Romney, Netanyahu, and George Washington’s warning

David Bromwich writes: Mitt Romney’s campaign stop in Jerusalem has been criticized for the grossness of the subservience that the candidate exhibited toward Israel. This reaction was surely factored in by his handlers. Liberals, internationalists, human rights advocates might demur, but Romney’s intended audience was none of these people. Nor was it the Arab world, nor was it American voters, with a possible exception for the state of Florida. Romney was aiming to reach two distinct but related target groups: first, a small set of extremely wealthy donors, and second, a group composed of one person, Benjamin Netanyahu. Both have long been potent players in American elections. Both were already helping Romney. It was necessary and useful at this time to cement the alliance in public.

Judged in the light of that purpose, Romney’s visit must be counted a success. And it was a success in one other respect. The billionaires and the prime minister wanted Romney to bring the United States closer to supporting a war with Iran. Romney obliged, and we are now closer to war. He recognized, he said, the “right” of Israel to defend itself. Who ever denied that right? He meant: the righteousness of a preventive attack on Iran. This left open the question, Does Iran have the right to defend itself? A question that Americans and Israelis, as effectively propagandized as we have been, can be trusted not even to ask. So Romney’s intervention in Jerusalem amounted to approval of war — and a war before November if Netanyahu happens to find that desirable. As a candidate in an election season, Romney gave the green light to a power whose engagement in war would involve the United States.

Nothing like this has ever happened before in American politics. But then, there has never been anything in history remotely like the present relationship between the United States and Israel. President Obama, who is thought to be lukewarm by Romney’s supporters, in March described our alliance with Israel as “sacrosanct.” A month earlier, he had assured Israel and its warmest American partisans that his administration was marching in “lockstep” with Israel in our approach to Iran. All this Obama said and did in deference to Benjamin Netanyahu and without regard to American interests. For he had been told by the CIA that Iran is not working at present on a nuclear weapon, and he was warned by the Pentagon that a war with Iran would be a regional disaster for the United States. Even so, he gave Netanyahu in effect a yellow light: proceed with caution. And to sweeten the transaction, he promised to issue no traffic ticket if Israel speeds up. It was the same at this year’s AIPAC convention where Obama again assured Netanyahu: “I have Israel’s back.”

A corny line from the playbook of the younger Bush, suggesting a false analogy between a gunfight and a world war, but Obama at the start of an election year knew very well what the script called for.

It has been said by members of the Israel lobby that Obama’s actions speak louder than his words, and that his actions have hurt Israel. Let us recall some of the actions. In response to the onslaught on Gaza in December-January 2008-2009, in which 1,300 Palestinians were killed and 13 Israelis, Obama observed a silence which he has never broken. When, in November 2010, Netanyahu balked at the proposal of a 90-day partial extension of the freeze on West Bank settlement expansion, Obama offered twenty F-35 fighter jets if he would change his mind; Netanyahu refused, and Obama gave him the jets anyway. Only a week ago, the president donated another $70 million, on top of U.S. assistance already given, to build up the Israeli “Iron Dome” defense against rockets. Yet it is felt that Obama’s love of Israel has been insufficiently demonstrative. The reason is simple but it is seldom mentioned quite candidly. [Continue reading…]

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