July 29, 2010

Is Israel a liability for the US?

By Marwan Bishara inon July 28th, 2010

File 3221
Last week, the Nixon Center sponsored a debate between pro-Israeli Washington Institute executive director Robert Satloff and Chas Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and an opponent of unconditional US support to Israel. The subject was whether Israel is an asset or liability to US strategic interests.

Satloff made the case that Israel has greatly served US interests in the region - making it not only an asset but a strategic bargain, even bonanza, to the US. Freeman for his part, expressed scepticism about Israel's strategic utility making the argument that Israel is a liability.

The almost 90 minute-long discussion underlined the two opposing views in the US about Israel: A majority that reckons US-Israeli relations are the bedrock of US interests and the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and a minority view that sees Israel as a strategic liability and a hindrance to peace that is being financed and armed by Washington thanks to its US assets - the Israeli lobby and its friends in Congress and the US establishment.

The elephant in the relationship

The all too predictable pro and con nature of the debate meant repeating same-old same-old selective mantras about the "special relationship". More importantly, as per usual for such discussions, the debate fell within the ideological limits of US-based mainstream think-tank perspectives.

The question of whether US foreign policy is a liability for the Middle East; whether serving Washington's interests is a liability for Americans, Arabs and Israelis did not arise. And whether US foreign policy is a liability to the future of a Jewish presence in the region was totally discounted.

The two debaters seemed to square off on the question of whether Israel shares the democratic and foreign policy 'values' of the US. But the liability argument took an interesting turn when Satloff argued that when US-Israeli relations were at their height, US-Arab relations were too - meaning that Israel could not be a liability on the basis that it undermines US-Arab relations, the main argument of the "special relationship" detractors.

Arab ultimatums he argued have been mostly empty and nonsensical. Watch NOT what the Arabs say but what they do, he cited an Arab leader.

When it comes to the official Arab position Satloff seemed more convincing to the audience. And Freeman seemed to concede the point that liability was more on the level of undercutting strategic 'opportunities' for the US in the region.

Arab political impotence

Alas, when it comes to the official political Arab culture, Satloff is not far off. It can be summarised by one word: impotence.

Impotence, simply put, is the gap between will and capacity, and in the Arab world the greater the (popular) will, the weaker the (official) capacity, and the worse the national Arab impotence.

In the real world of the official Arab order, impotence evolves from bottomless summits on Palestine; meetings with no agreements, resolutions without implementation, measures without results; fiery declarations with no backup.

It is Arabs negotiating with no power; compromising without a bottom line, backtracking on their commitments.

Arab leaders' wars, like their peace initiatives, lead to the same humiliation - they don't seem to care and don't scare, they don't change and can't be changed, leading in a region when all good news is pregnant with worse news and when no news is the best news.

Political Arab impotence is staying still when others change; when Turks rise to world respect; Iran to regional prowess; Afghanistan humiliates yet another world empire; Pakistan achieves nuclear prominence ... and when Israel gets away with a 40 year occupation and climbs to the summit of the world's top 20 economies.

The predominantly unconditional Arab support for Washington's policies and support for its leading role in the region despite its unconditional support of Israel has arguably lead to further Arab decline.

It's the Arabs people, stupid

Whether Israel is a liability or not is an Arab decision, not an Israeli or American one. The absence of official Arab will and response means Israel can get away with a lot in its wars and occupation.

What Satloff knows all too well, and Chas Freeman recognises, is that the US' closest Arab friends are mostly unpopular among their people. Israel's liability might not be obvious when it comes to the official order, but it is causing an ever deeper and more dangerous schism with the vast majority of Arabs, Muslims and other nations around the world.

As any reliable poll would tell you, anti-American sentiment is more widely shared under the so-called moderate, rather than unfriendly, regimes in the region.

But neither debater has addressed the great challenge facing the US: The continued humiliation of the weak official Arab order is a powder keg waiting to explode, especially if the US continues to provide unconditional support to Israel.

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