Last week, in response to General Petraeus saying the obvious - that which previously “must never be spoken” in elite circles, namely that the US arms to the teeth the Israeli occupiers of the territories, that every helicopter used in last January’s slaughter of 300 Palestinian children (Hamas murdered one Israeli boy) was an Apache – Andrew Bacevich wrote a striking analysis (see also his book the Limits of Power: the End of American Exceptionalism). He rightly praises John Mearshimer and Steven Walt for daring to recognize the harms of the AIPAC lobby, one influential in Congress but isolated from most American jews who opposed the Iraq war and Cheney's yearned-for attempts on Iran. They did a great public service by opening up the question in mainstream foreign policy circles: is the national interest of the US the same as that of Israel with regard to genocidal treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied territories?
This post will offer four observations about Bacevich’s article. First, even Bacevich implicitly endorses Israeli policy as serving the interests of Israel’s citizens. Now that policy is a) horrific toward the Palestinians and b) reminiscent of wiping out of Native Americans (there were 10 million in the United States at the end of the 18th century, now under a million, often unable to survive, uprooted). The mantra that Israel could do to the Palestinians what the U.S. had done to indigenous people – Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s – is today coming back to haunt Israel. For c) most importantly, this continuing barbarism makes Israeli Jews insecure. If you want peace and decency for all in the Middle East, Israel cannot be a pretend democracy only for Jews (one hastily moving, as with the current government, to overt fascism) and local thug on the block, victimizing innocent people under its total control. It is why Israel’s illegal and immoral project of settlement in the occupied territories is completely isolated in the world..
As Hilary Putnam has underlined here and here, a just war commands the respect of decent opinion in other democracies. In contrast, Israel’s war against the Palestinians is producing even an international legion of prophetic Jews (Chomsky, Goodman, Finkelstein, Uri Avnery, Amira Hass among many, many others) who cry out against Israel’s madness. That we, to whom Europe brought death, in what is supposedly our own state, bring death to innocent others…To put it in an oldfashioned and patriarchal but apt way, Israel’s policies harm ordinary Isrealis because they shock the “opinion of mankind.”
Secondly, a wave of protest against the Iraq war among those in the establishment who are sane and not time-servers provides a background to Mearsheimer and Walt’s argument. The CIA including U.N. chief weapons’ inspector Scott Ritter, long tried to make sense of the senseless war in Iraq. It wasn’t in anything resembling a national interest – a common good – for the U.S (lately it is routinely dismissed as an “optional” or as Obama put it, a “dumb war”). But the CIA are servants of longterm American policy. It can’t be, some CIA operatives probably think, that there is something fundamentally imperial and wrong about that policy, those wars. Instead, they see them as in Israel’s interest. The possibility that both America and Israel have moved from policies which once, given fairly corrupt elite interests, had some justification, to something far more destructive and self-destructive – call this the escalating self-destructiveness of imperial policies - could not be quite entertained.
Those who hold this point of view probably saw that Straussian-neocon reactionaries, 2000% defenders of the Israeli government and strident defamers of others who have dissident thoughts, harmed the interests of ordinary Israelis, just as they did ordinary Americans. Nonetheless, Noam Chomsky was right in his original critique of Mearsheimer and Walt’s essay. It was enormously courageous and has performed a great public service, but the tail does not wag the dog. Reliance on Israel served US imperial interests throughout the Cold War in creating divide and rule in the Middle East, and the US long dominated the flow of oil.
Today, even elite (class) interests for Israel and the United States have reached a separation point. American occupying troops, Biden told Netanyahu last week, in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention “advisors” in Pakistan) are jeopardized by Israeli oppression of Palestinians. They are. But the deeper truth is that the US needs to end its occupations in the Middle East, as Mearsheimer has rightly argued (see here). That, and not the Obama-Biden extension of these corrupt wars, would serve American interests, both in isolating and hunting Al-Qaida and in devoting some money to decent purposes at home (see here). Thus, David Petraeus is doing a decent thing in standing up to Israeli madness (not that he realizes that the current American policy sustains Israel madness), but as an intelligent voice of the war complex, he only gets the surface of American national interests. A common good is not smarter imperialism and “peaceful” occupation in the Middle East. A common good is turning away from the war complex and occupations, hunting Bin Laden while preserving (at least for the most part) the rule of law, and doing something about global warming, green productivity and benefits to ordinary Americans. To save itself and possibly the world, America has to turn diametrically against the Wolfowitzian/Ricean maxim: we have the most guns; we will never allow a competitor; we will bring our markets and er, democracy at gunpoint.
