Misunderstanding America

The idea that Obama, if reelected, will let rancor toward Netanyahu get the upper hand in making decisions concerning Israel is ridiculous and reflects complete ignorance of the American system of government.

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on September 9, 2012.)

The self-appointed experts on American-Israeli relations are wrong again. According to them these relations have sunk to a new low, and the Netanyahu government is doing inestimable damage to a relationship which, as all recognize, is an integral part of Israel’s security.

Is this wishful thinking, just plain malice, or simply ignorance? Giving these “experts” the benefit of the doubt, their mistaken analysis may be ascribed to a phenomenon called “tunnel vision,” or not seeing the forest for the trees. They are focusing on yesterday’s rhetoric and ignoring the vast areas of agreement that connect the two countries. The foundation of the relationship between the United States and Israel are the common ideals and values which the two countries share.

The believers in realpolitik might take exception to this statement, insisting that in the final analysis it is interests that determine relationships between nations. However, they should take note that unlike most countries, the United States is, and has been for generations, motivated in large measure by its values and ideals when it comes to determining its policies. And it should come as no surprise that common values and common ideals also make for common strategic interests. That is certainly the case when it comes to America and Israel. They share common values and ideals and have common strategic interests.

That was the case during the years of the Cold War. It is true in the fight against terrorism led by the United States. And it is undoubtedly true when it comes to the determination by the United States and Israel to keep Iran from building nuclear weapons. That is the primary interest of both countries at this time, a link which connects the United States more with Israel than with any other country.

It is inevitable that in pursuing this common interest there will be differences of opinion between Israel and the United States on the tactics to be used. Inevitably, too, the American clock runs slower than the Israeli clock. These differences of opinion on tactics do not overshadow the common strategic interest when it comes to the foundation of the relationship between the two countries.

How do you measure the relationship between Israel and the United States? Here the self-anointed experts tend to focus, when making their case, on the latest expression by the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or by what was presumably said by some unidentified source. This may make for interesting newspaper headlines, but is by no means an objective measure of the state of the relationship.

There are three basic components of American society and government – the White House, Congress and the public – and it is they who determine the state of the American-Israeli relationship. Their positions on support for Israel can generally be evaluated without much difficulty.

Regarding the American public, opinion polls consistently show a large majority in support of Israel, and that this support has not in any way decreased as a result of the differences between the two governments on the tactics to be used in preventing Iran from assembling nuclear weapons.

A large majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate are strong supporters of Israel. Here, too, the tactical debate on when and how to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons does not seem to have eroded that support.

America is going to have elections on November 6 – elections for the presidency, for the entire House of Representatives and for a third of the Senate. All indications are that Congress after the elections will not only be no less supportive of Israel, but possibly even more so.

That leaves the White House. No one knows what the outcome of the race for the White House is going to be, but it is clear that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are both determined to pursue the common U.S.-Israeli interest: preventing Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.

The idea that Obama, if reelected, will let rancor toward Netanyahu get the upper hand in making decisions concerning Israel is ridiculous and reflects complete ignorance of the American system of government. In making decisions, the president is guided by one thing and one thing only – the interests of the United States as he perceives them and as they are reflected in the Congress.

Nothing else matters.

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