America, Israel, AIPAC, and Iran: the 'Client State' Factor

By James Fallows

Lots of incoming traffic on AIPAC and Obama; plus lots in the queue on other topics, from the TSA to the Chinese economy to primary-election rhetoric to the F-35 to Australian beer.

For the moment, here several disparate notes on the US, Israel, and Iran. I am not taking time right now to spell out exactly where I agree and disagree with each of them, though I will soon attempt to do so. (Lest I be accused of giving them all equal weight, "false equivalence"- style.) The immediate purpose is to suggest the range of views.

'Shadow of the holocaust.' From an MD in New York:

I am a strong supporter of Israel who believes that the current President is committed to keeping Iran from producing nuclear weapons.  I think there are valid reasons why he feels the need to state clearly his "bonafides" on Israel before certain constituencies...

I agree with your other commentators that this is no different than the President speaking before any other constituency.  What is different, though, is the constituency.  Jews, in particular, Zionist Jews (myself included) are particularly concerned with the well being and safety of another sovereign power.  Living in the shadow of the holocaust, we fear for Israel's existence.  I doubt that other ethnic groups worry about the continued existence of their homeland.  I believe the President and his advisers understand this, and explains what you may find as "odd".

'Narratives of insecurity.' From a reader in New England:

For me, there are a few too many resonances between the "peculiarities of Israel's history" and the "peculiarities of German history" in the late 19th century. 

For a long, long time, the German national myth was founded on narratives of insecurity and persecution at the hands of its neighbors -- Germans -- rightly -- made much of their sufferings as the cockpit of Napoleonic and 30 Years Wars. They claimed these sufferings as justification for their aggressive efforts to unify and to build a strong military position in the center of Europe. It seems the historical ironies continue to resonate.

'Why so urgently unique?' From another reader:

You write: "South Korea did not propose preemptive bombing of North Korea to derail its nuclear plans, nor India of Pakistan nor the United States of China. Why, exactly, is this case so urgently unique?"

Certainly, one thing that makes Israel unique is that they already have been attacked, over and over again.  The Yom Kippur war exacted a major mental toll.  Relentless strikes from Gaza still continue (despite the fact that it doesn't register on the media's radar.  There was a two-day barrage just last week).  Or, during the first Iraq war -- the US invades Iraq, and Iraq retaliates by sending Scuds into Israel.

I am very loathe to bring the Holocaust into any discussion.  But Israel truly believes (and for good reason) that hatred of Jews is beyond rationality.  Yes, it's not rational that Iran should send a nuclear weapon into Israel -- but since when has anti-Semitism been rational?  How does the world condemn Israel, time and time again, for "apartheid" and other human rights violations, but says nothing about them vis-a-vis China-Tibet, Cuba, etc.?
 
And so, this case is unique, and not everything is rational.

'Becoming a client state.' An American based in East Asia writes:

Living overseas as I do (I have lived in Taiwan for many years) I often look at American politics through a foreign filter.  When we have arguments about "privatizing Social Security" I don't reject it out of hand because I know many countries use a private account system for retirement (Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, UK, just off the top of my head) so I'm open to the possibility that privatization may be a better system.  I'm mystified by the debate over Obamacare since, as is often pointed out, no other industrialized country uses our absurd system, nor has any country that I'm aware of tossed out government supplied health care in order to adopt our supposedly superior system. 

In a perhaps long winded way, this brings me to Israel and not only Obama's speech but the entire tenor of the Republican campaign.  I now understand why America, despite our often good intentions, is so often loathed throughout the world, even, perhaps especially, by those who we are trying to help.  It is the concept of being a "client state".
 
Forget for the moment the merits of bombing Iran.  As you rightly point out in your post, there is no other foreign government to whom we have to continually profess our allegiance.  Where we confirm that there is no daylight between our positions.  That we have supported on every point.... For all these years we have had other countries fight wars on our behalf (remember fighting the USSR to the last Afghan?) we are now getting a taste of what it feels like...
 
I have no doubt the Israelis understand much better than we what their national interests are. I wish them well in protecting those interests.   However, we have our own as well.  In our relations with any other country American interests are what we expect our leaders to promote.  When I feel the humiliation of watching our leaders grovel at Bibi's feet I understand completely how others perceive us when we expect them to put our interests ahead of theirs.

'Disproportionate sway.' From an young American:

You are certainly right that Obama's pleas that he has always stood with Israel are very odd and noteworthy.  And not in a good way.  Many of us, your younger readers, are in dismay at the disproportionate sway Israel has over U.S. Presidents.  Obama has been even less, let's say deferential, to Israel than even Clinton.  And yet he knows full well he can't cross a certain line.  On this, I am actually very sympathetic to Obama....

More ahead, in particular on whether Iran can be "contained."

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/america-israel-aipac-and-iran-the-client-state-factor/254103/