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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shocka: Richard Cohen is starting to get it!

Four years ago, this blog first started to make a name for itself when I used it to give a history lesson to Washington Post reporter Richard Cohen. Richard has improved since then, and in a column in Tuesday's Post, he shows just how much he has learned.

His starting point is a recent Pew poll, which showed a steep drop in support for President Obama's Middle East policies in the Arab world. Cohen notes that 100% of the Shiites in Lebanon are disappointed with Obama's policies on the Middle East. But instead of saying that Obama has to try to satisfy the Arabs, Cohen correctly says that it's a credit to the United States that so many Arabs oppose Obama's policies.
What the Arab world seems to appreciate is that America will never agree to what the Arab world most wants -- an Islamic state where a Jewish one now exists. This entirely reasonable conclusion is based on what has long been American policy -- not what the State Department wanted but what the American people supported. America has always liked the idea of Israel. The Arab world, for totally understandable reasons, has always hated it. Nothing has changed.

A fundamental document in this area -- a once-secret CIA analysis from 1947 -- was unearthed (to my knowledge) by Thomas W. Lippman and reported in the winter 2007 issue of the Middle East Journal. The CIA strongly argued that the creation of Israel was not in America's interests and that therefore Washington ought to be opposed. This was no different than what later diplomats and military men (most recently, David Petraeus) have argued and it is without a doubt correct. Supporting Israel hurts America in the Islamic -- particularly the Arab -- world and, given the crucial importance of Middle Eastern oil, makes no practical sense.

The CIA further argued that the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict would soon widen to become an Israeli-Islamic conflict -- another bull's-eye for what was then an infant intelligence service. That process was already underway, which is why some non-Arabs (Bosnian Muslims, for instance) fought the creation of Israel, and has only intensified as radical Islam, laced with healthy doses of anti-Semitism, has gotten even stronger.

But where the CIA went wrong -- and not, alas, for the last time -- was in predicting that the Arabs would defeat Israel and that the state would not survive. The CIA was pretty sure of the outcome, what a later CIA figure might have called a "slam dunk."

What neither the CIA nor, for that matter, the anti-Israel State Department recognized in the late 1940s is that America's interests are not always measurably pragmatic -- metrics, in the jargon of our day. Sometimes, our interests reflect our national ethic, an affinity for other democracies, sympathy for the underdog. These, too, are in America's interests and they may be modified, but not abandoned, for the sake of mere metrics.

This is why Obama's overture to the Arab world, clumsily executed, was never going to succeed.
In all fairness, Obama came into office seeking to change US policy in favor of the Arabs, and he may continue to attempt to do so. But America (with or without Obama) will not agree to an Islamist state replacing Israel.

God bless America.


At 6:52 PM, Blogger Sunlight said...

Whatever Israel does in setting borders over time, I would have to say that watching your process of having attempted the "being nice" approach of disengaging from Leb and Gaza has played a role in Obama's inability to get the U.S. public (and this Cohen guy) to ditch Israel. The support for taking more time regarding the West Bank and Jerusalem and the (US public) support for Israel's self defense have been solidified by Israel's trying... (PS. the self defense support will be even higher if the IDF would make the engineering level effects case regarding rockets and do the title search expose along the Jerusalem region. Your post yesterday re the expense of providing more civil defense re the rockets made a flash in my mind wondering whether the case isn't made because it would agitate the civilians who would (understandably) want more measures that might break the bank or at least divert resources from military operational budget lines.)

At 7:00 PM, Blogger Mr. Gerson said...

"The Arab world, for totally understandable reasons, has always hated [Israel]." - Richard Cohen

At 8:00 PM, Blogger Professor Miao said...

I have long thought that most if not all those in the UN who voted in favor of partition fully expected Israel to get thrown into the sea. So they could claim they had done 'the right thing' but get the result they truly wanted.

Has anybody else every had their google account change passwords on you? I had to set up a new one.

At 11:13 PM, Blogger Y.K. said...

This column is much better than his others, but it contains a typical anachronism: The US position during the Independence War was very reluctant at best. It did recognize Israel de facto quickly, and voted for partition. Otherwise, the US did a lot to help the other side.

The US threatened Ben Gurion not to declare Independence, placed a "fair" arms embargo which helped the established Arab side, recognized Israel de jure only in Jan. 1949, tried multiple times to suggest a new Mandate and tried at the end to allow the Arab states to keep their gains in spite of Israel being able to kick them out (the unclear arrangement in the north resulting from this would later become a direct cause of the Six Days War).

Only starting from LBJ's presidency (especially after 1967) did relations strongly warm up. I think a different analysis of American interests (rather than sentimental attachment) played the bigger role: Israel was seen as a reliable (anticommunist, anti-panarabist, anti-islamist) client in this unstable region. In any event, Israel was here to stay, and it was thought keeping her in the tent was better.

Sunlight: I suspect the PR gains are very temporary, assuming they are gains at all (think how bad publicity in the rest of the world over Gaza actually intensified strongly after the disengagement and Hamas taking over). The security losses are near-permanent though.


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