Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Mickey Kaus thoroughly trashes Lawrence Kaplan for trying to silence critics who attack Bush's Iraq policy by pointing out the strong pro-Israel sympathies of those who most vigorously support the war.
I think they both have a point. I don't think pointing out prominent right-wing Jewish support for the Iraq war is an argument, any more than pointing out, say, Polish support for the Cold War was an argument. Unless you already distrust Jews (or Poles), all you've done is point out a fact, not make an argument. An argument would be: war is against America's interests. Bush is nonetheless leading us to war because of personal or political factors that act against the national interest: either his personal relationships with certain right-wing Jews or his need for the political support of right-wing Jews. (Or he's just an idiot being manipulated by wily right-wing Jews.) Phrased that way, the argument is clearly dubious. Unless you really believe Bush is an idiot and easily manipulated, you have to buy the proposition that it's politically necessary for him to be pushing war to placate the Jews. And that's just a ludicrous proposition on its face; if Bush gets a significant number of Jewish supporters in the next election, he'll win in a landslide, and he raised plenty of cash last time with minimal Jewish support. Jewish support is a bonus for him, not a necessity. The strongest supporters of Israel among voters Republicans do need to win are evangelical Christians, not Jews. As for the "personal" angle, Bush's family is very well-connected in the Arab world, from both the oil business and the world of diplomacy. Most Jews, particularly right-wing ones, have been frankly surprised - and pleasantly so - at how friendly this Administration has been to Israel and Israel's interests, given the low level of Jewish support for the Administration and the Administration's oil connections, friendship with the Saudis, etc. The notion that Jewish influence is driving Administration policy is just laughable when you look at facts like these.
Moreover, the argument that American policy is distorted by ethnic interest-group pandering is more dubious in the case of Israel than in the case of many other foreign policy areas. America's hard-line policy towards Cuba, and its soft-line policy on IRA terrorism, are at least partly driven by ethnic interest-group pandering, but these areas are tangential to core American national interests. Not irrelevant, of course. Cuba is an anti-American force in our backyard, while our anti-Cuban stance angers Latin American neighbors and our European and Canadian allies; meanwhile, the IRA cooperates with terrorist groups that target Americans - quite apart from the fact that the IRA targets a close American ally, Britain. There's at least a case to be made that both policies are at variance with American national interests. But neither comes close to the importance of the Middle East to American security. So even in the case of Democratic Administrations - who are far more influenced by Jews than Republicans, because Jews vote 75% or more for Democrats and Jewish fundraising is disproportionately for Democrats (and Democrats are proportionately more dependent on Jewish fundraising because they have a narrower fundraising base) - even in the case of Democratic Administrations it's not 100% plausible that sectarian Jewish concerns could override the national interest in any serious way. (Congress is a different story, because Congress can bloviate with impunity about foreign policy virtually without consequence.)
In any event, if you don't make an argument like the above, dubious as that argument is in the present case, what you're left with is not a reasoned position but a gut feeling. Mary McGrory now supports (sort of) war with Iraq not because she's convinced on the merits but because Powell favors it and she trusts Powell, not Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/etc. Similarly, when, say, Robert Novak says this war is being fought against American interests but for Israel's interests, what he really means is that he doesn't trust Jewish neo-cons, for whatever reason, and not much else. So he doesn't have to think through the issues of national interest, just see where people he doesn't really trust end up and lean the other way. And if people he otherwise trusts line up with people he doesn't trust, he has a problem, and is tempted to turn to conspiracy theories.
So far I agree with Kaplan. But where I disagree, and think Kaus has a real point, is that it is far from obvious that the neo-cons - including of course the Jewish neo-cons - properly understand American interest and the way America should approach war, peace, and the international order. And because it isn't obvious, it has to be debated. And if their errors stem have something to do with their Jewishness, that's a legitimate argument. To repeat: this would be an argument for why, say, Paul Wolfowitz misunderstands American interest. It's not a sufficient argument to explain why Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and George Bush have come to agree with Paul Wolfowitz. There's no basis for them to be confused about America's interests, after all. Here's an analogy: for various reasons, well-outlined by Robert Kaplan in his book, The Arabists, the American State Department has long harbored a frankly fantastic view of the Middle East and has been afflicted with a particularly severe form of clientism. Bluntly, they are biased towards the official Arab side of things. So you can make a reasoned argument why the State Department habitually leans in a particular direction on Middle East matters, relative to the government as a whole. But this argument is insufficient explanation of why some Adminsitrations some of the time are more favorable towards this view and why others are more skeptical.
I've blogged before about neo-conservatism, what it is, how it differs from other strands of conservatism (and liberalism), and where specifically neo-cons - whom I generally agree with - go overboard. I do think some Jewish neo-cons take for granted an identity of interest between Israel and America that is implausible on its face. Our interests may be aligned some or even most of the time, and, specifically, we may have a compelling interest in the survival of Israel (as we do in the survival of, say, Taiwan; or as, during the Cold War, we had a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of free Berlin.) But this basic alignment does not mean that everything that serves Israel's interest serves American interests. Specifically, it doesn't mean that Israel's territorial ambitions - and I should point out that, as a matter of abstract justice, Israel has a pretty good case for its territorial claims in the West Bank and even in Gaza - are something America should support. Israelis all understand this. And I'm quite certain the Bush Administration understands this and that Paul Wolfowitz specifically understands this. (I sometimes wonder about Bill Kristol.) In the same way that American interests should drive our approach to the disputes in Kashmir, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Taiwan, etc., they should drive our approach to the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.
In sum: the notion that American policy is "warped" by Jewish influence is highly dubious on its face. I suspect it is frequently either (a) based on animus towards Jews or (b) a more general argument against interest-groups of any kind, which I think amounts to an argument against democracy. (Think ethnically homogeneous societies don't have interest groups? Take a look at the paralysis of the Japanese political system, and think again.) Or it's jus not well thought-out. But the notion that specific officials or commentators are biased one way or another on Israel is not implausible on its face. That doesn't invalidate their views; it's just something you need to know when evaluating those views. The views themselves should stand or fall on the evidence; knowing their biases just tells you when you might want to be careful about looking for conflicting evidence they might be downplaying. I think the case that our effective alliance with Israel is strongly in American interests - and more so now than during the Cold War - is highly compelling. It doesn't help in making that case to pretend that questioning the value of that alliance is somehow "out of bounds." Specifically, it does no one any good to pretend that Israel's interests are by definition America's interests. They aren't. Israel is far more threatened than other important American allies, and that's reason enough to be solicitous of them and their interests. But that doesn't mean that we are in some way obliged to ensure that Israel gets some kind of "justice." There ain't no justice, not in foreign policy anyhow, and this is something the neo-cons should know, but occasionally forget.