Not Our Problem

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I debated for a bit how to explain why I was publishing this note from TPM Reader JB. I happily publish notes I agree with and others I don’t. In this case though, I disagree with quite a few individual assertions but found myself overall saying yes. That’s pretty much it. That’s a not-terribly-clear reaction. But I found it worth sharing with you.

There is a story told about Franklin Roosevelt, who spent most of the Wilson administration as an active Assistant Secretary of the Navy.  Decades later as President, he was hours into a meeting on military spending with his Army Chief of Staff, George Marshall, before Pearl Harbor, when the services’ needs were great and money was scarce.  Wearily, Gen. Marshall acknowledged the history, but asked Roosevelt, “Mr. President, could you at least stop referring to the Navy as ‘we’ and the Army as ‘they’?”

I have no difficulty thinking of Israelis generally and the Israeli government in particular as “they” rather than “we.”  Israel and the United States have some common interests, but not a common cause.  I admire Israelis’ accomplishments over the years, appreciate the dedication of many Israelis to maintaining their democracy in difficult circumstances, and value American commitments made repeatedly to Israel’s security — but recognize also that Israelis and Palestinians have more in common with one another than either of them have with us.

Israel’s war with the Palestinians is, of course, of paramount importance to the people who live in the region where it is taking place.  Most of them ascribe much wider significance to it:  relating it to the fate of Jewish people everywhere, the displacement of Palestinian Arabs 75 years ago, the worldwide story of imperialism and colonization or even events recorded in the Old Testament.  Either would be insulted at the idea that their war was no more important than the ongoing destruction of Sudan, the civil war in Myanmar, or even the largest land war in Europe since 1945 — just another sectarian tribal conflict in Southwest Asia, having much in common with those the American military tried to manage in Iraq and Afghanistan for so many years.

The Biden administration has done nothing to burst anyone’s bubble in this respect.  It has allowed the war in Gaza to become an enormous time suck for senior officials from the President on down for over half a year — as we approach an election campaign of vital importance to democracy in our own country.  For all the time and resources it has committed to the war, however, the administration has not been able to prevent the destruction of most of Gaza or bring the war any closer to ending.  The Israeli government that stumbled into disaster last October 7 is still there — not only that, but only by great skill and some dumb luck did the United States avoid being dragged by that government into yet another war, against Iran, last month.  Finally, like a dog with an old bone, the Biden administration is still pursuing the mirage of Saudi-Israeli normalization, which will not become reality unless America pays for it.

The Biden administration is committed to Israel, and particularly to its current government, for the sake of being committed to Israel.  That’s not good enough.  We need a policy objective of our own, not one handed to us by Netanyahu and very lightly amended.  We seemed so close to embarking on a policy direction with at least a little promise two months ago, when Sen. Schumer made his speech calling for new Israeli elections.  But Schumer lost his nerve and Biden never followed up — a crisis in relations with Netanyahu was averted.  This was no great achievement.

To get different choices made in Israel, the Israeli government needs different people running it.  Barring an act of God or a major rupture with the United States, it won’t get them, and the war will continue indefinitely.  Since we can’t count on a timely act of God, the Biden administration would best pursue the rupture, and lance this boil.  The war in Ukraine and the tense situation in the South China Sea are both of much more importance to the United States than the fighting in Gaza.  The preservation of American democracy is too.  Holding the hands of that ingrate in Jerusalem is taking time and effort the Biden administration cannot spare.

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