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Jewish Influence and US Foreign Policy:

Paper No. 5355                                  Dated 10-Jan-2013

By Kazi Anwarul Masud

The Palestinian problem that has remained unresolved for decades unless brought to fruition can fuel Islamic extremism however much the international community including the Islamic world may like to avoid such a possibility.

Generally it is believed that Israeli intransigence encouraged by the US’s unflinching support to the Israeli policy of destruction and domination are the two main impediments in the way to a just solution of this issue. The international community already bruised by global economic downturn would prefer a multipolar world where conflicts are settled more through negotiations and less through force of arms and see the United Nations as the preferred destination for solution of problems and the UNSC less paralytic. But pious intentions may not necessarily be translated into reality and President Obama’s second term of office may witness a series of conflicts, including the Palestine problem, inherited from earlier administrations and from his First.

In the last Presidential debate when asked to name the biggest foreign or security threat to the US President Obama replied it was "terrorism." While terrorism has assailed both the Western developed and the developing nations naïve description of terrorists points to radical Islamists as the single most destabilizing element in the present global structure inviting some Western intellectuals to lend their weight to peoples’ fear of Muslim "invasion" of the Western shores.

Tiffany Lynch, a senior Africa policy analyst at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan watchdog that makes policy recommendations to the US government, speaking of the Islamists’ capture and occupation of a part of Mali, urges the US government to take a firm stand against these marauders or risk the emergence of the Malian safe haven in a region of notoriously weak borders leading Islamist movements to develop more sophisticated links across the continent, from Mali to Libya to Nigeria to Somalia – all of which until recently had been viewed primarily as isolated problems.

The Conservatives who would spare no opportunity to criticize President Obama for making the US weak predict that the Islamist threat is likely to get worse in Obama’s second term. They contend that there are an estimated 200 million Islamists across the world who share views that are radically different than Americans. For them their faith and government are one and they are obligated to do whatever is necessary to replace secular with Islamic rule (Shariah law). That is happening, complain the conservatives, before their eyes vis-à-vis the Arab Spring which President Obama allegedly encouraged. The Conservatives complaint is endless. Middle East, they say, is riven by tensions with Islamists seeking to expand control. Obama encouraged the transition in Egypt to a Muslim Brotherhood-run government, the replacement of the Libyan dictator with the current chaotic situation marked by al Qaeda-linked groups and criminal militias, and he failed to act resolutely to hasten the end of the Syrian dictator’s genocidal campaign.

American leadership has been conspicuously absent from the Syrian debacle which likely will end with Islamic extremists at the helm which threaten Israel (Obama’s second term will weaken American foreign policy-Human Events by Robert Magnnis). The Conservatives also warn of a nuclear-armed Iran that would shift the geostrategic landscape of the Mideast, pose an existential threat to Israel, provoke an arms race within Arab nations, threaten Europe and America as Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities improve, and Iran’s use of terrorism take on a new and dangerous twist.

In the same vein Jonah Goldberg referring to the murder of Ambassador Stevens at Bengazi writes in the National Review "the Libya follies are merely the most visible flashpoint of the larger unraveling of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. The U.S.-Israel relationship has become a bad soap opera. Afghanistan is slipping away, as the US troops are being killed by the men they’re supposed to be training for the handover. Egypt is now run by the Muslim Brotherhood. Russia casually mocks and defies the US. China is rapidly replacing the US as an Asian hegemon and rattling sabers at Japan".

Most troubling, as some analysts apprehend of Iraq rapidly becoming an Iranian vassal state. What is surprising is the deliberate attempt by a section of American intellectuals/columnists to ignore the basic interests of the US and repeat ad infinitum the strain of Israel being the most reliable ally of the US that needs security from the US forgetting that Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East and has defeated the Arabs several times in military conflicts. They ignore the Arabs who have been victimized for decades by successive Israeli militarism and portray the Muslims as villains out to take revenge on the Judeo-Christian civilization for alleged wrongs done to the Islamic civilization in the past. In support of this strand of argument these Zionists, albeit citizens of the West, would spare no effort to paint the wayward extremist Muslims, Taliban and al-Qaeda as representatives of the Muslims when the entire Islamic world has unequivocally rejected the radical Muslims call for jihad against the "infidels".

The saner elements in the US feel that President Obama has an opportunity to set another course, one far more attuned to the interests of the United States than to those of a foreign government. The opportunity stems not only from his status as a second-termer but also from encouraging signs in recent years (including the voice vote on Jerusalem at the last Democratic Party convention) that increasing numbers of people are coming to see the folly of the political force that has enforced unquestioning support to the policies of the Israeli government.

The nomination of Chuck Hegel as the next US Defense Secretary has run into trouble. He is depicted as a man without a party. Though a Republican he is not being supported by his erstwhile colleagues as not being sufficiently pro-Israel though his voting record in the Senate shows consistent support of aid to Israel. He is castigated for using the term "Jewish lobby" for pro-Israeli lobby in one of his speeches because the term is offensive to both pro-Israel supporters and Jews who do not like to be lumped in with the AIPACs of the world.

Some intellectuals have withstood the pressure from the Jewish camp to stand up for the interests of the US and point out that convergence of the US-Israel interests are not necessarily to the best interest of the American tax payers. Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s book titled Israeli lobby and US Foreign Policy, a New York Times’ best seller, argued that the lobby’s disproportionate influence on the US foreign policy has not only been detrimental to the US interest but has also harmed on occasions the Israeli interests as well. Mearsheimer and Walt argue that "no lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical". The authors decried the stranglehold the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has on the US Congress by its ability to reward or punish public representatives due to their perceived support or opposition to Israeli demands.

