American Blood and Treasure

That conflict, and specifically the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, endangers U.S. national security is now official, albeit still delicately spelled out. If Obama still gives little indication of having thought the implications through, the issue is nonetheless now squarely on the agenda for public debate.
A pernicious set of blinders has been ripped off the eyes of the American thinking public over recent weeks, bringing to the fore a long-overdue discussion of the impact of the U.S. “blank check alliance”* with Israel on U.S. national security. This issue is now quite clearly simply not going to go away. Petraeus, who kicked things off, may be correct that bloggers are partially responsible [Shadowed Forest 3/27/10] for this, and once again I thank him for his kind recognition of this democratic action. But we are now well past Petraeus. Obama himself, albeit still mired in pretense, has now said enough for all but the most prejudiced special pleaders for Israeli supremacy to read between the lines:
…we can’t want it more than they do.

But what we can make sure of is, is that we are constantly present, constantly engaged, and setting out very clearly to both sides our belief that not only is it in the interests of each party to resolve these conflicts but it’s also in the interest of the United States. It is a vital national security interest of the United States to reduce these conflicts because whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower, and when conflicts break out, one way or another we get pulled into them. And that ends up costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure. [As quoted by Laura Rozen on Politico.]

Still timid this may be, but Obama is no revolutionary, and his hold on power is tenuous. His statement contains much to criticize, but that’s OK. The bottom line is that he has now established a bottom line, and it is a very different one (despite an old and similar remark by Secretary of State Rice) from that of the Bush Administration. Obama is no foreign policy analyst, but he has—oh, so demurely, like a blushing maiden–made the link between U.S. “blood and treasure” and Israeli behavior. As the blood continues to spread on the ground of Islamic lands and the treasure chest slowly empties, this issue, now officially certified as a proper subject for polite conversation, will come back to haunt all those who see fit to place the private agendas of rightwing Israeli expansionists and Israeli fundamentalists ahead of U.S. national security.
As for the specific content of Obama’s remarks, they illustrate that this debate, like the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, is just getting off the ground.
  • The canard about not “wanting it more than they do,” while theoretically accurate regarding an “honest broker” situation, is patently ridiculous in light of the fire hose of American weaponry with which Washington feeds the Israeli rightwing addiction to violence.
  • Obama’s gentle reference to the U.S. “one way or another” getting “pulled into” conflicts is also a bit too cute. Was he, perhaps, referring to getting pulled in by looking the other way while a former U.S. candidate for president was being denied entrance to Gaza or to getting pulled in by pretending that it would be Iran who would introduce nuclear arms to the Mideast or by rushing jet fuel to Israel so it could bomb out of existence the civilian infrastructure of southern Lebanon? Yes, indeed, with all the pulling here and there, running a superpower is a thankless job.
But these criticisms pale before the bottom line: free speech on this issue is now authorized. And, sure enough, the debate goes on…
Head of the Center for Middle East Peace and former Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler was quoted in the New York Times on 4/15/10 as follows:
“I don’t think that anybody believes American lives are endangered or materially affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Mr. Wexler, who has close ties to administration officials. “That’s an oversimplification. However, you’d have to have blinders on not to recognize that there are issues in one arena that affect other arenas.”
Not to quibble with Mr. Wexler’s wording, but because this is a crucial point in the new debate over Israel’s impact on U.S. national security, here are some ways that “American lives” can be “endangered or materially affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:”
  1. A Palestinian outraged by Israeli repression that is supported by the U.S. might join an anti-U.S. terrorist movement or provide material support to such a movement;
  1. A Muslim from any part of the world might be similarly motivated out of sympathy for the unjust treatment of Palestinians, knowing that it is only U.S. support that enables Israel to behave this way;
  1. A radical group might be motivated in part by the repression of Palestinians;
  1. A radical group might exploit the repression of Palestinians whether it sincerely cared about them or not;
  1. Americans might become confused into equating the protection of Israel with fighting a war against Islam, i.e., come to view the whole complex set of linkages between the West and Islam through simplistic zero-sum glasses;
  1. Israeli militarists might exploit the conflict to suck the U.S. into an unnecessary war with an opponent of Israel that could, were it not for Israeli extremism, otherwise have cooperated to mutual benefit with the U.S. [See, for example, Orly Halpern’s revealing account of official Israeli hypocrisy on Iran 3/24/10 on the Foreign Policy Mideast Channel.]
Of all these highly possible ways in which the Palestinian-Israeli conflict might harm American lives, the last is probably the most dangerous of all.

*By “blank check alliance” I intent to distinguish the unique U.S. alliance with Israel, which has essentially been posited on the assumption that Israel can do no wrong, and all other U.S. alliances, which allow for disagreement and are maintained because desirable for national purposes.


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