Daniel Larison

Independence and Dependence

It would probably be better just to ignore Barone’s latest article, but his argument contains so many dubious and fantastical claims that it is useful as an example of how short Republican memories are and how stupid mainstream conservative pundits must think their audience is. One of the most incredible claims is one of Barone’s most important:

The Progressives have always assumed that people needed safety nets and would welcome dependence on government. The public’s clear rejection of the Democratic health care bills has shown that this assumption was unwarranted. Americans today prefer independence to dependence on government, just as they did 200 years ago [bold mine-DL].

If we have found out anything over the last few months, it is that the public’s views on health care and health care legislation in particular are anything but clear. For every survey showing a narrow majority declaring the bill to be a “bad thing,” there is another survey that shows real opposition to the bill is closer to 40% of the population (i.e., the base of the opposition party). The polling numbers fluctuate depending on the phrasing and timing of the questions, and the reasons for opposition are many and varied. There has been no “clear public rejection” as of yet. Much of the opposition to health care legislation has came from Republican Medicare defenders and voters 65+ who overwhelmingly oppose the bill because the new legislation reduced Medicare payments. Real entitlement reform is unthinkable and Paul Ryan’s proposed budget is politically radioactive (and totally unacceptable to his own party leaders) because most Americans are quite satisfied with significant dependence on government. This health care bill is a bad bill in part because it exacerbates and deepens this problem. The trouble is that there are scant few heirs of the Founders out there, and the more you press modern Americans you will find that hardly any of them actually believe that the federal government should be as limited, small and relatively weak as all of the Founders believed it should be.

In the last ten years, it has been the party of insolvency, the Republican Party, that has been offering up free lunches and government expansion: new entitlements and lower taxes. I won’t pretend that the Democratic Party is really any more fiscally responsible, because it is not, but it is important to understand that the discontent the bill is causing does not derive on the whole from hostility to bigger government as such. The political problem is that the new legislation will impose some costs instead of providing subsidies that will be paid for entirely by the next generation. To the extent that the health care bill is unpopular, it is mostly unpopular because it theoretically deprives people of benefits from the government they are used to receiving. What we are more likely to see is the restoration of all cuts under tremendous pressure from the constituencies that depend on them.

I should also object to Barone’s retrojection of 20th century political issues onto the late eighteenth century. Liberty and independence were watchwords of the revolutionary and early republican period, and there was a strong Country political tradition that stressed the importance of economic independence as the basis for political liberty and constitutional government. This was the tradition Jefferson relied on as he articulated his agrarian republican theory, which so many supposed defenders of American identity mock and scorn, and it had as much to do with opposing concentrated private wealth as it had to do with opposing concentrated power in government. On the whole, the Republican Party has opposed and repudiated this tradition for its entire history, and it is only a series of historical accidents that have led any sympathizers with this tradition to align themselves with this party in recent decades.

The struggle between the Crown and the patriot rebels was not concerned with dependence on the state of the kind we debate today. Obviously, the independence sought by the rebels was that of would-be sovereign states separating themselves from the existing polity. The points of contention were encroachments of Parliament against the rights of colonial legislatures, the imposition of taxes without the consent of those legislatures, and an unwillingness on the part of colonials to shoulder part of the tax burden needed by the British state for funding the colonies’ common defense. It was a matter of retaining political prerogatives and chartered rights guaranteed to all Englishmen. As attractive as a simplistic scheme of anti-statist/statist can be, this completely misrepresents the nature of the struggle before and during our War for Independence.

What is more, the Founders did not “stand for the expansion of liberty,” but obviously were committed to the preservation of existing chartered liberties. From their perspective, there was no question of expanding liberty. The issue was one of protecting what liberty they had against the encroachments of Crown and Parliament. In many respects, they would have agreed with the Burkean idea that liberty had to be limited in order to be possessed. Their conception of liberty was on the whole a negative one. They aimed to limit and constrain what the government could do, and constructed a political structure that they hoped would do that. As many Antifederalists warned at the time, the restrictions and checks on government power would prove to be illusory and ineffective. In any case, for the Founders there was no notion of “expanding liberty.” That suggests a kind of activism and an idea of positive liberty that would have made much more sense to later Progressives. Indeed, many mainstream conservatives today speak of “advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world” that would only make sense in light of a Progressive interpretation of American principles.

