Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, said the speech was “a step in the right direction,” but that “we need to make sure that this president is also going to stand by Israel and not allow his administration to somehow speak contrary to what our ally thinks is in its best interest.” (emphasis added)
Dan Drezner reacts to Cantor’s conflation of U.S. and Israeli interests:
Now, this bolded part of the quote is quite extraordinary, if you think about it. Apparently, Cantor’s standard with respect to American policy towards Israel is that the U.S. government cannot and should not contradict anything that Israel’s government says. What’s good for Israel’s national interests — as defined solely by Israel — serves American interests as well.
Step back for a second and ask yourself if this is true of any other U.S. ally. A NATO member? Nah, we disagree with them all the time. Japan? Nope, there was a pretty bruising fight with that country’s government on Okinawa bases just a few years ago. Canada? Hell, Mitt Romney pretty much made it clear that the U.S. is gonna get Canada’s oil and I heard nary a peep of criticism from the GOP foreign policy establishment. I can’t think of a Latin American, Pacific Rim or Central Asian ally that meets this criteria.
This is another example of how easily the distinction between ally and client state gets lost, but Drezner’s question is a good one. What makes Cantor’s statement remarkable is that the U.S. has many far more strategically important formal allies to which the U.S. is bound by treaty, and no one would so blatantly conflate America’s interests with those of our formal treaty allies. For instance, no American politician in his right mind would ever suggest that Turkey’s view of its national interests should dictate the position the U.S. takes on a regional issue, because that would be ridiculous. Turkish interests ought to be taken into consideration, and they shouldn’t simply be dismissed as irrelevant as it has so often been in the last decade, but inevitably they are going to diverge from U.S. interests at certain points, and it is not the job of any administration to conflate the two or subordinate genuine U.S. interests. Indeed, when Turkey and Israel have been at odds over regional issues, one would look in vain for any American politician to be more sympathetic to the position of the actual formally allied government against that of the client state.
In fact, Cantor’s formulation isn’t extraordinary in the sense of being unusual or unrepresentative of the way national Republican (and some Democratic) figures talk about the U.S.-Israel relationship. The view that “the U.S. government cannot and should not contradict anything that Israel’s government says” isn’t just Cantor’s view. It is an important part of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy and one of his standard talking points. Romney is far from being the only candidate to say that there should not be “one inch of space” between the U.S. and Israel, but he goes beyond that to reject any public disagreement between the U.S. and “friends and allies.” Cantor said what Republican politicians say all the time: they blatantly and openly conflate the interests of the United States and Israel, and they find fault with anyone who doesn’t do likewise. These are obnoxious statements, but politicians will continue to make them as long as they are given enough incentives.