In his pre-Super Bowl interview on Sunday night, President Obama went farther than ever before in stating his view that U.S. and Israeli interests are identical. Obama even topped Vice President Joe Biden who has repeatedly said that there must be "no daylight, no daylight" between U.S. and Israeli policies.
Obama's statement was more disturbing because he was not speaking in the abstract but rather about the possibility of war with Iran. Obama said, "My number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel."
I'll repeat that: "My number one priority continues to be the security of the United States. But also, the security of Israel."
That is a remarkable statement, so much so that I'll leave it to someone with more impressive credentials than my own to challenge it. Dr. Paul R. Pillar is a 28-year veteran of the CIA who, before his retirement, became chief of analysis at the agency's Counterterrorist Center. He now teaches at Georgetown and writes for The National Interest. He also served in Vietnam between 1971 and 1973.
Here is his reaction to the president's statement. It appeared in The National Interest:
Wait a minute -- shouldn't the security of the United States be the number one priority of the president of the United States? Rather than merely sharing the top spot on the priority list with some foreign country's security?
Any national political leader in the United States should be expected to give clear, consistent, overwhelming priority to U.S. interests -- never equating, much less subordinating, them to the interests of any foreign state. Relationships with foreign governments can be useful in advancing U.S. interests, but they are always means, not ends.... Suffice it to note that the policies of the current government of the foreign state in question are not only not to be equated with U.S. interests but are seriously damaging those interests, whether through risking war with Iran, undermining efforts short of war to resolve differences with Iran, or associating the United States with a highly salient and unjust occupation. Even with an alternative government that was less destructive (to Israel's own interests, let alone to those of the United States), the interests of the United States should not be equated with the interests of this foreign state any more than to those of Denmark, Thailand, Argentina, or any other foreign country, no matter what fondness individual citizens may feel toward those or other places.
Pillar goes on to mention the statements of the various Republican candidates (except Ron Paul) whose pledges to Israel are even more self-abnegating from an American point of view. He reserves special scorn for Newt Gingrich's top fundraiser (expected to soon move over to the Romney campaign), Sheldon Adelson, in which he said that he regretted serving in the U.S. military and not Israel's. But Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum have all made clear that, to them, Israel is not a foreign country but an adjunct of the United States (perhaps near Florida).
The good news about these statements from the president and his opponents, if there is any, is that it is unlikely any of them are sincere.
I certainly do not believe that Obama, in any way, puts Israel's interests on par with that of the United States. Not even close. Frankly, I don't think the Republicans do either.
The ugly part is that these candidates believe that making such statements is necessary to please donors (and perhaps some voters). Where would they get that idea?
They get it from the various organizations (led by AIPAC) that constitute Binyamin Netanyahu's lobby in America and by members of the House and Senate who are its cutouts. (Check out AIPAC's website).
That is why Obama caved on the issue of Israeli settlements (going so far as to veto a United Nation resolution condemning them that consisted of the long-held U.S. position on settlements). That is why we pulled out the stops to prevent the United Nations from recognizing a Palestinian state in land Israel occupies in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. That is why Obama insists that war with Iran remains "on the table" while unconditional negotiations with the Iranian regime have never even been contemplated. And that is why it is quite possible that the United States could find itself at war with Iran either directly or because we are led by Israel into a joint military assault.
In the same article Pillar also noted that in the same interview, Obama said that in dealing with Israel on Iran, "We are going to make sure we work in lockstep." He commented:
If working in lockstep means that Israel defers to U.S. interests and preferences, that would be fine for the United States. But of course the deference nearly always works the other way around.
After all, it is America that is the superpower while Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the world.
It should be said that the Israeli people (most of whom oppose war with Iran) do not not benefit from the supine position in which our politicians approach their right-wing government. As for the two Iran hawks running Israel's foreign policy, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, they can hardly be blamed if they view these statements as proof that the United State will not oppose anything they do between now and November. Additionally, they know that AIPAC has Congress well taken care of.
In short, Israel is freer to get us and itself into a war with Iran that will cost God knows how many lives and shock the world economy into deeper recession than it's in now. Knowing Netanyahu and Barak, it will be hard for them to resist this temptation when they see that they will get little or no resistance from Washington.
Om March 4, some 10,000 delegates from around the country will travel to Washington for AIPAC's annual conference. The president and some 350-400 members of Congress will be in attendance. (Candidates from both parties will raise huge sums of money in special side rooms deemed independent of AIPAC so that the organization can continue to claim that it does not fund candidates).
And the message the politicians will hear is that AIPAC is ready for war. If past is prologue, every reference to diplomacy by speakers from the president on down will be met by silence. Every reference to war will be met by standing ovations,
The government officials and candidates will go home happy to have pleased some key donors. The Israeli government officials will go home believing that America will back absolutely anything it chooses to do. As for the American people, they will barely know that any of this is happening.