It is all very well to look to the Founders for guidance and argue that we should adhere strictly to the constitutional limits they envisioned for the federal government, but it is useless to pretend that political opposition fueled by dependence on existing entitlements and partisan attachment to an historically centralizing party that normally favors the interests of concentrated wealth have anything to do with fidelity to the ideas of the Founders.


The Worst of Both Worlds

If the West is going to pursue sanctions then those sanctions should be strong enough to actually compel behavior. Otherwise, war proponents will simply reject them entirely and instead offer the choice of containment or war (and guess which option they think will be more palatable for the American public).

I can appreciate Obama’s incrementalism in dealing with China, but he’s handing his political rivals their 2010 (and perhaps even 2012) message on Iran. ~Kevin Sullivan

This is why I remain firmly opposed to new sanctions on Iran, and it is why I think it has always been a mistake for the administration to focus its diplomatic efforts on the implementation of a new sanctions regime. As Kevin correctly notes, war proponents will find whatever sanctions regime the administration cobbles together to be inadequate and call for military action, because they are proponents of war with Iran. This would have been their response even if the administration had somehow managed to win over other major and rising powers to support “crippling” sanctions. Whatever deal the administration made to get other states on board for any round of sanctions, it would be too much of a compromise for these hawks to accept.

This is why the administration should never have gone down the path of pursuing new sanctions: the administration has committed itself to a policy mechanism that will not yield the results it wants. There is no sanctions regime short of embargoes that would be seen as acts of war that could conceivably compel Iran to act as Washington wishes, and an embargo could easily lead to war anyway. The pursuit of sanctions will not only open the door to a hawkish Republican political challenge, which is forthcoming no matter what Obama does, but which will also contribute to the constant pressure for escalation against Iran regardless of who occupies the Oval Office after Obama’s first term ends. We have heard it all before: sanctions have been tried and they failed, and now we have no choice but to attack to prevent a “growing and gathering” threat, etc.

Of course, there is always the choice of accepting what cannot be prevented, but the administration is horrifed by the thought of being the ones in charge when Iran acquires a nuclear weapon (even though Iran is probably far away from acquiring one) and fears the political attacks that will follow if it “fails” to prevent the inevitable. All of these troubles stem from the original mistake of making the elimination or severe limitation of Iran’s nuclear program the objective of U.S. Iran policy, and instead of correcting this error upon entering office Obama redoubled our pursuit of this objective. It may be that the administration is now recognizing the degree of international indifference to the Iranian “threat” and coming to understand the impracticality and risks of imposing “crippling” sanctions. Now that it has come this far, it has trapped itself in a position in which it will not compel any change in Iranian behavior, and it will be mocked at home for its “weak appeasement” while simultaneously destroying whatever chance there was of some sustained engagement.


The GOP Needs Better Foreign Policy Thinking in General

I suppose Palin can always argue that whatever set of sanctions is ultimately placed on Iran by the U.S. and its allies aren’t “real” sanctions, since that’s the luxury a governor who quits has. But it’s impossible to say Obama threw in the towel on sanctions when the timetable for those sanctions accelerates. ~Spencer Ackerman

Via Kevin Sullivan

Well, it’s only impossible if Palin wants her foreign policy remarks to have some relationship with reality. This is like Barone’s claim that Obama caved to the Russian demands in the START negotiations when almost the exact opposite is true. It is much catchier and more satisfying to an audience of nationalists to say that Obama betrays friends and gives in to enemies and rivals, so this is what Palin, Barone and the rest of them say. If Palin wanted to make credible foreign policy statements that non-Republicans could respect, Ackerman would be right that Palin needs better foreign policy advisors. However, the bad advisors she has and the bad advice they give her are far more politically useful to her.

