The condescension — and ignorance — implicit in this argument is staggering. Wright suggests that Israel’s elected leaders from all the major parties — all of them united in supporting the construction of housing for Jews at least in traditionally Jewish parts of East Jerusalem — don’t know what’s good for their country. But he does. And anyone who disagrees with him is objectively “anti-Israel.”
It’s not so hard to imagine that a majority consensus uniting leaders of all major parties on a major policy question can be misguided and that the policy really is ultimately bad for the country in question. Obviously, there was a majority in support of the unnecessary, unjust and miguided war in Iraq, the leaders of both major parties embraced the rationale for invading Iraq, and all of these people were horribly wrong. Invading Iraq really was harmful to U.S. security, damaging to American power and reputation, and an inexcusable waste of resources and lives on a mission whose main accomplishments have been to empower sectarian politicians and their friends in Tehran. Many of our allies warned us against doing this, and many of us dismissed them as anti-American and treacherous. As it turned out, the allies who resisted our folly in Iraq were better allies than the ones that eagerly went along with us.
Of course, pro-war Republicans will not be persuaded by any of this. The Iraq war was ultimately a great success in their eyes. There’s no point in trying to make them see reason here. So let’s try a different example where the disastrous results for the country involved are undeniable. In the U.S. there was an overwhelming bipartisan consensus in favor of backing Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia, and there was strong bipartisan support for moving Georgia towards EU and NATO membership over the furious objections of Russia. In Georgia, Saakashvili was overwhelmingly popular when he first came to power and remained the favorite of the majority long enough to be re-elected. His goal of national “reintegration” was one widely shared by almost all Georgians. Even his decision to escalate the skirmishes in South Ossetia initially met with broad public support. Saakashvili had been encouraged by the broad-based American support and U.S. military aid and training that his government received, and he had made clear that reintegrating the separatist states was a top priority.
At the NATO summit in Bucharest earlier in 2008, Georgia was all but promised future membership in the Alliance despite the misgivings of many European members, and as a result Saakashvili seems to have taken U.S. support in a crisis for granted. Between the popularity he had with his own people and the strong support he had received from Washington, Saakashvili believed he could achieve a quick victory over the separatists and present the world with a fait accompli, which he expected his Western backers to endorse. All of this led to a disastrous war for which Saakashvili was rightly blamed, the fighting wrecked the country, and the war resulted in the permanent partition of Georgia. Instead of reintegration, Saakashvili’s war established the probably irreversible separation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia under Russian protection.
By just about any measure, Saakashvili’s tenure has been a disaster for Georgia, and his cheerleaders and enablers in the West helped to bring it about. If we look at the substance of the policies they supported and the results that came from those policies, we would have to conclude that the effect was anti-Georgian, but all of Saakashvili’s boosters were absolutely convinced at the time that they were being adamantly pro-Georgian. These boosters insisted that they were supporting a small, struggling democracy against the Russian menace. Besides, who were they to claim to know better than Georgia’s own leaders what was good for Georgia?
As it turned out, Saakashvili’s biggest critics, including myself, were effectively better friends of Georgia than all of the ostensibly pro-Georgian politicians and pundits. Instead of blocking Georgia from going down the path of self-destructive wars of unification, Washington armed and trained Georgia’s army (supposedly for defensive purposes!), gave Tbilisi every reason to expect protection, and then far too late recoiled when the reckless ally embarked on a ruinous course of action. If most of Israel’s Western critics wanted what was worst for Israel, they would be eagerly cheering every ill-advised, counterproductive, internationally isolating, politically radioactive move the Israeli government makes and calling for more of the same. As the proverb says, “The yes-man is your enemy, but your friend will argue with you.”
Personally, I don’t see much use in vying for ownership of the “pro-Israel” label. Even if Bob Wright and the J Street crowd prevail and appropriate the label solely for themselves, not much will have been gained. If the mistaken conflation of the interests of the U.S. and Israel continues under different management with a different agenda, as Wright seems to want, that will still prevent the evolution of a healthy, balanced and normal relationship between our governments. We should strive to make U.S. policy serve America’s just interests with as little partiality in our international relations as possible. We should discourage as much as possible the excitement of passionate attachments and passionate antipathies toward other nations. Throwing out the misleading and inreasingly meaningless label “pro-Israel” would be one way to start.