Posts Tagged ‘Roger Cohen’

Bibi’s Epic Fail, The Israel Lobby Gets Shrill

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

by Brien Jackson

The entire article is well worth a read, but this bit from Gideon Levy’s Haaretz column really stood out to me:

Suddenly all of Israel’s “friends” in Washington have shed their skin. They, too, sense a rare opportunity in the Middle East. They, too, are tired of what Netanyahu has tried to peddle. They, too, understand that the Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank must precede Iran’s nuclear reactor in Bushehr. How pathetic and heartrending was the sight of the Israeli prime minister, sitting tense and sweaty, next to the new American president, confident, stylish, and impressive, without all the jokes and back-patting of Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush. The latter was in fact the least friendly president to Israel – one who allowed it to carry out all its violent madness.

How pathetic was the sight, yet how encouraging; perhaps Netanyahu learned something during his short and dramatic visit. The visit has already made one contribution: Obama tore off the mask of so-called peace-loving Israel. If Netanyahu really feared for the fate of the country he would have immediately agreed, in the Oval Office, to all the ideas put forth by this fantastic president. If Israel does not respond, we, the Israelis, will know, the U.S. president will know and the entire world will know that Israel does not want peace.

I don’t know how accurate the line about “Israel’s friens in Washington” is. AIPAC is more or less unchanged in position, and the rest of the usual suspects are similarly consistent. There’s perhaps a growing awareness that further settlement activity will impede the peace process, and even be bad for Israel’s interests in the long run, but there seems to be little desire to emphasize the point amongst right-of-center Israel watchers, and even less desire to push for the dismantling of existing settlements.

Still, the point about Bibi’s failure in Washington is well taken. Netanyahu was clearly hoping to force Obama into a concilliatory position with regards to Likud, a posture Obama rather easily brushed off, leaving Bibi looking rather ridiculous in places. I’m actually sort of surprised this happened, actually, given Bibi’s reputation for handling Western sentiments, and, putting aside the possibility that this is exaggerated for a second, this sort of makes you wonder if 8 years of an extremely deferential American administration hasn’t made the Israeli state somewhat delusional in regards to the special relationship. After all, great powers rarely like being pushed around geopolitically, and certainly don’t take kindly to being pushed around by a much smaller state that is much more dependent on us than we are them.

And you can almost sense the realization of the worm turning amongst the usual suspects. Jeffrey Goldberg, for one, is barely even trying anymore (apparently, writing hagiographies to Bibi couched in little more than ancient superstition as if it’s a positive aspect to Bibi’s personality will suck the intellectual will right out of you), and it’s almost hard to follow his thought process at this point. Does Goldberg think it was a mistake to normalize relations with Vietnam? Does he think the US, or vital US interests, have been adversely affected by this move? I mean, Cohen’s point in relation to Vietnam is so benign a sto almost be inarguable. Which, I suspect, is why Goldberg has to attack it in such irrelevant terms; too much reminding people that normal relations with “mean” people doesn’t, in fact, lead to buildings blowing up in Omaha and the AIPAC line will seem even sillier than it does right now. (Also, does Goldberg really think he’s insulting Cohen by linking him and one of the most respected International Relations scholars alive?) 

Also, via Yglesias, I see that David Ignatius, for one, has finally realized that Israeli “peace offers” are shot through with ridiculous demands the Palestinians must accept, even though no rational actor would ever accept such an egregious encroachment upon their sovereign rights. Now if only Ignatius (or Yglesias, for that matter), would notice that the Israeli center-left, as represented by then Prime Minister Ehud Barak, made exactly the same demands and then some at Camp David in 2000. It’s not ust Likud that’s imposing a barrier to agreement on the Israeli side of things.

It’s the Hegemony

Monday, April 13th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I’m of the opinion that some of Roger Cohen’s reporting regarding Iran has been overly glib, but I suppose that’s somewhat understandable considering the nature of the criticism he’s encountered for it. Still, his column in The New York Times last week was both very good, and very important for the ideas it will hopefully put into the discourse surrounding the new Israeli government, and Israeli foreign policy in general.

First of all, it’s good to see such a reminder that Israel has long been hysterical about Iran. As Cohen points out, a mere 5 years before 9/11, and only 2 years before the al Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Africa, Shimon Peres was declaring Iran the “center” of global terrorism, as well as predicting Iran would possess a nuclear weapon by 1999. 10 years later, Iran is still nukeless, and has halted their weapons program altogether according to U.S. intelligence, and no one is asking Peres for betting tips. But Israeli leaders are still hyping the specter of a nuclear armed Iran as an existential threat to the Jewish state. But Cohen takes on that canard as well, by noting that the evidence of the body of action by the Iranian regime since 1979 is one of both realist rationality and a seeming aversion to direct armed conflict. And that’s without noting that it’s been literally centuries since the Persians have waged an expansionary war of any kind.

But most important is the fact that Cohen calls out the real reason Israel has been perpetually worked up about the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran. Simply put, it’s the hegemony stupid. At present, Israel enjoys more or less unchecked dominance in the Middle East. Their military can route any of their neighbors, and can probably fend pretty well against all of the Arabic states working in unison. Additionally, there’s very little in the way of a deterrant on Israeli action present. The closest you get is in Saudi Arabia, where the central importance of their oil production to the global economy means that the world likely would have little patience for an Israeli attack against Saudi Arabia that would send the price of oil to largely unimagined levels, but even that isn’t quite as effective as a legitmate military counterweight. But, a nuclear armed Iran would function as a significant deterrant against Israeli military action. Israel would be constrained by the same principle of MAD that other nuclear armed powers have been vis-a-vis their dealings with Iran, and the Iranians could extend a protective shield to other states in the region, fundamentally shifting the balance of power in the region away from Israel and to, at the least, one that is fundamentally balanced between the nuclear armed Iran and the nuclear armed, highly sophisticated, Israel. Which isn’t t say that this isn’t a legitimate rationale for Israeli positioning, but it’s important that the United States keep this in mind when they hear Bibi implying that Iran was the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq war, or casually asserting that a regime that has managed to last for 30 years now will suddenly become suicidal, in order to justify an Israeli attack that would cause the region to erupt.