To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013: Neocon Grandiosity, 'Passionate Attachments' And Washington’s Farewell Address

Last Thanksgiving in the Weekly Standard, editor Bill Kristol waxed lyrical about the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel, using what he called “the most Old Testament, the most Hebraic, of our national holidays” to salute the bond between the two countries in terms that were almost metaphysical. Wrote Kristol:

And so these two very different nations—Christian and Jewish, large and small, new world and old (though the new world nation is older than its newly reborn old world counterpart)—find themselves allied. More than allied: They find themselves joined at the hip in a brotherhood that is more than a diplomatic or political or military alliance. Everyone senses that the ties are deeper than those of mere allies. Israelis know that if the United States fails, so shall Israel. Americans sense, in the words of Eric Hoffer, “as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish the holocaust will be upon us.”

The editorial was a window into the grandiosity and exceptionalism with which neocons regard each nation individually, but even more so the moral, political and cultural pairing of the two. You could almost read it as an advertisement for making Israel the 51st state, or some the fusion of the two states, as per some of the AIPAC logos, the stars and stripes seamlessly merging into the white and blue Star of David.

Which to many Americans is turning the “special relationship” into an Alliance Too Far, blurring the boundaries upon which all good relationships depend. As Frost said: “Good fences make good neighbors.”  

In the year since Kristol’s editorial, pro Israel forces have demonstrated some truly extraordinary “boundary issues,” signaling a dedication to the priorities and perspectives of the current government of the Jewish state that baldy trumps its regard for the foreign policy and national security initiatives of their own sitting president..   

Pro Israel forces engaged in the worst form of McCarthyism to smear defense secretary Chuck Hagel during the battle of his confirmation last winter, with compliant journalists hurling unfounded, and often anonymous, charges of anti Semitism based on little more than a few verbal gaffes. They’ve also pulled out all the stops on Capitol Hill to convince Congress to pressure Obama to attack Syria despite massive popular opinion against such a move, excoriating that popular opinion, tantrum-like, as a form of pre WW2 isolationism after they failed to get their way. The pro-Israel community also tried to scuttle Obama’s deal with Iran, again demagogically depicting it in terms of the appeasement and moral abandonment of Munich, 1938. The Israel lobby was ultimately frustrated in the three examples I just cited. But its power and influence are enormous, representing a huge headwind---and a source of political peril--- for politicians reliant on the votes and campaign donations that the lobby can marshal any time an American proposal or policy initiative emerges that may not meet Israeli approval, or those that carry water for the Israel here.   

So this Thanksgiving, as a sort of rejoinder to Kristol. I’d like to suggest a reading of George Washington’s Farewell Address from 1796. It advises “the truly enlightened and independent Patriot “ to be wary of foreign influence and “passionate attachments” to other nations. Such attachments produce “a variety if ills,” Washington warned:

Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld.

And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens, (who devote themselves to the favorite nation,) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation….

In a political year of so much bile, bullying and obstructionism, we should be grateful for the breakthrough deal on Iranian nuclear development. Grateful and wary. Wary of the Iranians, of course. But wary too of those whose passionate attachment to Israel has exalted the US alliance with that country into something practically transcendent, at least in their minds, when it should be something much closer to the ground. “Ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens” should take note. They may yet achieve their aims, on the Iran deal and on other initiatives; the lobby's powers of persuasion and bullying are still formidable and the anti Semitism card still strong, although almost derangedly abused. But they won't do so "without odium." 

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