It Is Time For the U.S. to Take Pride in its Friendship With IsraelThursday, April 13, 2017
On the subject of American foreign policy, the idea that politics stops at the water’s edge is pervasive. The recent American-Israel Political Action Committee Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. served as a rhetorical staple for both Republican and Democratic friends of the Jewish State. But many of those who incant this cliché fail to grasp the scale of damage it has endured in recent years.
The phrase “politics stops at the water’s edge” was actually coined at the dawn of the Cold War by Arthur Vandenberg, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to justify his embrace of the Truman Doctrine. The consensus in favor of United States responsibility for global order proved remarkably resilient throughout the long twilight struggle, and even years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Lately, however, it has begun to buckle on account of both the Obama Administration and its successor.
To appreciate the shift away from its leadership role, consider that President Barack Obama entered office with the clear intention of reducing U.S. power and presence abroad. From his first inauguration, Obama pledged an “extended hand” to adversaries in the expectation of increasing global peace and cooperation. This policy of accommodation toward America’s foes – which was pursued with great ruthlessness, allowing no sympathy for Iranian dissidents or support for Syria’s opposition – necessarily implied distancing the United States from its traditional friends.
Israel has hardly been alone in its anxiety about this retrenchment of U.S. power, which has been felt among U.S. allies from Tallinn to Taipei. But Obama’s resolve to demote the Israeli alliance – both in furtherance of an elusive final agreement with the Palestinians and a misbegotten nuclear deal with the Islamic republic of Iran – marked a profound shift that has now caused a backlash (palpable at the AIPAC conference) among decision-makers and concerned citizens alike.
Much of that backlash is to be welcomed, of course. It is long past time for the U.S. to assert its pride and confidence in its alliance with Israel. It is a relief, for instance, that Washington will no longer abide by – let alone be party to – the pernicious condemnation of Israel so rife in international fora.
Yet in their proper enthusiasm that ambivalence toward Israel has been replaced by renewed amity, supporters of the Trump Administration should be wary of permitting the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction. The president has consistently cast doubt on the value of the nation’s alliances, which may persuade even as close an ally as Israel to take bold actions on its own behalf. This is not a prospect the United States should relish. Nor should anyone imagine that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has redounded to America’s benefit when, on the contrary, American interests manifestly lie in the reduction and restriction of settlement activity.
The notion of zero “daylight” – a favored buzzword at the AIPAC conference – between America and Israel is a logical and historical misreading of the relationship between two sovereign nations. It is more illuminating to conceive of the relationship as one of mutual sympathy and mutual interest. Such is the formula that has defined America’s historical bond with Israel, and such will ensure the continuation of a beautiful friendship – one of the most beautiful in the order of nations.