This is the behavior I have been discussing for some time. Foreign policy hawks will not acknowledge any correct decisions taken by the administration, unless these relate to escalating foreign conflicts, in which case they will take credit for having somehow influenced the administration or they will pretend that Obama has abandoned his former views and adopted theirs. We have seen this when Romney claims that Obama changed his position on the speed of withdrawal from Iraq or on sending additional forces to Afghanistan, when neither position has changed noticeably since the campaign. The rest of the time they pretend that up is down, they declare his fairly confrontational Iran policy to be appeasement, they hallucinate non-existent “apology tours,” and they invent absurd theories that purport to explain Obama’s foreign policy as evidence of his rejection of American exceptionalism.

Another thing worth noting is that when it comes to foreign policy virtually all high-profile national Republican politicians wind up sounding no more informed or competent than Palin. I’m thinking of Romney and Pawlenty in particular, but the same could be said of Mike Pence or Eric Cantor. A frequent criticism of Palin is that she knows little or nothing about international affairs, but the same could easily be said of many other leading Republican politicians and pundits. That doesn’t stop them from talking about it incessantly and reminding us on a regular basis that they don’t know much.


Cruel Compliments

There are few more insulting attacks on Obama’s foreign policy than a friendly column from Roger Cohen. Fresh off of declaring that Obama is not really a Westerner, he assures us that Obama has been just as successful as Kennedy at Vienna. This is how Roger Cohen continues to offer his “help” to the Obama administration:

It fell to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to play the role Khrushchev once played in toughening a young American president.

The former Soviet leader thought he could browbeat Kennedy only to discover, in Vienna, that the Kennedy charm was not unalloyed to steel (“It will be a long, cold winter.”) Netanyahu was the first foreign leader to think he could steamroll Obama. He earned a frosty comeuppance.

Tom Bevan doesn’t like the comparison between a Soviet premier and an Israeli prime minister, but the problem with the comparison is far more substantial than that. To put it generously, Cohen’s interpretation of what happened at the Vienna summit is unique. Kennedy’s meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna has normally been regarded as a political and diplomatic failure that helped lead to subsequent provocative Soviet moves in Berlin and Cuba. If Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu proves to have similarly poor results, woe unto Obama. Far from concluding that Kennedy’s charm was “not unalloyed to steel,” Khrushchev came away from Vienna with a very poor impression of Kennedy that encouraged him to act very aggressively later:

Kennedy’s aides convinced the press at the time that behind closed doors the president was performing well, but American diplomats in attendance, including the ambassador to the Soviet Union, later said they were shocked that Kennedy had taken so much abuse. Paul Nitze, the assistant secretary of defense, said the meeting was “just a disaster.” Khrushchev’s aide, after the first day, said the American president seemed “very inexperienced, even immature.” Khrushchev agreed, noting that the youthful Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.” The Soviet leader left Vienna elated — and with a very low opinion of the leader of the free world.

Kennedy’s assessment of his own performance was no less severe. Only a few minutes after parting with Khrushchev, Kennedy, a World War II veteran, told James Reston of The New York Times that the summit meeting had been the “roughest thing in my life.” Kennedy went on: “He just beat the hell out of me. I’ve got a terrible problem if he thinks I’m inexperienced and have no guts. Until we remove those ideas we won’t get anywhere with him.”

It may be that Obama was hoping to avoid playing Kennedy to Netanyahu’s Khrushchev, so to speak, and it could be that this was partly why he treated Netanyahu as he did, but it is simply bizarre for someone sympathetic to what Obama is trying to do to compare his Netanyahu meeting to one of the most significant diplomatic blunders in postwar history. If the comparison is correct, Netanyahu will believe that he can do whatever he wants and Obama will be unable and unwilling to prevent him, and all of Obama’s half-hearted efforts at pressuring Israel will fail. This could lead to a real crisis in relations later on (perhaps over Iran), as opposed to the charade we have been watching recently, or it could sink the administration’s credibility around the world. Obama’s supporters have to hope that the comparison is completely wrong, because if there is any merit to the comparison Obama’s worst critics will seize on it and claim vindication for all the times they have accused Obama of being “too intelligent and too weak.”