In Israel, the mirror of those neocon policies is to forge a murderous fascist and expansionist regime increasingly detested throughout the world. I speak for myself: the goal of "greater" Israel yields stories that day by day will appall any person who looks. If the government continues to create an apartheid regime in the territories and to some extent within Israel itself, Israel will eventually die like South Africa (it will no longer be a religious state). I should say however – the peaceful transition in South Africa and Tutu’s and Mandela’s nonviolence offers a great promise of healing for ordinary Israelis and Palestinians. Surely, this much disparaged image – Jimmy Carter took a lot of heat for saying what is often recognized in Haaretz – beats an analogy with Native Americans or tsarist Russia and Nazi Germany. The imbalance of blacks, Asians and whites was much deeper in South Africa – Jews and Palestinians are more nearly in balance (at least in the near future). Perhaps far sighted Israelis and others might take a closer look at the nonviolent dissolution of apartheid and the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. In No Future without Forgiveness, Bishop Tutu discusses the hostility that met him the first time he went to Israel, and the widespread interest from below when he came again after the remarkable transition had occurred.
Having "transferred" the Palestinians once, Israel could wisely settle on the territory it had in 1967 (the only course for peace which, in the long run, preserves Israel as a religious state). Another alternative is a large, rights-based democracy, a more civilized solution, for which today’s South Africa provides a model. But the way there is fraught with the danger of world war, possibly making the earth uninhabitable (what the settler/right wing in Israel wants if they can’t have "Greater" Israel – making this the most dangerous crisis in the world). The influence of Leo Strauss is (whatever he himself would have made of this madness in action – see John Mearsheimer on the Germanic formation of Leo Strauss here and here) is to the fore in this political-theology in authoritarian and racist form (I vary the apt phrase of Jan-Werner Mueller’s book on Carl Schmitt, A Dangerous Mind).
Once upon a time, the idea of a little democracy struggling in a sea of Arabs created legitimacy in Europe and the United States. But despite the blackout in the New York Times, Israel’s current policies will not withstand noticing the Palestinians (the native people). Palestinians are not the aggressors but repeated victims of Israeli aggression. Hamas pursues thuggish policies in response – murders innocents – but Israel is the occupier. Every day Israel expands illegally, every day it “Judaizes” the occupied territories, it renders itself more illegitimate internationally. Israelis are paranoid with victimhood, but they have run this offensive and belligerent policy into the ground.
Third, Bacevich drives home a fundamental contradiction in Obama’s and Petraeus’s policy. First, Petraeus seeks to alter Israeli imprisonment of the Palestinians – a policy armed and tacitly supported by the United States- which every day strengthens Bin Laden. But one might say, this would only remove one central aspect of American belligerence toward Arabs. As a second and opposed aspect, Petraeus wants to be proconsul and militarize all of American policy in the Middle East. He would make occupation “nurturing” and in his mind, beneficial. In this way, he would waste the gift which Obama negotiating for a two state solution would represent.
My friend Adrian Mitchell, the English poet, once wrote of U.S. policy in Vietnam – “Maim by night, heal by day.” This seems to capture the latest thoughts of Petraeus, Admiral Mullen, and General Stanley MacChrystal. Occupying armies – what rightly used to be called colonialisms – do not heal up the occupied by a few social projects. An army is not a humanitarian organization. The US would need to cancel its occupations, give genuine aid for reconstruction of the damages it has caused, and try to further independently – preferably, internationally and jointly - some humanitarian projects. There are many in the army and navy (I have a wonderful one as a student) who seek to heal and rebuild. But as an expression of the war complex, the military is not the way.
Fourth, Andrew Bacevich ends his insightful piece, let a thousand flowers bloom. This was a slogan of Mao’s for a creative campaign before the disastrous Great Leap Forward to encourage fresh thought about policy alternatives. Not surprisingly in our current situation – a lengthy history of US invasion and atrocity in the Middle East, “one long record of folly and miscalculation” as Bacevich puts it – Bacevich multiplies Mao’s number by 10. Outside the elite, many thoughts blossom. But inside, it would be good if Obama et al – Obama obviously encouraged Petraeus in this direction on Israel as he encouraged Biden on Al-Qaida being primarily in Pakistan - can move this discussion, through fresh thinking, into sane territory. It would benefit ordinary Israelis, not just Americans, Arabs and the rest of humanity. The Foxman thesis criticizing Petraeus (like the grouchy ladybug of Eric Carle’s children’s story picking a fight with a whale, the Israel lobby just ran up against the Pentagon…) is false.
