When friends of friends are enemies
A friend recently observed to me that it is ironic that the neoconservatives, whose bottom line foreign policy issue is the uncritical support of Israel, should be obsessed with constantly confronting and goading Russia even though Tel Aviv and Moscow get along just fine. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has traveled to Russia three times in the past year and he and President Vladimir Putin reportedly understand each other very well.
To be sure, part of the reasoning behind the Israeli offering the hand of friendship is certainly demographic and electoral as many Israelis are Russian in origin and also characteristically strongly support recent right wing governments. They are regarded as essential members of Netanyahu’s coalition, but there is clearly more to it than counting votes.
From the Israeli point of view, Russia, though allied with Syria and friendly with Iran, does not threaten Israel and it also is an available resource to help Tel Aviv develop, refine and market its claimed offshore energy resources. Israel, increasingly isolated because of its repression of the Palestinians, is always eager to make new friends who will help protect it in international fora, witness Netanyahu’s recent charm offensive in Africa.
From the Russian point of view, Israel is a useful friend given its unparalleled access to the U.S. Congress, the White House and the American media. The Netanyahu government also understands Moscow’s concerns about radical Islam in the Arab world and Central Asia and is willing to share information that it obtains to contain the problem. For both Israel and Russia terrorism is not an abstraction – it sits right on and even inside their borders.
Even though Israel is undercutting the neocon plan to isolate and punish Russia at every opportunity people like Bill Kristol, the Kagans and John Bolton make no effort to criticize Netanyahu for his temerity. It is a policy of deliberately looking the other way and it underlines the essential phoniness of what the neoconservatives stand for. To put it bluntly, the neocons claim to support American military dominance globally for altruistic reasons but the reality is that they are largely in it for the money as well as the political and media access to power that money brings with it in contemporary America. What would Sunday morning talk shows be like without a beaming Bill Kristol?
And the cash for the neocons comes mostly from defense contractors who are eager to have a clearly defined serious enemy to boost military spending coupled with an articulate group of pundits who insist on seeing threats worldwide and are willing to promote that viewpoint. Keeping the cash flowing to fund that nice corner office with a view of the Capitol even trumps the Israel relationship but the neocons are careful to make sure the two issues never bump up against each other when they are fulminating against Obama’s national security policies.
We are currently witnessing neocon perfidy at its most refined. They are jumping over themselves to support Hillary Clinton for president in spite of her manifest corruption and unreliability because Donald Trump has threatened to do two things: first he has expressed his unwillingness to enter into new wars in the Middle East or anywhere else and second he has stated that Washington should be even handed when attempting to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Both are anathema to the neocons and Trump has further complicated matters by indicating that he would be willing to talk with Vladimir Putin. If Trump were to win, many neocons would likely find themselves having to look for a real job, a terrifying prospect for people with few skills to fall back on.
Hillary Clinton on the other hand will do what is right from the neocon point of view – confronting the world one nation at a time starting with Iran, which she has threatened to “obliterate.” She will also need to boost defense spending to support her wars, will stiff Vlad, and will allow Bibi to move in down the hall at the White House as Bill will often be out on the town and his room in the East Wing is not needed.
Hillary’s bellicosity guarantees that the military industrial complex cash machine will continue to operate full speed, driving scores of leading neocons to announce that they will vote for her. Reuel Marc Gerecht, one of the neocons’ favorite Iran bashers, concluded in an article appearing in a recent issue of the Weekly Standard that Hillary’s “not a neoconservative, but Hillary Clinton isn’t uncomfortable with American power. Unlike Obama, she isn’t the apologetic type. Whatever her opinions were in the Vietnam era, she doesn’t now view the Cold War ambivalently. She’s certain that might married right in that struggle, even in the Third World, where Obama and many on the left have serious doubts.” I’m not completely sure what that pompous bit of prose is supposed to mean but Gerecht in a backhanded fashion also provided what is for me a ringing endorsement of Donald Trump, though he of course meant to do the opposite having stated his intention to vote for Hillary, writing “Trump is probably the most anti-interventionist presidential candidate since Eugene V. Debs, the indefatigable socialist, in 1912.”
The issue of Israel has, of course, been somewhat hidden during the lead-up to the major party nominating conventions, with everyone inevitably expressing his or her deep affection for Netanyahu, but it has surfaced somewhat in the Democratic Party platform deliberations where Cornel West and James Zogby attempted to introduce some language critical of the occupation of the former Palestinian West Bank. They failed in that attempt though it is possible that something similar will be introduced from the floor during the actual convention. It will undoubtedly also fail even if it succeeds as it did in 2012 when the presiding chairman seemed to hear more “yea” votes than anyone else present in the hall.
The Republicans, still firmly under control of the neocon foreign policy clique, have outdone the Democrats. On July 12th the platform committee, with input from Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, advisers to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, approved a plank on Israel that does not accept creation of a Palestinian state at all unless Israel decides to take action to permit that to develop. On that and all other issues there will be “no daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. The subcommittee that drafted the position reportedly approved it by an overwhelming majority followed by a standing ovation.
The document calls Israel a “beacon of democracy and humanity.” It states that “support for Israel is an expression of Americanism” and declares that the U.S. Embassy will be moved to Jerusalem. It denies that Israel is an “occupier,” and calls for legislation to combat the “anti-Semitic” Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The plank could have been written by Netanyahu’s Foreign Ministry or perhaps by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and basically cedes to Israel control over the direction of U.S. foreign policy in a critical and unstable region.
And there has been additional activity in Congress lately regarding Iran, with a large sale of Boeing jets being blocked and three additional bills submitted for consideration that will punish that country by, among other steps, denying it access to international finance. Indeed, the unrelenting neocon hostility towards Iran is a subset of the pro-Israel bias as Tehran is perceived as a problem for Tel Aviv while the arguments made to suggest that Iran threatens Europe and the United States lack any plausibility.
The creation of enemies unnecessarily, as applied to both Iran and Russia, is a symptom of the neoconservative disease. It is a pointless search for full spectrum military dominance that panders to an inchoate fear that the U.S. is surrounded by foes that can only be dealt with by decisive kinetic action which will require large defense budgets. Today’s neo-conservatism is a movement born from a curious amalgam of interests that have come together at a time when the United States is in reality militarily unchallenged worldwide and is threatened neither by any other country nor by the pinpricks inflicted by terrorists. Neocons and their associated liberal interventionists have to an extent dominated the foreign and defense policy thinking of the two major parties and most of the media but their message is ultimately based on emphasizing national insecurity, which in the current context is somewhat inexplicable. The United States has never been more secure internationally, if not domestically, and the only problems it is confronting are themselves part and parcel of the imbroglios that have been engineered by the interventionists and their friends. Speculation is that a Trump victory will actually end their dominance. If that is so, it might just be sufficient reason to vote for Donald Trump.
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