In a curious report recently published by the Washington Institute for Near East policy, the two authors, Robert D. Blackwill and Walter B. Slocombe, argue that we need to re-shape our understanding of what is at the basis for the Israeli-U.S. partnership. Blackwill and Slocombe claim that the more traditional assumption that US interests with respect to Israel are mostly based on shared values and moral responsibility is insufficient without the understanding that a close relationship to Israel also provides direct tangible benefits to U.S.national interests.
While the small report (17 pages) is an easy read, it leaves one puzzled as to why it needed to be written in the first place. Why is it that the authors feel that the “traditional” justifications for US Israel policy need to be bolstered by a slightly different perspective? And who are the authors trying to convince?
Traditionally, the reasoning behind the strong U.S. support for Israel has been explained as shared values and moral responsibility. The US and Israel share certain values that—when put into the perspective of the hostility of the larger Middle Eastern environment—need to be defended. Blackwill and Slocombe describe these values as “common democracy, mutual experience in fighting for freedom, roots in Judeo-Christian culture and civilization, and commitment to the right of nations, large or small to live in security while manifesting the will of the people.” The second aspect is the moral responsibility to protect Israel as a nation-state, especially from threats coming from neighboring Arab states. However, claim the authors, there is a third pillar that should be considered even more important, that of shared national interest. They write:[W]ise policymakers and people concerned with U.S.foreign policy, while never forgetting the irreplaceable values and moral responsibility dimensions of the bilateral relationship, should recognize the benefits Israel provides for U.S.national interests.
U.S.and Israeli national interests, the authors claim, significantly overlap. In fact, they overlap so much that “there is no other Middle East country whose definition of national interests is so closely aligned with that of the United States.” While this statement may certainly be true, the arguments laid out in the report are not wholly convincing. Instead, one is left with the feeling that the authors are desperately trying to provide the needed talking points for politicians and analysts who want to pretend that the Israeli-U.S. relationship is static and unchanging.
Also, one could wonder if the Israelis were consulted in the ideas behind this report, and whether Israeli policymakers would agree with all the points of commonality that the authors so meticulously lay out. Indeed, the authors spend some time explaining a number of occasions when Israel has acted out of what seemed like pure altruism, in defending US interests even before its own. In a country that, in Kissinger’s words, “has no foreign policy, only domestic policy,” such altruism seems like wishful thinking.
The authors make an important point; the strength of the U.S. support for Israel has allowed the development of important military and security collaboration between the two allies and helped both countries’ defense industries. In addition, the sharing of important technologies and systems as well as expertise has also been vital for the improvement of the security and operations of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is here that the authors make their strongest and most credible argument. There is no doubt that Israel also provides security in its own neighborhood without shouldering the U.S. with the operational burden.
It is towards the end of the report however, that the seriousness of the analysis comes into question. The authors feel the need to clarify that while they do not argue that Israel is more important to the US than the US is to Israel, they are convinced that the costs of US support (in terms of terrorism and the anger of Arab states) are far outweighed by the benefits that Israel provides to the US national interest. In particular, they argue, the long-standing U.S. commitment to Israel has not prevented the development of close ties with some Arab nations in the past. After all, they write, “for all the “Arab Street’s” popular attacks on the United States as Israel’s friend, America remains a magnet for young Arabs—in popular culture, in education, in commerce, and in technology.” The analysis by which they arrive at their final conclusions is shallow and seems politically motivated and lacks any pretense of serious research. The tone is set with the opinion (on p. 14) that “we believe […] that U.S. support for Israel is not the primary—and probably not even a dominant—reason Islamist terrorists target the United States.”
Read the entire report here:
Robert D. Blackwill is the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. In government, he served under George W. Bush as U.S. ambassador to India and then as deputy assistant to the president, deputy national security adviser for strategic planning, and presidential envoy to Iraq. A former senior State Department official and National Security Council aide for European and Soviet affairs, he served out of government as a senior fellow at the Rand Corporation, president of BGR International, and associate dean of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
Walter B. Slocombe is senior counsel in Caplin & Drysdale’s Washington, DC, office. A Rhodes scholar, his lengthy government resumé includes service in the Pentagon throughout the Clinton and Carter administrations, including his appointment as undersecretary of defense for policy from 1994 to 2001. In 2003, he served as senior adviser for national defense in the Coalition Provisional Authority for Iraq.