George A. Panichas, Vechnaya Pamyat

Jeremy Beer has a fine tribute to Dr. George A. Panichas, editor of Modern Age for 25 years, who passed away earlier this month:

Dr. Panichas (as one inevitably referred to him, even after many years of acquaintance) was generous with his praise and encouragement of young writers; indeed, no one who received a letter from Dr. Panichas in which he accepted one’s contribution to Modern Age ever forgot it. He assured you that your essay or review (slight though it may have been) would surely change the state of public debate forever. He averred that it revealed a mind deeply in tune with Truth, Beauty, and the Divine. He urged you to write more in the future and implied that you were destined to achieve a reputation that would last for generations, perhaps centuries.

And then, he was so absolutely humble and allergic to self-promotion (not to mention most post-1950s technologies) that it seems that few of his former associates knew he had died until today, twelve days after his death, and three days after the funeral service.

Whatever else might be said of Dr. Panichas’s Modern Age, this much is certainly true: he ensured that the journal remained a bastion of traditionalist conservative inquiry, analysis, and belles-lettres. The neoconservatives never much impressed Dr. George A. Panichas, not because he wasn’t open-minded (he could be surprisingly so), but precisely because he was — and he was horrified by their ideological spirit. Movement conservatism irritated — and saddened — him deeply.

I owe Dr. Panichas a great debt. He published my earliest essays and reviews (a couple of which were really not very good at all, despite his glowing praise) and provided a home for my writing that I always knew I could come back to. He unfailingly asked about my wife Kara, with whom he had a special affection from her days as Modern Age’s managing editor. He was always too kind, too encouraging, too understanding, too charitable. I miss him and those old typewritten letters on Modern Age stationery. They bespoke a genteelism that seems now to be entirely missing in all corners of our harried world.

May God establish his soul in a place of green pasture, a place of repose, where all the righteous dwell. Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of Thy servant. Vechnaya pamyat! Vechnaya pamyat! Vechnaya pamyat!

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Hating Us For Our Degeneracy

This morning Bret Stephens dusted off D’Souza’s thesis on jihadism:

Bear in mind, too, that the America Qutb found so offensive had yet to discover Elvis, Playboy, the pill, women’s lib, acid tabs, gay rights, Studio 54, Jersey Shore and, of course, Lady Gaga. In other words, even in some dystopic hypothetical world in which hyper-conservatives were to seize power in the U.S. and turn the cultural clock back to 1948, America would still remain a swamp of degeneracy in the eyes of Qutb’s latter-day disciples.

This, then, is the core complaint that the Islamists from Waziristan to Tehran to Gaza have lodged against the West. It explains why jihadists remain aggrieved even after the U.S. addressed their previous casus belli by removing troops from Saudi Arabia, and why they will continue to remain aggrieved long after we’ve decamped from Iraq, Afghanistan and even the Persian Gulf. As for Israel, its offenses are literally inextricable: as a democracy, as a Jewish homeland, as a country in which liberalism in all its forms, including cultural, prevails.

That must be why America was beset by jihadist attacks since at least 1948. Oh, wait, this never happened? How strange. That might mean that the decadence-as-cause-of-terrorism argument grossly exaggerates the importance of such cultural factors in explaining jihadist violence as a way of distracting us from remediable political grievances. In fact, attacks on Americans and American installations began after we inserted ourselves into the region’s conflicts and began establishing a military presence there. Hegemonists can obsess over the writings of Qutb all they want, but it will not change the reality that anti-American jihadist violence did not occur until the misguided 1982-83 intervention in Lebanon. U.S. and Israeli military operations and policies of occupation provoke much broader, more intense resentment among Muslims than any general dissatisfaction with the decadence of Western culture and its deleterious effects
on their own societies. The suicide bomber in Khost was radicalized by the treatment of Gaza, not the performances of Lady Gaga. It might suit a certain type of Westerner to associate fanaticism, political violence and strict moralism, but on the whole this is a misunderstanding and a distraction from the real causes of the problem.