Many are the Jewish prophets, the Amoses, who today say the truth about the Israeli government, regardless of condemnations by Amaziahs (the king’s men, Leo Strauss and some of his strident political followers*). See here, here, here and here. But supporters of Israeli oppression cast false accusations about supposed self-hating Jews and anti-semites against the wind.
From Salon Wednesday, Mar 17, 2010 17:20 EDT
Gen. Petraeus discovers the Holy Land
His belated recognition that U.S. and Israeli interests aren't always intertwined will surely discomfit some
By Andrew Bacevich
Gen. David Petraeus, commander of United States Central Command, may or may not have asked to add the West Bank and Gaza to the 4.6 million square miles of land and sea comprising his Area of Responsibility (AOR).
Writing in Foreign Policy magazine' s "Middle East Channel," journalist Mark Perry reports that he did. Petraeus, leaving himself plenty of wiggle room, says it's not so.
This much is certain, however: Gen. Petraeus, easily the most influential U. S. officer on active duty, has discovered the Holy Land. And his discovery is likely to discomfit those Americans committed to the proposition that the United States and Israel face the same threats and are bound together by identical interests.
With regard to the plight of the Palestinians, Petraeus says that this is emphatically not the case. Here, he believes, U. S. and Israeli interests diverge -- sharply and perhaps irreconcilably.
In a lengthy statement offered to the Armed Services Committee earlier this week, Petraeus ticked off a long list of problems in his AOR -- AfPak, Iran, Iraq, Yemen -- and then turned to what he called the "root causes of instability." Ranking as item No. 1 on his list was this: "insufficient progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace." Petraeus continued:
"The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas."
These judgments are not exactly novel. Indeed, they are commonplace, even if they remain in some quarters hotly contested. What is striking is that Petraeus, hardly a political naif, should have endorsed them -- and that he chose to do so at a moment when U. S.-Israeli relations are especially fraught.
What are we to make of this?
It seems increasingly clear that a thoroughgoing reappraisal of the U. S.-Israeli strategic partnership is in the offing. Much of the credit (or, if you prefer, blame) for that prospect belongs to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of the famous (or infamous) tract "The Israel Lobby."
Whatever that book's shortcomings, its appearance in 2007 injected into discussions of U.S.-Israeli relations a candor that that had been previously absent. Convictions that had been out of bounds now became legitimate subjects for discussion. Prejudices were transformed into mere opinions.
Out of this candor has come a rolling reassessment, with the ultimate outcome by no means clear. That David Petraeus, hitherto not known to be an anti-Semite, has implicitly endorsed one of Mearsheimer and Walt's core findings -- questioning whether the United States should view Israel as a strategic asset -- constitutes further evidence that something important is afoot.
Those most devoted to maintaining the status quo in U.S.-Israeli relations have shouted themselves hoarse in denouncing views such as those to which Petraeus himself subscribes. Whether they will now turn on the much-esteemed general remains to be seen.
Yet shouting hasn't worked and won't. It's far too late for that. Better to acknowledge the facts -- Petraeus states them with admirable clarity -- and then deal with the implications. Israeli wariness about creating a genuinely sovereign Palestinian state is entirely reasonable. The same can be said for Israel's determination never to betray any sign of weakness.
That said, the United States has a profound interest in redressing the long-standing grievances of the Palestinian people -- not with expectation that Islamic extremism will thereby vanish, with Muslims everywhere falling in love with America, but in order to strip away every last vestige of claimed moral justification for violent jihadism directed against the West.
To pretend that this divergence of interests does not exist or does not matter -- or to sustain the pretense that the fraudulent "peace process" holds out any real prospect of producing a solution -- is the equivalent of allowing a sore to fester. The inevitable result is to allow infection to spread, with potentially fateful consequences.
Here in the ninth year of the Long War, with U.S. policy toward the Islamic world one long record of folly and miscalculation, what we need is more candor, not less.
How long the United States can tolerate the denial of Palestinian self-determination is one question demanding urgent attention. Yet behind that question there lurks an even larger one: Is the progressive militarization of U.S. policy in the Greater Middle East -- entrusting ever more authority to proconsuls like Gen. Petraeus and flooding the region with American troops -- contributing to peace and stability? Or is it producing precisely the opposite result?
Let a thousand flowers bloom.
*Charles Butterworth has long been a noble exception and sometimes been ostracized by other Straussians for it.