The body language displayed on TV screen by Benjamin Netanyahu during his talks with President Obama just before the US Presidential elections gave the impression of Netanyahu lecturing the US President on Israeli demand to agree on a red line for military attack on Iran. Columnist Christopher Hitchens agreed with Mearsheimer and Walt that AIPAC and other Jewish organizations exert influence on the US policy in the Middle East. In the same vein Professor Stephen Zunes concluded: The consequences of U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be tragic, not just for Palestinians and other Arabs, who are the immediate victims of the diplomatic support and largess of American aid to Israel, but ultimately for Israel as well.

The fates of American client states have often not been positive. Though differing in many respects, Israel could end up like El Salvador or South Vietnam, whose leadership made common cause with U.S. global designs in ways that ultimately led to untold misery and massive destruction. Israeli leaders and their counterparts in many American Zionist organizations have been repeating the historic error of accepting short-term benefits for their people at the risk of compromising long-term security.... To blame the current morass in the Middle East on the Israel lobby only exacerbates animosities and plays into the hands of the divide-and-rule tactics of those in Congress and the administration whose primary objective is ultimately not to help Israel but to advance the American Empire.

Zunes referring to Mearshiemer and Walt also writes that "The authors have also been unfairly criticized for supposedly distorting the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though their overview is generally quite accurate" . Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State George Schultz giving an insider’s view said that the US support to Israel was not due to favoritism based on political pressure or influence but because the American people and their leaders felt that supporting Israel was politically sound and morally just. Given AIPAC’s clout George Schultz’s characterization of the US support to Israel being"politically correct" is understandable. But what is baffling is how the US interests are being served by the consistent opposition to the Palestinian demands and consequent radicalization of the young Arabs and an unstable Middle East?

The US has very few friends among the Muslim nations not because of millennial rivalry between the Islamic and Christian civilizations but partly because of her partisan attitude on the Middle East issue. The Arab Spring that has displaced Middle East dictators who were mostly friends of the US and their replacement by pro-Islamist governments should be an eye opener for the policy makers in Washington. It is doubtful how much American influence will remain in Afghanistan where the US has waged her longest war, spent billions of dollars, and sacrificed so many armed personnel once the Western forces withdraw and the Taliban take over the country though not like the rule of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.

Pakistan which has been made a major non-NATO ally and whose defense expenditures are basically borne by the American tax payers continuing drone attacks killing women and children along with al-Qaeda and religious extremists is running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Former Chief of Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen’s frustration expressed in public over Pakistan military nursing Taliban bases in the bad lands of Pakistan and helping them to destabilize Afghanistan is well known. Many polls conducted in Pakistan have revealed that the ordinary Pakistanis consider the US more as an enemy than as a friend. There appears to be a religious twist in the American support for Israel. Some evangelists believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ when the entire world’s population will be converted to Christianity depends on the Jewish occupation of Israel.

Besides as Stephen Zunes cites: other ideological factors impact U.S.-Israel policy as well. Some older liberals maintain an overly sentimental conception of Israel and are defensive -- out of sympathy for a historically oppressed minority and respect for Israel's democratic institutions --regarding any criticism of the Jewish state. And then there are anti-Arab racists and Islamaphobes who simply hate Palestinians. The American psyche also identifies with a poor embattled Israel, consciously or subconsciously. Both states were founded by European pioneers, both people’s aspired to progressive democratic principles, and both nations' histories are replete with ethnic cleansing and widespread repression of the indigenous populations.

But the most important special interest pressing for strong U.S. support of the Israeli government is the arms industry. The military-industrial complex has a considerable stake in encouraging massive arms shipments to Israel and other Middle Eastern U.S. allies and can exert enormous pressure on members of Congress who do not support a weapons-proliferation agenda. It would be fair to assume that the US interest lies in mending fences with the Islamic world frayed by policies of the US not readily understood by the Muslims and also no less due to aberrant policies of some Islamic states that cast doubts in the minds of many on whether the practice of Islam (not its teachings) in the aberrant countries insistent on return to Islam’s "purist" form are in conformity with the traits of modernity.

Notwithstanding the conflicting views on President Obama’s efforts to keep open a line of communications with the Islamic world when he called for a new beginning in his Cairo speech in June 2009 the lineup of the issues for his second term in the shape of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Arab countries, Syria, Mali, Nigeria etc may generate apprehension among the Muslims that the US is waging a war on Islam. A deeper analysis, however, should eliminate any fear because the struggle against the radical Islamists is also the struggle of the moderate Muslims who would like to be assured, particularly the Muslim Diaspora living in the West, that they should not be treated as a second class citizen in the country of their birth.

It would be prudent to remind oneself of the analysis (Brooks Foreign Policy Review-- July 24 2010-Obama’s Islamist Opening in the Middle East) that observes that the grand strategy behind Obama’s"Islamic Opening" has been twofold; erecting a Sunni Muslim firewall to contain Iran’s Shiite inspired expansion in the Middle East while building up an alternative political force to wring political concessions out of authoritarian Sunni dictators or to displace them if threatened with a collapse of state power…. Obama’s "Islamic Opening" is not the product of appeasement or the liberal American foreign policy run amok, but a sober assessment of the changing political dynamic engulfing the Middle East. It seeks engagement with prominent "Islamist" academicians, activists and organizations, especially the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

Therefore before deterministic pronouncements are made one could be well advised to ponder that liberal thoughts might have flowered in Europe but its lessons have taken root among the Muslims as well and Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin were not products of Islam nor the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48) or the First and the Second World Wars were ignited by the Muslims. It would, therefore, be useful not to give premium to clash of civilizations but to realize the dream crafted by Francis Fukuyama in Future of History and of many others for a fairer world .

The author is a retired Secretary of Bangladesh Foreign ministry.