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Oddities in U.S. "Debate" Over Israel/Gaza

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    Even for those insisting that Israel s attack on Gaza is both wise and just, what possible interest does the U.S. have in involving itself so directly in this
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2009
      Even for those insisting that Israel's attack on Gaza is both wise
      and just, what possible interest does the U.S. have in involving
      itself so directly in this dispute?

      More Oddities in the U.S. "Debate" Over Israel/Gaza
      by Glenn Greenwald
      January 02, 2009

      This Rasmussen Reports poll -- the first to survey American public
      opinion specifically regarding the Israeli attack on Gaza -- strongly
      bolsters the severe disconnect I documented the other day between (a)
      American public opinion on U.S. policy towards Israel and (b) the
      consensus views expressed by America's political leadership. Not
      only does Rasmussen find that Americans generally "are closely
      divided over whether the Jewish state should be taking military
      action against militants in the Gaza Strip" (44-41%, with 15%
      undecided), but Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli
      offensive -- by a 24-point margin (31-55%). By stark constrast,
      Republicans, as one would expect (in light of their history of
      supporting virtually any proposed attack on Arabs and Muslims),
      overwhelmingly support the Israeli bombing campaign (62-27%).

      It's not at all surprising, then, that Republican leaders -- from
      Dick Cheney and John Bolton to virtually all appendages of the right-
      wing noise machine, from talk radio and Fox News to right-wing blogs
      and neoconservative journals -- are unquestioning supporters of the
      Israeli attack. After all, they're expressing the core ideology of
      the overwhelming majority of their voters and audience.

      Much more notable is the fact that Democratic Party leaders --
      including Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi -- are just as lockstep in
      their blind, uncritical support for the Israeli attack, in their
      absolute refusal to utter a word of criticism of, or even
      reservations about, Israeli actions. While some Democratic
      politicians who are marginalized by the party's leadership are
      willing to express the views which Democratic voters overwhelmingly
      embrace, the suffocating, fully bipartisan orthodoxy which typically
      predominates in America when it comes to Israel -- thou shalt not
      speak ill of Israel, thou shalt support all actions it takes -- is in
      full force with this latest conflict.

      Is there any other significant issue in American political life,
      besides Israel, where (a) citizens split almost evenly in their
      views, yet (b) the leaders of both parties adopt identical lockstep
      positions which leave half of the citizenry with no real voice? More
      notably still, is there any other position, besides Israel, where (a)
      a party's voters overwhelmingly embrace one position (Israel should
      not have attacked Gaza) but (b) that party's leadership unanimously
      embraces the exact opposite position (Israel was absolutely right to
      attack Gaza and the U.S. must support Israel unequivocally)? Does
      that happen with any other issue?

      Equally noteworthy is that the factional breakdown regarding Israel-
      Gaza mirrors quite closely the factional alliances that arose with
      regard to the Iraq War. Just as was true with Iraq, one finds
      vigorous pro-war sentiment among the Dick Cheney/National
      Review/neoconservative/hard-core-GOP crowd, joined (as was true for
      Iraq) by some American liberals who typically oppose that faction yet
      eagerly join with them when it comes to Israel. Meanwhile, most of
      the rest of the world -- Europe, South America, Asia, the Middle
      East, the U.N. leadership -- opposes and condemns the attack, all to
      no avail. The parties with the superior military might (the U.S. and
      Israel) dismiss world opinion as essentially irrelevant. Even the
      pro-war rhetorical tactics are the same (just as those who opposed
      the Iraq War were demonized as being "pro-Saddam," those who oppose
      the Israeli attack on Gaza are now "pro-Hamas").

      Substantively, there are certainly meaningful differences between the
      U.S. attack on Iraq and the Israeli attack on Gaza (most notably the
      fact that Hamas really does shoot rockets into Israel and has killed
      Israeli civilians and Israel really is blockading and occupying
      Palestinian land, whereas Iraq did not attack and could not attack
      the U.S. as the U.S. was sanctioning them and controlling their
      airspace). But the underlying logic of both wars are far more
      similar than different: military attacks, invasions and occupations
      will end rather than exacerbate terrorism; the Muslim world only
      understands brute force; the root causes of the disputes are
      irrelevant; diplomacy and the U.N. are largely worthless. It's
      therefore entirely unsurprising that the sides split along the same
      general lines. What's actually somewhat remarkable is that there is
      even more lockstep consensus among America's political leadership
      supporting the Israeli attack on Gaza than there was supporting the
      U.S.'s own attack on Iraq (at least a few Democratic Congressional
      leaders opposed the war on Iraq, unlike for Israel's bombing of Gaza,
      where they virtually all unequivocally support it).

      * * * * *

      Ultimately, what is most notable about the "debate" in the U.S. over
      Israel-Gaza is that virtually all of it occurs from the perspective
      of Israeli interests but almost none of it is conducted from the
      perspective of American interests. There is endless debate over
      whether Israel's security is enhanced or undermined by the attack on
      Gaza and whether the 40-year-old Israeli occupation, expanding West
      Bank settlements and recent devastating blockade or Hamas militancy
      and attacks on Israeli civilians bear more of the blame. American
      opinion-making elites march forward to opine on the historical rights
      and wrongs of the endless Israeli-Palestinian territorial conflict
      with such fervor and fixation that it's often easy to forget that the
      U.S. is not actually a direct party to this dispute.