The recent Moscow subway bombings are instructive on this point. The bombings are outrageous atrocities for which there is no excuse or justification, but one would have to be a blind fool to say that Chechen grievances, which outside jihadists have been exploiting for the last decade, are based in morally offensive Russian pop culture. It is acceptable for hegemonists to acknowledge this when Russia is the target of terrorist attacks, but when it comes to acknowledging U.S. and allied policies as important contributing factors we are treated instead to these sweeping cultural arguments and close readings of Sayyid Qutb.

Regarding Israel, there are certainly absolute rejectionists who will never accept Israel’s existence. What is inexplicable is why Israeli and U.S. governments would want to empower those rejectionists by making accommodation and some practical modus vivendi increasingly difficult if not impossible. Settlement-building in itself is not the greatest cause of resentment, but it is the occupation and all its attendant inequalities and humiliations that the construction represents and reinforces that makes it so provocative.

No doubt there are some die-hard jihadist ideologues who would never give up their fight no matter what happened. There is no political decision that can satisfy true fanatics, because they apparently seek goals so far removed from reality that they will never be satisfied, but the majority of Muslims that sympathizes with the political goals of violent jihadists has grievances or sympathizes with those who have grievances that can be addressed and remedied to some extent. Naturally, proponents of perpetual war have no interest in even attempting to address such grievances, and so we hear how they hate us for our immorality. Common sense tells us that other people are far more likely to resent and hate us for what we and our allies do to them and their co-religionists than they are going to hate us because of our debased popular culture.


The End of the Special Relationship: It’s About Time

Britain’s special relationship with the US — forged by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt in the second world war — no longer exists, says a committee of influential MPs.

Instead, America’s relationship with Britain is no more special than with its other main allies, according to a report by the Commons foreign affairs committee published today.

The report also warns that the perception of the UK after the Iraq war as America’s “subservient poodle” has been highly damaging to Britain’s reputation and interests around the world. The MPs conclude that British prime ministers have to learn to be less deferential to US presidents and be “willing to say no” to America.

The report, entitled Global Security: UK-US Relations, says Britain’s relationship with America is “extremely close and valuable” in a number of areas, particularly intelligence co-operation. However, it adds that the use of the phrase special relationship, in its historical sense, “is potentially misleading and we recommend that its use should be avoided”.

It does not reflect the “ever-evolving” relationship between the two countries and raises unrealistic expectations, the MPs say. ~The Times

Via Scoblete and Kevin Sullivan

This is entirely appropriate and long overdue. Even the closest of allies will have different needs and interests, and successful alliances will both permit these differences and provide both parties with tangible benefits. It will ultimately be best for the United States and Britain if neither government can automatically take the other’s support for granted. As I have mentioned before, and as many Tories started realizing after the recent Falklands controversy, Britain has rarely been able to count on automatic American support, but Washington has assumed and readily received British support for whatever initiative it has been undertaking.

Had Britain under Blair not become a lockstep supporter of Washington’s line on anti-terrorism, nonproliferation and regime change, and if Washington had therefore not had the fig leaf of British support and the political capital that came from Blair’s endorsement of the invasion, it is remotely possible that the invasion might never have taken place. Regardless, it would have been entirely appropriate for Britain to have refused to participate in the war, as Britain’s role and its interests in the region are not identical to the U.S. role and interests as Washington understands them. What’s more, had Britain assumed the role of a critic and opponent of the invasion, that could have lent considerable weight to the antiwar case.

Britain would have been doing America a far greater favor by working to prevent our government from making a terrible blunder in 2003. Our best allies in 2002-03 were the allies that told us quite frankly that we were being fools. A British Atlanticism that reliably takes the U.S. side no matter what made it easier for the U.S. to embark on policies that harmed both Britain and the U.S. Uncritical backing of one state by another rarely works out well for either one, and that is made all the worse when this backing is justified with a lot of overwrought, sentimental rhetoric.

