Thursday, March 25th, 2010 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/friendship-is-for-weenies
srael is spooked. We all are. With one Presidential election, the rug, while not quite swept from under our feet, looks nonetheless more like a rug and less like a fitted carpet. I’m embarrassed for Israel, for Ambassador Michael Oren fawning over the US-Israel relationship on Charlie Rose, for Prime Minister Netanyahu scurrying to Washington to have to mend relations at the highest level. Will Israel ever trust the United States in quite the same way it has throughout its existence?
To be sure, American support for Israel goes deeper than whoever occupies the White House, but the US is a democracy, and unlike James Baker III the sitting President underwent the vetting process of a national election; in some alchemic way he does represents the people. With his 20-year membership in Jeremiah Wright’s church, the American electorate knew what he is ultimately about — socialism and third-world liberation theology — and voted for him anyway because he has physical pizzazz, an ethnicity whose time had finally come, and a political killer instinct. Unfortunately that instinct, while necessary, is merely the enabler of the man’s other attributes, such as ideology, and if these are misguided, it merely makes him more effectively destructive.
I say this to a backdrop of the President’s huge victory in getting his party’s healthcare legislation passed. It’s unfortunate — that’s the word that keeps coming to mind — that Israel is facing this gust of wrath just at the high point of this presidency, an historic legislative victory coming after a well-nigh constant decline in support and respect. I’d hoped that after this victory Israeli officials might have been the beneficiaries of some magnanimity. Instead, Israel awakens to a harsher dawn, where the USA is no longer something supra-historical, an almost mythically wonderful agent in the world, the giant bigger brother who will stand by you and even absorb some pathetic blows for you from weak bullies. When you are the junior partner, moves that may seem trivial to the senior partner have a much deeper effect on you. According to the media (peppering its accounts with the term “defiant” and, albeit less frequently, “hardline”), the American Administration lacks trust in Israel’s leadership. In reality, the reverse is what’s happening.
It’s amazing that the Israeli public knew from the start not to trust this President given the adulation he enjoyed elsewhere. That notorious Jerusalem Post poll which put Israeli support for Obama at something ridiculously low, something like 6% — could it have been anywhere close to accurate? Remarkable. Israel has plenty of socially ambitious left-leaners — why did they also not succumb to Hope, change and yes we can? Israelis are quite capable of swooning — I remember the swoon for Amnon Lipkin-Shahak that came and went. What did Israelis alone see in Obama that they feared? What had they read? It’s impressive.
1 Jean Jeures St
Tuesday, June 22nd, 2004; Jean Jeures St, Tel Aviv, Israel
This Administration’s behavior of being harder to allies than enemies is almost admirable and certainly interesting if indeed it’s actually being pursued deliberately, a secret new foreign policy doctrine. And sadly there does seem to be some short-term benefit to it. Perhaps the Obama braintrust saw the allies’ relationships as just a little too flaccid, the junior partners tending to get away with wagging the dog, and decided that the US could more effectively pursue its interests — and even ultimately those of its allies’ — by maintaining a little more distance from them. It’s like professionalizing the relationship, as if things got a little too friendly for maximal productivity. To put an even more hopeful gloss on things, perhaps this Administration is deliberately reshaping what we call the Free World in order to adapt to facing off not against emotional Russia but Machiavellian China; ever adaptable, the democracies must morph into something that the rival culture understands in order to most effectively tamp it down so that it eventually joins us. [Update: Robert Kagan offers an explanation of this new approach]
But these interpretation of events are merely fanciful; more likely, the policy is a cynical one of abusiveness — I can afford to kick around a bit those who love me, since they aren’t going anywhere. It is however a policy not in keeping with America’s national character. Despite or even because of their outsized stature, Americans genuinely want genuine friends, and treasure reciprocal respect and affection. Being nicer to your friends than to your enemies may seem, if you’re an overly calculating mind, less productive than keeping your friends on edge, but it succeeds in the longer term, else anyone with any self-respect eventually tires of the gymnastics and humiliations required to be your friend. Americans know this instinctively, which is why I think this brouhaha will backfire more on Obama than Israel.
Americans are also, I believe, acutely sensitive to the expression of anti-Semitism in their leaders as a sign of dangerous character flaws (anger, delusional thinking, cowardice, thuggery). This fit of pique against Israel could join the larger issue of disregarding ruinous debt and deficit in leading the incumbent and his party to momentous defeat in upcoming elections.
And, of course, what easier target than Israel; if the US can go after Israel, that’s a free ride for others to follow as well, and the Europeans need little encouragement. Britain took this opportunity to give Israel an unfettered kick for apparently abusing its passports, expelling a diplomat. Indeed, it looks like the Administration’s previous insults to Britain — such as the return of the Churchill bust — had no ill effect, and America’s junior partners (and all its partners are junior partners) will trample each other for a smile from the leader of the pack. It is better to be feared than loved, Machiavelli argued, talking about the ruler and his subjects. Does the maxim also apply among nations? If it does, and this new poise shows any inkling of having any success, and it sticks, then Obama will have left us a world that is less replete with glorious and inspiring friendship, and one more nasty, brutish and quite likely short.