As the Israel-Lebanon war nears the end of its second week, it's become obvious that the U.S. isn't going to do anything to stop the conflict. No matter how vicious the Israeli attacks, no matter how many civilians are killed, the Bush party line will be, "Hezbollah started it, Israel has the right to defend itself." Yet, many political observers wonder at the wisdom of this policy. They note that the rest of the world believes that Israel has overreacted and they question whether the Israeli offensive may not ultimately do more harm than good. But the White House has no doubts, because they believe that Israel's actions work to the political benefit of the Republican Party.
Since the first year of the Bush Administration, insiders have noted that White House decisions are made on the basis of their political ramifications. As he was resigning his position as head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives John DiLulio observed, "What you got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis." Many political pundits felt that the invasion of Iraq was planned for political purposes; it served as an effective rallying point for Republicans in the 2002 elections and diverted attention from the failure of the Administration to get the leaders of Al Qaeda.
The White House political strategy, masterminded by Karl Rove, has had two thrusts: One pushes issues that benefit Republicans, such as massive defense expenditures and lower taxes. The other launches wedge initiatives that weaken Democrats. Gay marriage is a classic Rove issue having double benefits: it inflames GOP social conservatives and weakens Dems because it siphons votes from their base.
The dark forces of Karl Rove have systematically weakened several historic Democratic constituencies: voters of color, Union families, trial lawyers, and Jews. Rovians have applied distinct tactics to each group. The key to winning over greater numbers of Jewish voters has been to portray the Bush Administration as Israel's unwavering advocate.
Accordingly, George Bush has been the most pro-Israel American President ever. Overtime, this policy has borne fruit: Bush and the Republican Party have garnered massive support from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)--the largest political lobby, after the NRA. And, more Jews have voted Republican; Bush captured 22 percent of the Jewish vote in 2004, up from 19 percent in 2000. In the eyes of Rove, Dubya's pro-Israel stance is another "twofer:" it not only works well with Jewish voters who see Israel as their top issue, but it's also effective with conservative Christian voters who see the sanctification of Israel as a pre-requisite for the Rapture.
The problem is that what is in Bush and the Republicans' political interest is not what is in the best interests of American foreign policy. While it goes without saying that the U.S. must remain an ally of Israel, and defend it's right to exist as an independent state, this is not equivalent to giving the government of Israel carte blanche. On July 14th, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, said that Israel's right to self-defense "does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations. In particular, the Holy See deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation." That's a reasonable position, one held by most of the rest of the world.
But its not the position held by Washington politicians. The resolution adopted by the Senate last Tuesday, and the House of Representatives on Thursday, featured a strong endorsement of Israel and held the government of Lebanon responsible for the actions of Hezbollah. A small group of lawmakers opposed this, but were swept aside by the pro-Israel majority. The Associated Press reported, "'I'm just sick in the stomach, to put it mildly,' said Democratic Congressman Nick J. Rahall II, who is of Lebanese descent. Rahall joined other Arab-American lawmakers in drafting an alternative resolution that would have omitted language holding Lebanon responsible for Hezbollah's actions and called for restraint from all sides. Rahall said that proposal was 'politely swept under the rug,' a political reality he and others say reflects the influence Israel has in Congress." The United Nations called for a cease-fire but the United States refused to support this. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by "The Israel Project" found that 68 percent of Americans believed Hezbollah "had not acted properly." Of course, the issue is not whether or not Hezbollah, or Hamas, has acted improperly, they haven't. The issue is whether Israel's response is morally appropriate. It isn't.
The moral philosophy of "the ends justify the means" doesn't work for Israel or for the United States. Blind support for Israel may make political sense for the Republicans, but it doesn't make foreign policy sense for the U.S. The only policy that does make sense is to be evenhanded in the treatment of Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine. Unfortunately, "evenhanded" isn't in Bush's vocabulary. In his White House it's all politics, all the time.