Tuesday, July 5, 2011

U.S. Politicians Being Dumb And Dangerous On Israel

By James J. Zogby
When it comes to issues involving Israel, politicians in Washington can become quite hysterical, making the dumbest remarks or doing the most illogical things. Evidence of such bizarre behaviour abounds, and this week provided several examples.
Taking top prize would be newly elected Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois. Kirk wants the US to use military assets to stop the humanitarian flotilla on its way to Gaza. He wrote that the United States should “make available all special necessary operations and naval support to the Israeli navy to effectively disable flotilla vessels before they can pose a threat to Israeli coastal security or put Israeli lives at risk”.
Apparently it doesn’t matter to Kirk that several dozen US citizens are on those ships (including a number of retired US military personnel), and that hostile action by the US military would put the lives of its own citizens at risk. It also doesn’t appear to matter to Kirk that with the US actively engaged in several conflicts in the region and US favourable ratings at record lows in the Arab world, a hostile act of this sort against this target would, in fact, only serve to further compromise the US in the Middle East.
Almost as disturbing as Kirk’s call for military action was the letter sent this week by Texas Governor Rick Perry to US Attorney General Eric Holder. Perry, who is widely believed to be considering entering the Republican presidential primary contest, takes his hysteria over the flotilla in a different direction. In his letter, he says: “More importantly, I write to encourage you to aggressively pursue all available legal remedies to enjoin and prevent these illegal actions, and to prosecute any who may elect to engage in them in spite of your preemptive efforts.”
Perry doesn’t note which US laws have been violated. Nor does he describe which “legal remedies” should be pursued. What he does reveal is that in his pursuit of the presidency, he will say or do most anything.
And then there’s the action taken this week by the entire US Senate which unanimously passed a resolution that expresses its “opposition to the inclusion of Hamas in a unity government... [while noting that] Palestinian efforts to gain recognition of a state outside direct negotiations demonstrates absence of a good faith commitment to peace negotiations... [which] will have implications for continued United States aid”.
In speaking for their aid-threatening bill, the two senators who introduced it made comments worthy of note. Lead sponsor of the legislation, Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, accused the United Nations of having a “well documented record of being hijacked” by Palestinians for use against Israel.Collin’s co-sponsor, Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, denounced the UN effort, describing it as a “unilateral attempt by the United Nations to establish a Palestinian state”.
Collins, of course, ignores many times the US Senate has “been hijacked” by supporters of Israel to take actions detrimental to the Palestinians (like this very resolution which threatens to cut US aid or the infamous Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 1996, which had a devastating impact on perceptions of the US across the Arab world). And while Cardin’s description of the possible UN action has been so overused as to become cliché, it is, nevertheless, nonsense, since it defies logic to describe any action taken by a vote of the overwhelming majority of the more than 190 member states of the United Nations as “unilateral”.
But when it comes to demonstrating loyalty to Israel, logic and good sense are put aside in favour of outlandish displays.
All this might just be dismissed as “political pandering” or more “harmless hot air” from politicians who specialise in both. But it is dangerous and it has consequences.
In the first place, actions and statements like these send absolutely horrible messages overseas about the inability of American politics to deal fairly with any Middle East issue that involves Israel. And so, this behaviour ends up undercutting US diplomacy.
Second, these actions, and the bizarrely skewed, one-sided politics they reflect, tie the hands (or, at times, force the hands) ofadministrations, negatively impacting the ability of policymakers to act. And finally, these comments and actions embolden hardliners in Israel and the Arab world who come to believe that there are no restraints on Israeli behaviour and no way that Arab concerns will be heard or respected in US policy debates.
And so, far from being harmless hysteria or just plain dumb, all this posturing can be damaging and dangerous. It is a good part of the reason why we are in the mess we are in the Middle East and why a just resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict appears to be so intractable.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 05/07/2011

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