Like Ronen Yaniv, most of the Israelis bemoaning the fate of Georgia and calling for independence from the United States share a common illusion. The illusion is apparently rooted in the philosophy of the Clean Break document, authored in 1996. This unfortunate document has been the centerpiece of a campaign to demonize Israel, by those who claim falsely that "Zionists" instigated the war in Iraq. But Clean Break did not call for US involvement in Iraq at all. Quite the opposite. It called for Israel to undertake regional alliances with Jordan and other countries to topple the Iraqi and Syrian regimes. It was unrealistic to say the least. Jordan hasn't the resources or the will to topple neighboring regimes, and would never have risked the crushing retribution of Saddam Hussein or Hafez Assad. It was Israel and the US that had to rescue Jordan in 1970 from the Syrians and the PLO, not the other way around. Arab countries are in any deeply involved in the Arab world and must stay there for the foreseeable future.
Most of the current crop of anti-US Israelis follows in the footsteps of the Clean Break crowd. They believe that current Israeli policy is too conciliatory only as the result of US pressure, and they seem to think that independence will allow Israel to pursue a less conciliatory policy regarding the territories, overthrow the peace process and become more assertive. All of this will cost Israel nothing. It just requires "more assertive" leadership. They forgot that when Benjamin Netanyahu came to power, notwithstanding his pronouncements about the Oslo Accords, he had to go along with US pressure and abandon the pipe dreams of Clean Break. When Ariel Sharon came to power, after blustering against the peace efforts of Ehud Barak, he also came to admit, "From here, it doesn't look the same as from there." Should Netanyahu return to power, we will have the same old, same old. Opposition leaders can afford to be heroic. Leaders in power must do what reality allows, whether they like it or not.
Foreign policy must never be based on wishful thinking. Nor, as Bismarck and Kissinger warn us, can it be based on sentimentality. Nor can we blame every Israeli fault on the United States or on the government. The failure of the Lebanon war was not the fault of the United States. It is not just the fault of the current government. Until and unless we can have confidence in the IDF once again, real independence cannot be much more than a slogan.
Striking empty poses of "independence" can only lead to disaster. Independence is not created by poses and declarations, but by military power, economic prowess and national determination. Independence is also a function of the realities of international geopolitics.
Most of those who bewail Israeli dependence on the US imagine that casting off the ties would allow Israel to abrogate the peace process, but if we do not have the US or some other large power as an ally, Israel would be unable to advance any foreign policy objective. No country in the world would support Israel if it abandoned the peace process entirely. The United States, far from pursuing an anti-Israel policy, has pursued a policy that is far more pro-Israel than that of any other western country. The United States has been our best and closest diplomatic and military support. No country offers more. It is absurd to believe that different allies would be more forthcoming in supporting Israeli claims to Jerusalem or the West Bank.
The United States also finances Israeli military needs to the tune of about $3 billion a year. This becomes increasingly hard to justify for US leaders as Israel establishes economic independence and the US continues to lose its economic leadership. That means that the "price" that Israel pays for this money in terms of independence must go up. Of course, we might not need all that military aid if the US were not giving Egypt $2 Billion in military aid, and providing hefty arms packages for its other Middle East allies, but we cannot control that.
Moreover, even with the greatest independence, Israel will never be able to manufacture for itself, or purchase from any other countries, some of the state of the art US weaponry that is a US monopoly. We won't get stealth technology from anyone else. And being independent will not change the fact that the US is far stronger than Israel, and can, if it deems necessary, stop an Israeli strike on Iran for example. That sort of confrontation would be both pointless and dangerous.
Pursuit of an independent foreign policy is not a panacea for the dreams of the Israeli right. It will never allow Israel to ignore Palestinian demands and those of the world community, completely. On the contrary, every prospective ally such as France, or Russia would insist on greater concessions to the Palestinians. The authors of Clean Break were certainly delusional if they thought Jordan or other Arab countries would abandon public support for the Palestinian cause. They cannot do so, as their governments would fall.
Whatever our interests are, we can only defend them by having independent strength, as we demonstrated in 1967, and that requires sacrifices. The United States didn't build an alliance with Israel after 1967 because Mr Nixon loved Jews, but because our victory in the Six Day War showed that Israel was a regional power that could not be ignored. We could win wars with or without US support, and that was frightening to them. Whereas prior to 1967, the U.S. tried to ignore Israel so it could be a player in the Middle East, after 1967 the U.S. understood it could not afford to ignore Israel if it wanted to be a player in the Middle East. But recreating the same reality requires shedding dependence on US aid and making the IDF a credible deterrent once again
The money to pay for $3 billion in missing US aid, and the money to pay for increased IDF training, would have to come from somewhere. Most of those who clamor for independence so loudly are not willing to pay the unpopular political price. No politician with sense is going to line up to cut funds for Yeshivot or social services in order to pay for tanks and training time. But without these changes, an "independent" foreign policy would be meaningless.
Independence should not be a slogan used in left-right political arguments. It is a national imperative. Independence for a small country is never absolute, but it is a resource to be developed and guarded. Independence has a steep price tag. Those who want the independence had better know the price and be ready to pay it.
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