Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Needing a True Friend in the White House, Part II

In December of 2008, at the close of Obama's first year in office, I wrote on how he represented a true friend of Israel in the White House. Being a true friend is very different being a sycophant; as I put it then, "Part of being a good ally means knowing when to take your friend aside and tell them to chill."

Democrats have this relationship with Israel because Jews are a prominent and valued presence in the Party, and so our Party's Israel relationship develops out of genuine concern rather than empty rhetorical flourishes and grandiose symbolic posturing.

I was reflecting on this because I think Jewish pro-Israel conservatives are going to learn a hard lesson about what sort of "friend" they have in the White House right now. Because Republican policy towards Israel isn't based on any sort of organic care or concern. They don't care about Israel qua Israel, at most they care about it as a symbolic bulwark against dark Muslim hordes; at least they care about it simply as a domestic partisan wedge issue. And this means that Republican policy towards Israel is predictably skewed towards grand rhetorical pronouncements and against thought-out and considered policy agendas. More importantly, to the extent that Israel is purely a rhetorical concern of Republican leaders, it will always lose out to things they are concerned about on substance -- and Israel's Mideast rivals have a lot of substantive things to offer a fossil-fuel hungry Trump administration.

We're already seeing a little of this with the floating of Rex Tillerson -- deeply connected to Arab oil states and (of course) the Russian government -- as Secretary of State. Many right-wing Jewish groups are nervous -- persons with Tillerson's profile rarely are particularly fond of Israel, which they see as a barrier to increased friendly  relations with Gulf oil producers. There was also some pushback against James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, who complained of the "price" Americans paid in terms of their Middle East support for backing Israel and forthrightly acknowledged that if Israel does not find a way to disengage from the West Bank "Either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid" (aside -- can you imagine if a prominent Democratic official said half as much? I bet Keith Ellison can.). In both cases, it's demonstrative of the deprioritization of even conservative pro-Israel politics in the Trump administrative. He'll pay good lip service, but it isn't actually an important concern for him.

What we can expect from Trump regarding Israel is simple: For the most part, he'll ignore them and let them run free. There will be no "telling them to chill," because for the most part Trump won't give two hoots about what Israel does. Some people will term this being an ally. Those people are simpletons.

In terms of actual policy, we'll see things that have high rhetorical impact (moving the Embassy to Jerusalem) but do little in the way of actual materially altering Israel's regional or international standing. And, most importantly, when genuine Israeli interests knock up against other American priorities -- like, say, Saudi oil -- they'll get kicked to the curb. Because Donald Trump isn't actually a friend of Israel. Friends care. And Donald Trump doesn't.

1 comment:

Zachary Jacobi said...

This looks especially true after the inaugural address. If Trump's speech is any indication of his actual plans, he wants to cut back on foreign military subsidies.

I wonder if support for Trump will eventually become an egg on Netanyahu's face? If, for example, Trump refuses to renew Iron Dome funding in the midst of some conflict, what does Netanyahu do? Admit that he was wrong? Beg for Obama back? Rage impotently? I really hope we don't get to find out the answer on this one.