Continuing from the previous post…
On the question of US support for Israel, including its current Gaza campaign, Walter Russell Mead has a lengthy post on his Via Meadia blog, “America, Israel, Gaza, the World,” in which he employs his now well-known four schools of US foreign policy model to explain why American public opinion—overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, of course—is relatively untroubled by the Israelis’ overwhelming use of force. Jacksonian American public opinion, at least. Mead’s book Special Providence, in which he explicated his four schools model, is one of the most important I have read in terms of influencing my thinking—and certainly about American foreign policy—, and I have been teaching it for years. His explanation of the wellsprings of American foreign policy via the permanent interaction between the Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian, Wilsonian, and Jacksonian sensibilities is entirely persuasive to me. Which is not to say that I share Mead’s various political positions and obsessions (he is well to my right). His analytical framework for explaining American popular support of Israel is familiar and I don’t have an objection to most of it, though the Jacksonian doctrine of using massive military force against a dishonorable enemy is a thing of the past. Warfare has evolved since the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo and Hiroshima/Nagasaki, e.g. with the Fourth Geneva Convention, televised images of war and its impact on civilians, a certain moral sensibility shared by most Americans, et on en passe. Even in Vietnam, Curtis LeMay did not get his wish to bomb the place back to the Stone Age. It wasn’t even considered (though, when I was a youngster, I remember well kids—even at my liberal university lab school in a liberal part of a solidly Democratic-voting city—wondering why we didn’t just nuke Hanoi; it is a fair guess they were repeating what they heard from their parents). Most of America is not Jacksonian al-hamdu lillah and no modern president has been mainly Jacksonian in his conception of foreign policy (though a few have partially incarnated the sensibility, notably G.W. Bush; for an elaboration of Jacksonianism, read Mead’s essay).
This is likewise for Israel, I think, and despite the recent pronouncements of Gilad Sharon, Matan Vilnai, and Eli Yishai, not to mention the general attitude of Vladimir Putin wannabe Avigdor Lieberman and his ilk. The Israeli notion that its army is the most moral in the world is a self-regarding conceit but it is the case that gratuitous killings of civilians—on a large scale, at least—and massacres have not been part of the IDF’s modus operandi. By way of comparison, the French in Algeria were far worse than the Israelis have been in conflicts since 1948 (1948 itself was another story, and there is evidence that some bad stuff happened in Gaza in 1956). In any case, Mead’s post is worth reading, even if one may not agree with it.
On the same theme, Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast had a spot on column on Monday on “Why the Palestinians will never win” over American public opinion. Money quote
[Palestinians] appear to have no understanding of why they’re really losing. They’re losing because American public opinion will never be on their side. Americans will always back the Jews. To Americans, Jews are nice, successful people. They’re funny. Jerry Seinfeld. Who’s gonna be against Jerry Seinfeld’s people?
You may think this is silly, but trust me, it’s anything but. Roosevelt toyed with the idea of interning Italian-Americans in camps along with Japanese-Americans. You know why he dropped it? Because people around him told him that there is no way on Earth you can put Joe DiMaggio’s mother in a work camp.
In other words, and put more seriously, even as there was much religious bigotry afoot against Catholics in that America, middle Americans nevertheless had fellow feelings for Italians, just as they do for Jews today. Palestinians? Yes, as Bill Clinton said, the only Palestinians he knows are college professors and doctors. In Clinton’s experience and in my more limited one, Palestinian Americans are a high-achieving and very warm people. But all most Americans know is, they’re a bunch of terrorists. Palestinian leadership needs to take that seriously and change it.
This reality is the principal reason why the US Congress passes resolutions with a 95+% affirmative vote that are more supportive of Israel than what would likely even get through the Israeli Knesset. It’s not about AIPAC—pace Mearsheimer & Walt—or votes or campaign contributions. Voting aye on a pro-Israel resolution is the easiest possible vote a US congressperson can cast. It is a no brainer. S/he will pay no price politically for it, probably not even in the Michigan 14th CD. If a congressperson, out of personal conviction, does vote nay, likely nothing will happen to him or her (no member of the US Congress who has been critical of Israel has ever lost an election on account of this). But it will create problems, e.g. denunciations in the media and on the Internet, his/her office inundated with indignant letters, emails, and phone calls, and other such irritations. And in return for what? Not much, indeed practically nothing. And the last thing a congressperson wants is problems, particularly if these are gratuitous. So s/he votes yes on Israel and that’s it. It’s really that simple.
So even if a president tried to get tough on Israel and, say, cut off military assistance, Congress would pass a bill illico restoring the assistance and with more than enough votes to override a veto. Support for Israel is the Rock of Gibraltar of US foreign policy. And the base of this rock is American public opinion, which is unshakable on the question (there are also strategic and other, more classic foreign policy considerations that underlie this, of course). Again, it is so simple. But US lefties have a hard time absorbing the reality, as I have, e.g., been observing of late on FB, where lefty academic FB friends have been throwing tantrums over US support for Israel and are impervious to my explanations of the phenomenon.
There are couple of articles from the Jewish Daily Forward that are worth reading (and are not on US policy): Leonard Fein, “Who is Palestinians’ partner for peace? Mahmoud Abbas reaches out but no one reaches back,” and Sam Bahour, a Ramallah-based businessman and commentator, on “A Palestine that Israelis can’t see. How does an unsustainable situation keep on going?”
And finally, Martin Kramer has reposted an essay he wrote for his blog in 2005, “When I last saw Gaza,” on his one visit there, in the mid ’80s, before the Intifada. He was accompanied by historian Elie Kedourie and military man-turned-historian Zvi Elpeleg. Very interesting, though I differ with Kedourie on the parallel with France and Algeria. As for Elpeleg, he is the author of an excellent biography of Haj Amin al-Hussaini. If one reads only one biography of the Mufti—though those with a strong interest in the subject should read more—this is it.