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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why not Israel?

Saturday's Wall Street Journal opinion page includes an article by Leslie Gelb, a past president of the Council on Foreign Relations, in which he argues that the Obama administration should hunker down on foreign policy by 'going to strength' so that it can pay more attention to the economy.
Our guiding strategic principle should be to train our focus on strong allies and potential partners more than on failing states, on actions where we can succeed, rather than on problems where failure looms. Shifting the focus of our foreign policy from quagmires to opportunities helps us in two ways: It enhances our power to manage problems in seemingly hopeless places and, more importantly, it cushions the aftereffects of unhappy outcomes in those places by demonstrating our unique American power to get things done.

The go-to-strength strategy began with the Harry Truman-George Marshall-Dean Acheson policy of building "situations of strength" as the Cold War heated up. They saw it made little sense to take military action in response to the Communist takeover of China, the independence movements against Western colonialism, or the massive Soviet army still hovering over Europe.

But what Truman could do was shore up a shaky Western Europe and East Asia against economic and political instability. Since this kind of unrest could make them easy prey for communism, Truman's main move was to pour billions of dollars into revitalizing key friendly economies. In particular, the U.S. firmed up Germany and Japan. These three allies came to possess over three-quarters of the world's economic, military and diplomatic power. Creating a wall of power that Moscow couldn't breach meant, in effect, that the United States and the West could no longer lose the Cold War.

The Truman team further multiplied American strength by establishing key international institutions such as NATO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) process for international trade negotiations. They backed them up with a substantial foreign aid program. These weren't multilateral organizations for multilateralism's sake; they were decidedly American-led. But they were led with attention to the interests of key allies so as to garner their cooperation. And our allies wanted us to lead, because we were helping solve their problems as well as our own.

By refusing to fight losing battles and prioritizing economic and political strength, Truman built a power base that enemies could not match. We now need to replicate this kind of strategy.

In the first place, going to strength requires that our leaders devote the bulk of their time and political capital to stitching together a common economic policy to prevent the top economies from teetering. In Truman's day, the U.S. was so superior economically that others were pulled along. Now, interests vary among allies and potential new partners, requiring a slower, step-by-step approach. But common concerns about the economy, extremism and terrorism should allow Washington to tug Beijing, New Delhi, Berlin, Paris, London and Tokyo in a unified direction. This is the top priority.

The second part of the strategy entails forging power coalitions among a few key states, with the exact composition tailored to the issue at hand. In dealing with Iran, for instance, the coalition would consist of Russia, Germany, France, Britain and China. As for North Korea, we must add Japan and South Korea and can drop Germany. As far as Afghanistan and Pakistan are concerned, such a coalition should include India and Iran (which helped us at the beginning of the war in Afghanistan) as well as Russia, China and NATO. Other key nations can be expected, generally, to follow the lead of these power coalitions.
And Israel? Shouldn't Israel be part of the coalition on the economy and on Iran (forgetting for a minute the surrealism in expecting Iran to be helpful on Afghanistan and Pakistan)? Unfortunately, in the world of Leslie Gelb and the Council on Foreign Relations, Israel is nothing but a vassal state whose focus is limited to what can be extracted from it as concessions for the 'Palestinians' and the Syrians.
As for the crises that pockmark the landscape from Israel through the Gulf to South Asia, they obviously can't be ignored. These are the breeding grounds for international terrorism and political extremism. At the same time, Washington needs to use its power in these crises more creatively and less intensely. They can't remain the center of our attention and consume the bulk of our resources.


As for the bargaining that lies ahead with Iran, Syria and between Israelis and Palestinians, let's commence that process. It will no doubt involve a lot of ups and downs, and a basket full of carrots and sticks. This will take time. Meanwhile, there's little sense in huffing and puffing about the lack of results.
It's going to be a long four years.


At 3:55 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Agreed. The Obama Administration sees Israel as the obstacle to reconciling with Iran and other anti-American regimes in that part of the world and around the world.

Its going to be a long four - maybe eight years.

At 9:38 PM, Blogger Naftali2 said...

Outside of Harry Truman, the US support of Israel was either absent, or until Nixon, based on the Soviets alliance with Arab leaders. There was never a moral component to this policy, until it was adopted in 1973.

Even then there are many elements in the US government who have always been against this, thinking, rather, it was a better idea to consider the Arab world primary allies because of the oil.

Previous to 1973, Israel was in a far more precarious position vis a vis the Arab world. The reason these times seem particularly ominous is the threat of a nuclear strike from Iran.

At this moment, we don't know Israel's planned response, just like we didn't know what would happen in May of 1967--but we found out in June.

However, there is a large section of the American public that does see the moral aspect of the ties between US and Israel--and this is the emerging conflict, the US public versus the US government.


At 7:25 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


Two words: Lyndon Johnson.

You're right about Truman (although people have disputed it when I brought it up on this blog in the past) and you're right about Eisenhower. Kennedy wasn't in office long enough and there was no crisis here. Nixon almost killed Israel in the first part of the Yom Kippur War; it took a week or so for the airlift to start. And think about some of the things he said about Jews in the White House transcripts.

I believe that the first President (other than Truman and LBJ) who genuinely supported Israel in his heart of hearts was Ronald Reagan. And the next one was Bush 43.


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