Like many of his readers, Andrew Sullivan and I have a long relationship, although he does not know it. I have been a daily Andrew Sullivan reader since my dad clued me into Andrew’s blog during my first semester of law school in September 2002. My browser bookmark has changed as he has moved from his eponymous self-hosted site to Time, then the Atlantic, and now the Daily Beast. One of my finest moments as a writer was when my response to Andrew’s request for submissions for his What Would Jesus Drive thread was filled with so many excruciating puns that he published it and then declared a unilateral ceasefire. I even donated money to his tip jar the first time he asked his readers for donations since I have always enjoyed his writing and his arguments always make me think. No, this is not the preface to a declaration that I am no longer going to read the Dish, since I don’t think there is anything that would force me to give it up. But as someone who must be part of a small group of his oldest and most loyal readers, his insistence that Israeli policy must always be viewed through the prism of the U.S. is starting to wear extremely thin.
The latest example is a post yesterday quoting Fred Kaplan on why Israel might want to strike Iran before the 2012 U.S. presidential election because President Obama will then be forced to join in out of reelection concerns. Andrew then adds, “Note that this simply implies that a foreign government would be relying on US domestic pressure to force the US administration to join a war it did not seek. I’m not sure what that is, but ‘alliance’ is not the correct word.” This is but a brief foray into Andrew’s larger and continuous argument that Netanyahu is seeking to doom Obama’s reelection and sabotage his efforts to reach out to the Muslim world. Better examples of this overarching view are here and here and especially here. This last example provides a good crystallization of Andrew’s thinking: “A global war which polarizes America and the world is exactly what Netanyahu wants. And it is exactly what the GOP needs to cut through Obama’s foreign policy advantage in this election. Because it is only through war, crisis and polarization that extremists can mobilize the emotions that keep them in power. They need war to win. Here’s a prediction. Netanyahu, in league and concert with Romney, Santorum and Gingrich, will make his move to get rid of Obama soon. And he will be more lethal to this president than any of his domestic foes.”
Obama and Netanyahu undoubtedly have a terrible relationship, with the latest datapoint being Netanyahu criticizing the P5+1 talks two days ago as giving Iran a freebie and Obama immediately firing back, while the administration leaks the fact that Netanyahu was briefed extensively before and after the talks and that the U.S. coordinated its strategy with Israel. I am sure that neither is the other’s favorite world leader, and it is certainly not a stretch to think that Netanyahu would be happier to see Mitt Romney occupying the Oval Office come January. Nevertheless, Andrew constantly insists that any action Israel might take against Iran is designed to thwart Obama and that Israel has no right to hold the U.S. hostage or embroil it in a war. All of Israeli foreign policy is reduced to the narrow question of whether it is good for the U.S. or bad for the U.S. and how it impacts American interests.
The problem with this is obvious. As Andrew likes to point out, Israel’s interests do not always perfectly overlap with those of the U.S., and Andrew’s line of argument ignores the fact that when this occurs, Israel has every right and obligation to do what it thinks is best for itself. Nobody would argue that states do not have the responsibility to protect their own interests, particularly when a state determines that it is facing an acute security threat. Yet Andrew repeatedly makes the argument that Israel should subsume its own interests to that of the U.S. and subvert its own national security decision making process to further American policy in the region. This selective blindness is particularly galling given Andrew’s position that Israel has no right to interfere with American strategic goals and his accusations that American policy in the Middle East is controlled by Netanyahu, and yet he then in the same breath insists that Israel has no right to attack a state that directs rhetorical belligerence its way (and targets its diplomats and civilians abroad) because of what it might mean for the U.S. and that the White House should have the final say over what Israel does.
The Iran issue undoubtedly implicates the U.S., but it does not then follow that it is entirely about Obama and American domestic politics. It is callous to suggest that Israel does not have legitimate concerns about Iranian threats and that the only possible rationale for an Israeli strike is to “polarize America and the world.” If Israel decides to strike Iran – and let me reiterate yet again that I think it would be both terrible and unnecessary – it will not be in order to harm Obama or to draw the U.S. into a global war or to please evangelical Christianists. It will be because Netanyahu and Barak and the rest of the security cabinet genuinely believe that Israel faces an existential threat and that it has no other alternative. Israeli security policy is not concocted as a way of spitting in America’s eye, nor should Israel always be forced to do whatever the U.S. wants it to do, since that is not an alliance either. Israel absolutely should take U.S. views seriously and under grave consideration, and I would argue that if the Obama administration is hellbent against an Israeli attack, Israel should listen and comply because of the various implications involved in not doing so. Yet this is not what Andrew is arguing – he is arguing that Israel has no right to launch an attack on Iran because of the consequences that will accrue for the U.S. This is simply not the way states should or do operate, and much as Andrew would never voice the idea that the U.S. should have an absolute veto over British foreign policy because of the special relationship or Lend-Lease, the same applies to Israel. The bottom line is that Israel is well within Iran’s striking distance, Iranian officials have repeatedly talked of their fervent wish to see the “Zionist regime” replaced, and Iran is currently operating a uranium enrichment program that the IAEA has flagged for suspicion of violating the NPT. The concerns that Israel has are far greater than those of the U.S. and for very good reason. Not everything is about America, and Andrew’s arguments would benefit from this realization.