In the event that Cameron is able to form a government, I would hope that shadow foreign secretary William Hague recognizes that he and Tories like him were part of the problem the report describes. They might yet discover that sometimes the best way to be “pro-American” is to disagree with American administrations on occasion and to oppose them when necessary.


Persistent Republican Dishonesty in Foreign Policy Debate

They [liberals] see history as moving inevitably and beneficially to the left and bemoan American alliances with what they see as retrograde right-wing regimes.

They want us to look more favorably on those like Chavez and Fidel Castro, who claim they are helping the poor. Somehow it is seen as progressive to cuddle up to those who attack America and to scorn those who have shown their friendship and common values over many years.

And so Obama, the object of so much adulation in Western Europe, seems to have had only the coolest of relations with its leaders. The candidate who spoke in Berlin is now the president with no sympathy for the leaders of peoples freed when the wall fell. They are seen as impediments to his goal of propitiating Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where Joseph Stalin is now an honored hero. ~Michael Barone

At the risk of repeating myself, Republican critics such as Barone long ago exhausted whatever credibility they may have had on this subject. It may not concern them that they are engaged in a sustained campaign of lying and misrepresentation, but I don’t think this persistent dishonesty can be pointed out often enough. When Barone says that Obama’s postponed trip to Indonesia and Australia signifies something larger about his approach to foreign policy, he is at best being insufferably dense. When he says that “liberals” want Washington to look more favorably on Chavez and Castro, that is pretty clearly a lie and a conflation of the administration with a very few far-left sympathizers of these regimes.

Barone badly misrepresents Obama’s approach to eastern Europe and Russia. He has no evidence that Obama has no “sympathy” for eastern European leaders, and Barone does not acknowledge that Washington is pressing ahead with a missile defense project in Romania and may soon be reaching an agreement with Bulgaria about the same thing. There is no evidence that Obama has any interest in “propitiating Putin.” If he had, he would not have sent Biden to Tbilisi last summer for a visit where he was very warmly received and where Biden noted that Georgia was one of the highest per capita recipients of U.S. foreign aid, which is an arrangement that continues under the new administration. Biden should know, since he was one of the leading advocates for providing that aid. It was Georgia’s reckless, increasingly authoritarian president who launched his revolution against Shevardnadze in front of a statue of Stalin, and it was his wife who once enthused that Saakashvili was like another Beria. Of course, Stalin is revered as a national hero in Georgia far more than anywhere else, but what does that tell us? Barone has nothing to say about the quality of this allied Georgian government, but he is able to include a lie that Obama has offered no support for Georgia.


Irrational Tribalism

As for me, after more than a year of seeing how those “prodigious oratorical and intellectual gifts” have worked themselves out in action, I remain more convinced than ever of the soundness of Buckley’s quip, in the spirit of which I hereby declare that I would rather be ruled by the Tea Party than by the Democratic Party, and I would rather have Sarah Palin sitting in the Oval Office than Barack Obama. ~Norman Podhoretz

One might ask why Podhoretz is wasting his and our time rehashing the increasingly irrelevant Palin question, but part of the explanation can be found in the unpersuasive argument on behalf of Palin. Over the last year and a half since Palin emerged as a national figure, we have heard some form of this argument countless times. Each time, we hear about how she inspires irrational loathing and irrational admiration. Instead of recognizing this as a reason to be very careful not to succumb to the latter, a great many conservative writers make a point of declaring themselves as her supporters because of others’ irrational loathing. “Yes, Palin may not know anything, and she may not be qualified, but she is one of ours and she makes those people crazy!” It is hardly news to me that mass politics is primarily tribal. We know that the qualifications of a candidate and policies endorsed during a campaign have little or nothing to do with the responses of most voters. What I cannot quite understand is why people who claim to be “conservative intellectuals” act as if this is perfectly fine.

