In the Arena

McCain and Israel

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With all the economic news, foreign policy has slipped below the radar screen, but a hat tip to Josh Marshall for linking to this report about the rather incredible show put on by two of McCain’s foreign policy advisers at a weekend retreat sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East policy:

[Max] Boot called the Bush administration’s renewed efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian talks a mistake.
He also cast Israel’s talks with Syria as betraying the stake that the United States has invested in Lebanon’s fragile democracy.

“John McCain is not going to betray the lawfully elected government of Lebanon,” Boot said.

[Richard] Williamson was slightly more nuanced in addressing the issue of how the message would be sent.

“Israel should not be dictated to in dealing with Syria or dealing with Lebanon,” he said, addressing Israeli and some pro-Israel resentment in recent years at pressure by the Bush administration to stifle such negotiations. “Hopefully as friends they will listen to us.”

So the neoconservatives know what’s best for Israel better than the Israelis do.

McCain’s radicalism on this issue has been a poorly kept secret–but his views clearly mirror the desires of extremists like McCain’s Vegas fundraiser, Sheldon Adelson, who opposes a two-state solution…and he seems to have decided to align himself with the out-of-power Likud party on the Syrian negotiations. Williamson’s formulation is appropriate, if wrong-headed, but what is to be said of Boot? Israel is a democracy. We have no business strong-arming this ally. Israel’s duly elected government–and, from my own conversations, it’s military and foreign policy establishment–all see great potential advantages in talking to the Syrians.

There would also be great advantage to the United States, and the middle east region, if Israel and Syria could cut a deal: it would be a major blow to Iran and its Hizballah proxies (the very fact that Syria and Israel are talking undercuts Iran’s fierce anti-Israel pose). The talks certainly should be pursued–and encouraged by the United States. It is long past time, for example, that we returned our Ambassador, Margaret Scobie, to post in Damascus.

The sheer arrogance of the McCain position is stunning; his inability to separate himself from the neoconservative extremists on any foreign policy issue raises major questions about his alleged foreign policy expertise. And, once again, it should be made clear this Likudnik-neoconservative tendency represents the thinking of a small minority of American Jews.

Update: Several commenters are pursuing a disingenuous argument: “But Joe, I thought you believed that Jewish neoconservatives always supported the Israel government…” Sorry, but nope: My argument is that a small group of American Jewish neoconservatives–those, for example, who advised Bibi Netanyahu to attack Iraq in the late ’90s–have a twisted (and conflated) view of both U.S. and Israeli interests: that militarism and bellicosity are the alpha and omega of possible responses to Israel’s Arab and Persian neighbors. Those who hold these views have deluded themselves into thinking that those who disagree with them are either “soft on terrorism” or anti-Israel. They have used these canards as a bludgeon against responsible individuals trying to find diplomatic paths toward mutual survival on a very tiny piece of turf. Given their influence in the Bush Administration–and on the McCain campaign–such people are extremely dangerous to Israel’s future and ours.

My position is, I believe, more commonly held than theirs: I’m in favor of the use of force, when called for–in the West Bank, after the terrorist attacks of 2002, for example–but I believe that Israel has no long term future unless diplomatic pathways to peace are found.

Update: Here’s Max Boot’s explanation of what he actually did say. Bottom line: he still opposes negotiations with Syria. Which means he’s still opposed to a deal that could significantly harm Iran, help Israel and enable Syria’s Alawite leaders to walk back from a too-close relationship with Shi’ite-Iraq (Syria is 80% Sunni). I’m not saying such a deal is doable. But Bashar Assad has made it clear–to me, among others–that he’s open to talk and everything’s on the table. Where’s the harm in that?