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The Most Overrated Bilateral Relationship in the World

The value of the U.S.-Israel relationship is constantly exaggerated so that we forget that the client state is frequently a liability.

Aaron David Miller makes a goofy claim:

Nobody in Jerusalem or Washington is looking for a big fight right now. Unlike Lehman Brothers, this relationship really is too big and important to fail [bold mine-DL].

Too big and important for whom? That might be true for Israel, but probably isn’t. It certainly isn’t true for the U.S. It is true that the relationship is frequently portrayed this way, which is why the so-called “crisis” in the relationship has received a lot more attention than it deserved. However, the relationship between the two governments could become very bad and unproductive without causing any serious harm to the U.S. or American interests overall. The conventional pieties about the U.S.-Israel relationship are that it is both “unbreakable” and extremely important to both parties. Of course, no international relationship is truly unbreakable, no matter how good it has been in the past, but this is just a bit of overblown rhetoric. More important, the value of the relationship to the U.S. is constantly exaggerated so that we forget that this client is frequently a net liability.

Miller’s main argument is that Clinton will probably manage the relationship with Israel more successfully than Obama has. That could be true, but it is worth noting that in practice this “better” management will be little more than endorsing and backing whatever the Israeli government does. Obama has occasionally, briefly put a little bit of pressure on Israel to maybe modify its most obnoxious policies ever so slightly, and the relationship is at its lowest nadir in twenty years and Obama is reviled for his supposed “hostility” to the country. The Bush approach was to enable and excuse almost everything that the Israeli government did or wanted to do, and Clinton seems interested in imitating Bush’s example. Clinton made clear in an interview earlier this year that she wasn’t interested in pressuring or criticizing anything Netanyahu had done:

She offered a vociferous defense of Israel, and of its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as well. This is noteworthy because, as secretary of state, she spent a lot of time yelling at Netanyahu on the administration’s behalf over Israel’s West Bank settlement policy. Now, she is leaving no daylight at all between the Israelis and herself.

So it’s fair to conclude that Clinton would be “good” for any Israeli government that wants to receive unconditional and reflexive American support, but no good at all for the Palestinians and the many Israelis that don’t support many of their current government’s policies.



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