affinity and expectations
Andrew writes, of Gaza and the American political reaction:
this assault on top of a blockade, carried out with an “iron fist” as the US was in transition from one president to another was backed by a resolution carried by unanimous consent in the Senate, and with only 5 votes against in the House. American public opinion, as Glenn Greenwald noted, was evenly divided, and Democrats sided more with the Palestinians enduring a blitz with some white phosphorus thrown into the mix. Is there any plausible explanation for this discrepancy apart from the Walt-Mearsheimer one?
It is odd and surprising that our representatives in Congress would so blatantly not represent public opinion on this matter. I suppose that in some sense this is once again a sense of American affinity with Israel at play – and, likewise, American antipathy toward Arabs whom many American still perceive to be de facto terrorists. Politicians have become so used to what they perceive to be widespread, unanimous support for Israel in the United States that they go along with such wrong-headed resolutions based entirely on expectations of what the public wants, or perhaps out of fear of political reprisal. Affinity for our fellow democracy is certainly strong in the States, and Americans obviously relate to Israelis much more strongly than we relate to the inhabitants of Gaza or the West Bank.
However, this is changing. Andrew called the war in Gaza the “last straw” and I agree, and I think many other mild supporters of Israel looked at that war with new found skepticism or outright disgust and dismay, if only because the entire debacle simply felt so pointless. Americans may gravitate toward war – we’ve developed a grand mythos to justify our own past actions – but we despise pointless war. We’ve developed a story for these senseless wars, too, which counterbalances against the “noble war” tradition, and in a sense further gild that tradition; which is why Vietnam is seen as the polar opposite to WWII, and can be held up as a contrast to other “good” wars. This is also why the war of 1967 resonates with Americans. It was a war that pitted Israel against almost overwhelming odds – it was a fight for the young nation’s very survival. It was a good war.
The recent invasion of Gaza fails the American noble-war test badly. As a response to daily rocket fire it was overblown. That so many of the victims were civilians, and so few really identifiably bad people were killed or marked as villains made it feel hostile and certainly not noble. Americans like villains, and they don’t much like to see children getting bombed, even if their parents did vote for Hamas.
And yet our politicians voted overwhelmingly to lend symbolic American support to Israel’s action.
This smacks of dishonesty. And it hardly seems helpful to Israel. Our ally would likely benefit greatly from some tough love at this point, another reason why Obama needs as many foreign policy realists on his team as possible. Chas Freeman has raised a good deal of controversy of late, but I can’t honestly believe that a critic of Israel is the worst thing for that nation. Indeed, strong critics are exactly what Israel and America need in the years going forward. Another chearleader administration strikes me as far more dangerous to Israel than an administration that can play the honest broker, the critical friend. Don’t we, as people, want our friends to point out when we stray from our better course? When we slip into behavior that is counterproductive or downright dangerous, do we want critical minds to set us straight or do we prefer they turn a blind eye? The most damning thing Israel could ask for, and that her supposedly staunchest advocates still demand, is a chorus of yes-men in the White House. We’ve been down that road before.