How can it be a point of pride that one would prefer an ignorant political failure because she happens to say the right things? It may be true that expertise in international affairs is “no guarantee of wise leadership,” but I don’t believe staggering ignorance has ever produced wise leadership. No doubt, Palin’s lack of expertise is extremely useful to national security conservatives who wish to direct her to accept their view of the world, but that is yet another argument against letting Palin occupy a position of important leadership. The second Bush was famously uninformed, incurious and inclined to go with his gut instinct, and his foreign policy record was largely calamitous. The areas where his administration did the least damage and even some good (e.g., relations with India) were those in which the U.S. was least activist and Bush was least directly involved. I don’t expect Palinites to accept this assessment, as they were as foolishly confident in the merits of invading Iraq and provoking Russia as they are now sure that Palin is an acceptable national leader, but it is worth remembering that they rehearsed all of the same defenses for Bush when his critics pointed out that he was clueless about the rest of the world.

Considering the low opinion of Obama most Palinites have, I have often thought it strange that so many of her fans damn her with what they must regard as extremely faint praise: “At least she’s better than Obama!” Leave aside for now how absurd this sort of claim makes them look when one fairly compares the political careers of the two, and just consider what contempt many of her so-called defenders must have for her that all they can bring themselves to say is that she is better than someone they regard as a dangerous incompetent.


Allies and Enemies

The new Economist/YouGov poll asked its American respondents about a number of countries and asked which they considered to be allies or enemies. The good news is that there are no countries on the list that a majority considers an enemy, except for North Korea, which actually has been and continues to be one. For whatever reason, Iran was not included on the list. There are sizeable minorities that regard China and Russia as enemies, but these never rise above 20% overall. Despite some concerted mainstream conservative efforts to stir up anti-Russian animus in the last few years, even among conservatives only 20% see Russia as an enemy. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Washington will not continue to take actions that Moscow finds provocative or unacceptable, but it is mildly encouraging that a relatively smaller part of the population has been affected by nearly two decades of mistreating Russia and at least a decade of grossly exaggerating the threat that a “resurgent” Russia might pose.

The more remarkable result is the very low percentage of respondents saying that Israel is an ally (39.4%). We hear quite often that U.S. Israel policy is the way it is and Washington provides the support to Israel that it does because of broad and deep public support for Israel, but as I keep saying U.S. foreign policy is not automatically or directly guided by public sympathies and sentiments. Broad support might exist, but it would not be why policy is made in a certain way. On the other hand, policy might not align with the views of the majority, but that probably isn’t going to lead to a change in policy. I have discussed this a few times already, but I don’t think this point can be emphasized enough. If a vast majority supported U.S. Israel policy, the support of a vast majority would not be why the policy is the way it is. More likely, that support would be a result of accepting an existing policy that political leaders and the media have affirmed is good and necessary. Likewise, if a large majority did not agree that Israel is a U.S. ally, as YouGov says they do not, that would not necessarily ever translate into a change in U.S. support of and protection for Israel. Foreign policy is remarkably well-insulated from shifts in public opinion, and public opinion typically follows the government’s lead on any major initiatives overseas. More to the point, people in this 39.4% who say that Israel is an ally (and especially the 51.1% of Republicans who say this) tend to be more interested, engaged and involved than those who do not.

Even though this 39.4% do not outnumber those who do not agree, they vastly outweigh them in influence. Just 31% of people belonging to the majority party say that Israel is an ally, but it is a certainty that the White House, the party leadership in both houses and the overwhelming majority of Democratic members in Congress will continue to represent the view of this distinct minority within their own party. On a more practical level, the majority that disagrees with this position does not necessarily have any specific policy preferences that unite them, and there is no organization of any consequences that represents such a view. Affirming that another country is an ally recommends certain obvious moves, but taking a different view does not easily translate into a policy agenda.

For that matter, almost all American critics of certain aspects of the U.S.-Israel relationship accept that Israel is and will continue to be an ally, so even most of the critics are aligned with this 39% minority. The majority is basically completely unrepresented in our political debate on this question. Perhaps there are even good reasons for this, and perhaps it doesn’t matter, but it might be worth acknowledging that this is so.

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