      Though the ins-and-outs of Israeli grievances and strategic
      considerations are endlessly examined, there is virtually no debate
      over whether the U.S. should continue to play such an active, one-
      sided role in this dispute. It's the American taxpayer, with their
      incredibly consequential yet never-debated multi-billion-dollar aid
      packages to Israel, who are vital in funding this costly Israeli
      assault on Gaza. Just as was true for Israel's bombing of Lebanon,
      it's American bombs that -- with the whole world watching -- are
      blowing up children and mosques, along with Hamas militants, in
      Gaza. And it's the American veto power that, time and again, blocks
      any U.N. action to stop these wars.

      For those reasons, the pervasive opposition and anger around the
      world from the Israeli assault on Gaza is not only directed to Israel
      but -- quite rationally and understandably -- to America as well.
      Virtually the entire world, other than large segments of the American
      public, see Israeli actions as American actions. The attack on Gaza
      thus harms not only Israel's reputation and credibility, but
      America's reputation and credibility as well.

      And for what? Even for those Americans who, for whatever their
      reasons, want endlessly to fixate on the Israeli-Palestinian
      conflict, who care deeply and passionately about whether the Israelis
      or the Palestinians control this or that West Bank hill or village
      and want to spend the rest of their days arguing about who did what
      to whom in 1948 and 1967, what possible interests do Americans
      generally have in any of that, sufficient to involve ourselves so
      directly and vigorously on one side, and thereby subject ourselves to
      the significant costs -- financial, reputational, diplomatic and
      security -- from doing so?

      It's one thing to argue that Israel is being both wise and just by
      bombing the densely populated Gaza Strip. It's another thing
      entirely to argue that the U.S. should use all of its resources to
      support Israel as it does so. Those are two entirely separate
      questions. Arguments insisting that the Gaza attack is good and
      right for Israel don't mean that they are good and right for the
      U.S. Yet unstinting, unquestioning American support for whatever
      Israel does is just tacitly assumed in most of these discussions. The
      core assumption is that if it can be established that this is the
      right thing for Israel to do, then it must be the right thing for the
      U.S. to support it. The notion that the two countries may have
      separate interests -- that this may be good for Israel to do but not
      for the U.S. to support -- is the one issue that, above all else, may
      never be examined.

      The "change" that many anticipate (or, more accurately, hope) that
      Obama will bring about is often invoked as a substance-free mantra, a
      feel-good political slogan. But to the extent it means anything
      specific, at the very least it has to entail that there will be a
      substantial shift in how America is perceived in the world, the role
      that we in fact play, the civil-liberties-erosions and militarized
      culture that inevitably arise from endlessly involving ourselves in
      numerous, hate-fueled military conflicts around the world. Our blind
      support for Israel, our eagerness to make all of its disputes our own
      disputes, our refusal to acknowledge any divergence of interests
      between us and that other country, our active impeding rather than
      facilitating of diplomatic resolutions between it and its neighbors
      are major impediments to any meaningful progress in those areas.

      UPDATE: One related point: I have little appreciation for those who
      believe, one way or the other, that they can reliably predict what
      Obama is going to do -- either on this issue or others. That
      requires a clairvoyance which I believe people lack.

      Some argue that Obama has filled key positions with politicians who
      have a history of virtually absolute support for Israeli actions --
      Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Rahm Emanuel -- because Obama intends to
      continue, more or less, the Bush policy of blind support for Israel.
      Others argue the opposite: that those appointments are necessary to
      vest the Obama administration with the credibility to take a more
      active role in pushing the Israelis to a negotiated settlement with
      the Palestinians, and that in particular, Clinton would not have left
      her Senate seat unless she believed she could finish Bill Clinton's
      work and obtain for herself the legacy-building accomplishment of
      forging an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians (this
      morning's NYT hints at that scenario).

      I personally find the latter theory marginally more persuasive, but
      there is simply no way to know until Obama is inaugurated. Whatever
      else is true, the more domestic political pressure is exerted
      demanding that the U.S. play a more even-handed and constructive role
      in facilitating a diplomatic resolution, the more likely it is that
      this will happen.

      UPDATE II: Donna Edwards, the newly elected, netroots-supported
      Democratic Congresswoman from Maryland, who removed the standard
      establishment Democratic incumbent Al Wynn from office this year, has
      the following to say about Israel/Gaza:

      I am deeply disturbed by this week's escalation of hostilities in the
      Gaza Strip, as I have been by the ongoing rocket fire into southern
      Israel. To support Israel and to ease the humanitarian crisis facing
      the people of Gaza, the United States must work actively for an
      immediate ceasefire that ends the violence, stops the rockets, and
      removes the blockade of Gaza.

      That's much further than most national Democrats have been willing to
      go. And it illustrates that primary challenges can -- slowly but
      meaningfully -- change the face of the Democratic Party.

      Glenn Greenwald is a former constitutional lawyer turned political
      and legal blogger. His Salon blog, Unclaimed Territory, started in
      October of 2005, quickly became one of the most popular and highest-
      trafficked in the blogosphere. He is the author of three books, the
      most recent of which is "Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big
      Myths of Republican Politics", published by Crown (Random House) in
      April 2008. He has a J.D. from New York University School of Law
      (1994) and a B.A. from George Washington University (1990).



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