Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Arrogance Of Identity Politics

Benjamin Netanyahu’s behavior with President Obama overstepped the limits of decency and diplomatic protocol. One can disagree but one should not be abrasive and rude, more so in public in the house of the host. David Rothkofp (of Carnegie Foundation) wrote,  “ In the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's embarrassing and diplomatically maladroit performance at the White House on Friday and President Obama's two addresses about the Middle East in the past four days, the core questions Americans and the world confront regarding the Israeli- Palestinian dispute are thrown once again into stark relief.” Netanyahu forgot during his meeting with the US President that the US was not only the first country to recognize Israel as a sovereign and independent  country  within hours of its coming into existence but in the world today the US is perhaps the only friend that Israel can count upon in times of need. Netanyahu should have remembered that the US lost the Vietnam War despite having nuclear weapons as did France in Algeria and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The premise of defamed Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan that if Pakistan had nuclear weapons then independent Bangladesh would not have emerged and India could have been deterred on the Eastern Front is fallacious and contrary to the lessons of history. Netanyahu’s excessive dependence on the Israeli lobby in the US Congress for support of Israeli intransigence, even when such support goes against the vital interests of the US as demonstrated by Professors John Mearsheimmer and Stephen Walt in their book Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy, is dangerous for Israel itself. They argued, “No lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.” They added that "in its basic operations, it is no different from interest groups like the Farm Lobby, steel and textile workers, and other ethnic lobbies. What sets the Israel Lobby apart is its extraordinary effectiveness." According to Mearsheimer and Walt, the "loose coalition" that makes up the Lobby has "significant leverage over the Executive Branch", as well as the ability to make sure that the "Lobby's perspective on Israel is widely reflected in the mainstream media." They claim that AIPAC in particular has a "stranglehold on the U. S.Congress", due to its ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it. According to the New York Times Netanyahu requested the Republican leadership that he be invited to address the Joint Session of the Congress to upstage President Obama’s speech on US policy on the current situation in the Middle East and North Africa. His arrogance in challenging the American President who is ultimately charged with framing US foreign and security policy that would serve American interest is beyond comprehension. Equally incomprehensible is the comment by possible Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney ( National Review, February issue) that “ Israel must now contend with the fact that its principal backer in the world, the United States, is seeking to ingratiate itself with Arab opinion at its expense.”  Some similarity can be found in the intense rivalry between the two political parties in the US- -- Republican and Democrat¬-- -and the two main parties in Bangladesh engaged in a gladiatorial contest for power. While our political parties  display  intense discord on almost all issues the American political parties, having centuries of  practice of democratic norms, are more mature and tolerant of opposite views. Some Republican leaders assured Netanyahu that a Republican Congress would act to contain the Obama administration’s policy on Israel “favoring” the Arabs. By making such promises the Republican leaders run the risk of putting pressure on the US administration in adopting policies that may ultimately harm the US interest in the Islamic world. As it is Pew Research Center reports indicate decreasing US popularity in the Islamic world, partly due to US policy on the Palestine issue and partly due to a suspicion that the influence of persons like the Paul Wolfowitz-Richard Perle variety have not withered and continues to sway US policy on various matters. John Mearsheimer (Imperial by Design- The National Interest- Dec 2010) writes that abundance of survey data and anecdotal evidence show that anger and hatred against the US among the Arabs and Muslims is largely driven by Washington’s policies on Israeli treatment of Palestinians, presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Gulf War, US support for repressive regimes in the Arab world, etc. Mearsheimer cites  the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9 /11 , as expressed by the 9 /11 Commission: “By his own account KSM’s animus towards the US stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with the US foreign policy favoring Israel.”   The Arab Spring has amply demonstrated that Israel is not the only democratic country in the sea of autocracies and that George W Bush’ s policy of threatening the Arabs with democratization was unnecessary and the idea of “ Arab Exceptionalism” was erroneous. While Al-Qaeda is universally despised, and no less in the Muslim world,  and its philosophy is totally rejected, the Western world should pause to think why Pakistan despite being the recipient of billions of dollars of US assistance, considers the US as the top on the enemy list even above India, the  traditional enemy. No thinking person believes that Israel should be destroyed, and even the most anti-Semite would know it is a military impossibility. Arabs, indeed the entire Muslim world, would like to have normal relations with Israel. The impediment lies in the mindset of people like Netanyahu who refuse to believe that peace cannot be achieved through conquest and repression.   President Obama is indeed an exceptional leader who is thoughtful, benign, and modest. His “subversion” of Pakistani sovereignty in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and drone attacks is to safeguard the global interest against terrorism. Regarding Arab Spring David Rothkopf writes, “He is different from his predecessors in that he feels more kinship with people of the region as a whole and does not see it as a cartoonish world of good and evil or of a few leaders standing  in the place of whole nations. He recognizes that he is living at a pivotal time not only in the history of Middle East but also in the history of the US foreign policy.”   One hopes that the American people would rise above the calumny of the so-called Muslim Problem disseminating the idea of Muslims spreading the contagion of terrorism in an otherwise prosperous Western civilization and demand that justice be done to a people oppressed for decades by a few who themselves were victims of holocaust perpetrated by a madman and of repression in centuries past.