Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Martin Kramer on Walt and Mearsheimer

I finally remembered to check out what Martin Kramer had to say about Walt and Mearsheimer's piece. To look up his strong response, go to the Kramer website. He reprinted an old response that he wrote after being challenged to rebutt Walt's claim that Israel was a liability to the US.


Kramer's piece is the type of good, measured response that I like to see to this kind of stuff. It appeals both to popular sentiment and to the intellect, so that it makes a good counter-punch to the "Lobby Paper".

Kramer's approach is to put the close relations between America and the US, ties that are so often maligned by American Arabists and so-called progressives, into historical context. The fact is that many people overlook the Cold War roots of the American-Israeli alliance. By ignoring the fact that Egypt was in the Soviet Camp until the mid-1970s, people can get away with depicting the Israeli-American relationship as the result of some frightening domestic hocus-pocus courtesy of the "Jewish Lobby". The "revolutionary" Arab regimes that arose in the 1950s chose to align themselves with the Soviet Union, because it was viewed as a more convenient and stronger ally and as a way to keep Washington at bay. As Kramer shows, Arab hostility to the US had nothing to do with American support for Israel. In fact, as Kramer notes, and here he might be overstating a little, the State Department was busy keeping its distance from Israel. Most of Israel's weapons deals in this period were with the French (mirage jets and armoured vehicles, I believe), the Brits and, earlier, in 1947-48, with the Czechoslovaks (rifles).

Kramer goes on to show how American policy-makers came to the realization, as a result of the Israeli victory over the Soviet supplied Arab armies, that Israel could be an asset to America in the region. Kramer's argument is that Israel, by being a kind of bad cop in the region, allowed America to set itself up as a more attractive arbiter than the Soviet Union. Here, I think he's right on. After all, Egypt decided to ditch the Soviet Union, because Sadat viewed the United States as the 'good cop' who would help him get the Sinai back from Israel and throw in more economic and military aid than the Soviets. Nowadays, the significance of this move is probably lost on most people. But in the Cold War, in 1979, before the fall of the Soviet Union, before anyone knew knew that it would begin to collapse in another 10 years, having a large Arab country like Egypt move into the American camp was a big deal.

The main theme that Kramer is getting at here is that Israel was and continues to be a tool/asset in the American quest to impose a "Pax Americana" in the Levant. It's too bad that he doesn't spell out what that means, exactly. Protecting Jordan against Syrian moves as happened in 1970? Or does it all boil down to Egypt, the strongest military power in the Levant area? I think these arguments are effective for explaining the Cold War origins of the US-Israel alliance, but less salient for today.

Kramer also explains that Israel without America as an allies would be more dangerous and less restrained. He says that if left alone, Israel would not hesitate to start another war should it feel isolated or insecure. This is a good, realistic argument. They only problem is that it might not convince a sceptical American public, because it seems to say that Israel has to be paid off in order not to cause trouble.

A more convincing argument, which Kramer doesn't spend enough time on, is an argument I read once in Dennis Ross's memoirs, I believe in the introduction. Ross said that if it weren't for America's continuing, enduring support for Israel after 1967, the Arabs would never have given up their hopes of wiping Israel off the map. America was the reason why Sadat made peace with Israel. The desire of Assad Sr. to get American dollars for his stagnant country was the reason why he entered into talks with Barak in 2000. American support for Israel has made it a undeniable fact for most Middle Eastern heads of state (except for Ahmadinejad). The big problem is that the public hasn't caught on. Many Arab publics still seem to harbour hopes of getting rid of Israel, reversing existing peace agreements with it and even going to war against Israel.

Walt and Mearsheimer want to win over that public and their hopes of doing so are laudable. It would indeed serve American interests if the Arab public started to love America or to feel towards it the same admiring and positive way that the average Israeli views it. The only problem is that W & M don't elaborate on how they want to conquer the hearts of the Arab street.

The keep dangling all kinds of possibilities, but they don't seem to have invested any real thought in it. If W & M were in charge of America's Middle East policy, would they withdraw support from Israel entirely? Would they force Israel to accept a "just" peace (whatever that means) and to assent to the return of Palestinian refugees? Or would they force Israel to dismantle itself and become a bi-national state, including the Palestinian territories?

Frankly, I don't think that anything less than the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state will pacify those elements of Arab public opinion that Walt and Mearsheimer are trying to court. Even the most wide-reaching, paper-based Israeli peace proposal, the Geneva Initiative, was rejectedby radical Palestinians and by many Arabs, not to mention the ideas formulated at Camp David (2000) and at Taba. I doubt that even the Saudi initiative and Beirut Summit Resolution (2002), which proposed a complete withdrawal of Israel to the pre-1967 armistice lines, the establishment of a Palestinian state with [East] Jerusalem as it capital and a "just resolution of the refugee problem consistent with resolution 194" would be enough.

But let's just say that the US were to get serious about the Saudi Initiative and the subsequent Beirut Summit and were to embark on imposing it on Israel. Where are the guarantees for Israel that it would be secure in the future? What, other than force, will compel Israel to accept an agreement without negotiations? How will Israeli leaders convince their public to give up all control of Jewish sites in East Jerusalem? And how will Israel be persuaded to agree to allow the return of refugees, and probably their children, grand children and great grand children to its territory?

W & M don't go into the details, probably because they don't know enough and have other goals. They malign Camp David, which they depict almost like a conspiracy by Clinton and [the Jews] Dennis Ross and Aaron Miller to force the Palestinians to accept an Israeli peace proposal. But what do W & M want???

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