Thursday, October 19, 2006

Iraq is a Disaster for Israel

As an undergraduate at Brooklyn College more than fifty years ago, I read "Politics Among Nations," Hans J. Morgenthau's seminal text on international relations. It was the second edition, much changed from its predecessor, as this was a break-out book for Morganthau. He challenged assumptions about U.S. foreign policy that perhaps because he was a refugee from Nazi Germany he had not challenged previously. His target was the moralizing that inhered in the American ethos, the sermonizing about making the world safe for democracy. As an antidote, he advocated realism, a foreign policy based on national interests and even cold calculations.

In fact, Morganthau was a gentle man. Toward the end of his life, in the early 1980's, he and I were colleagues at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research. By then, the pendulum had swung away from realpolitics and Morganthau's thesis had lost its glitter. But for a generation, his view of the balance of power was influential in both the academy and government. Of course, idealism was never abandoned as a rhetorical device in the articulation of this country's international goals. During the Cold War, there was coherence between the policy outcomes that were achieved by realistic calculations and those achieved by idealistic calculations because there was a consensus that the Soviet Union was evil and that its aggression must be curtailed via a policy of containment.

Under George W. Bush, foreign policy sermonizing has come back with a vengeance, dominating not only the rhetorical sphere but also the administration's actions. Iraq is the centerpiece and the rhetoric about American actions being predicated on moral goals, such as the export of democracy, exceeds by a great deal what we have experienced under other administrations. The "good guy/bad guy" gambit is used promiscuously to justify what this country is doing in far away places. President Bush believes with full faith that there is an unimpeachable obligation to implant American values in places that have long been alien soil for such values. He believes that deeds aimed at achieving this goal will be rewarded through beneficial outcomes because democracy is contagious.

The debate over Iraq has centered on why we went to war, on whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and the like. More recently, as the outlook has become gloomier, the focus has shifted to whether we have made things worse by provoking a brutal civil war and by stirring up the Islamic-Jihadist pot. Inevitably, some of this debate is partisan and also predicated on ideology. Not surprisingly, those who are anti-Bush for other reasons conclude that Iraq is an American foreign policy disaster.

What about Israel? Putting aside partisanship and ideology, how has Iraq impacted on the Jewish state? President Bush has given Israel enormous support and this might be sufficient from the Jewish standpoint. I think not. Prior to the Iraq invasion, I questioned whether the removal of Saddam Hussein's secular regime might be risky for Israel. That question has now been firmly answered. Iraq is an unmitigated disaster, even tragedy, for Israel. The balance of power between the Sunnis who were dominant in Iraq and the Shi'ites who were subjugated in Iraq but are dominant in neighboring Iran has been shattered. Islamic fundamentalism is out of control, with Iran emboldened, as we have seen in its nuclear development program and support of the Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shi'ites in Iraq.

As a further negative consequence of Iraq, the U.S. has too little will, too little military manpower and resources, too little diplomatic mobility and too little support to confront Iran, a country that is a far, far greater threat to U.S. (and Israeli) interests than Iraq ever was. This conclusion is not a matter of partisanship or ideology.

Israel knows the difference between Sunni and Shi'a and its policy makers obviously understood the benefits of Iraqi-Irani rivalry. Israel knew the benefits that it secured from the balance of power that has now been shattered. Israel had to know that ousting Saddam Hussein would result in an expansion of Iran's influence. For all of this knowledge, Israeli leaders enthusiastically supported U.S. military actions in Iraq. So far as I know, neither government officials nor journalists have said that Israel's security has been undermined by Shi'ite ascendancy in Iraq. I was in Israel throughout the Lebanon war and cannot recall a single Haaretz or Jerusalem Post article linking the Hezbolah-Iranian axis to what transpired in Iraq.

What I believe is at work is a bad case of the dialectics of friendship, of the familiar pattern of having more to fear from friends than from enemies, if only because friends are the ones who make demands. Israel has very little wiggle room when it comes to deciding whether to support U.S. actions. In anticipation of what the U.S. wants and as a trade-off for American assistance, Israel's national interests are at times subordinated to what the U.S. expects, even when a realistic calculation of the price that is being paid indicates that it is too high.

What emerges is that Israeli policy-makers suppressed their concerns and subordinated their country's interests to American policy. If I am right, Israel's miscalculations regarding Iraq were far more damaging than Israel's miscalculations regarding Hezbollah, although only the latter have engendered calls for a high level investigation. We do not need an investigation of Israel's policies regarding Iraq. What is desperately needed is reflection on the collateral damage that has occurred. At long last, there should be a courageous confrontation of the vexatious issue of the dialectics of friendship.

If there is any ray of hope in this gloomy picture, it is that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are also fearful of the consequences of the shattering of the intra-Islamic balance of power.