On the eve of the latest round of Geneva talks, Americans told pollsters by a striking 2-1 margin they favored a negotiated settlement with Iran over war. This was in the face of a startling anti-diplomacy fear campaign waged by Israel’s Likud leaders in the U.S. and a renewed Israel lobby campaign for more sanctions. One wonders if there is soul-searching in Likud or AIPAC offices about why their messaging is falling flat.
Certainly Israel’s reaction could be fairly called “wigging out.” But Netanyahu seemed almost measured next to some neoconservative intellectuals. Take this piece, published by Weekly Standard editor Lee Smith in Tablet. Smith essentially accuses Obama of biding his time during his first term in order to challenge “American Jewish power” in his second. He interprets the Obama administration’s stated desire to pivot away from the Mideast as fancy language to dump Israel. Still he puts up a brave front. Rest assured, right-wing Zionists, Israel doesn’t need America. It can ally with Russia, or China or someone else:
Israel will be fine on its own—even if some of the decisions it might make, like absorbing the West Bank, or refusing to recognize the legitimacy of American Jewish marriages, or cozying up to dictators like Vladimir Putin—will leave American Jews feeling alienated and bereft.
It would be surprising indeed if Beijing or Moscow took up the thankless task of defending Israel’s West Bank occupation and nuclear monopoly in the face of opposition from a Muslim world with which the two powers have substantial economic and political ties. There is a reason that support for whatever Israel wants is invariably stronger in Congress than in the U.S. military, State Department, or CIA: in its present form, the American relationship with Israel makes little sense in foreign-policy terms, but if you are dependent on regular campaign contributions, it goes down a little easier.
Also worth noting is Smith’s faux umbrage at the notion that policies favored by Likud and its American supporters might lead to war. “American officials” writes Smith, “apparently feel that trafficking in stereotypes about Jewish deceptiveness and appetite for blood is fair play .” Given Obama’s record and his extensive and deeply layered ties with liberal and centrist American Jews, playing the anti-Semitism card here seems a little desperate. We can take this as foreshadowing of what supporters of a deal with Iran diplomacy will face in the weeks ahead. Still it must be asked: why on earth is Lee Smith offended at the idea that someone would conclude he and his allies favor war as a first resort? Has he never read the magazine he is an editor of?
But beyond the hysteria, Smith is touching on critical points. Perhaps some neoconservatives (Martin Kramer is also quoted) see in the tea leaves the end of the American-Israeli “special relationship.” They recognize, however grudgingly, that the United States may have interests beyond devoting a great deal of its foreign policy to defending whatever Israel wants, whether it is exclusive control of Jerusalem or a regional nuclear monopoly. They seem to understand that America might one day deem a more normal relationship with a large, complicated, scientifically advanced, and semi-democratic Muslim country like Iran a desirable thing. Yes, they rail against such developments, but they are right to perceive them as possible.