Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sit Back, Relax, and Leave the Foreign Policy to Us

I've been reading Ben Ehrenreich's new book The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine (Penguin, 2016).  It's a long, grim slog, but worth it, and every now and then there's a touch of comic relief.  Describing the 2014 collapse of talks between Israel and Palestine, mediated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Ehrenreich writes:
Another month would pass before a frank American narrative of what had occurred in Jerusalem and Ramallah hit the press.  In May, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth's Nahum Barnea published an interview with anonymous senior U.S. officials who, he wrote, had been closely involved in the talks. The story that emerged from what Barnea called "the closest thing to an official American version of what happened" was one of Israeli cynicism and an almost astonishing American naivete.  "We didn't realize," said one of Barnea's sources, that "Netanyahu was using the announcements of tenders for settlement construction as a way to ensure the survival of his own government.  We didn't realize continuing construction allowed ministers in his government to very effectively sabotage the success of the talks."  If true, this is a shocking admission: the Americans, with all their vast data-collecting capabilities, did not know waht even the least observant reader of Israeli newspapers had for months understood to be self-evident [262].
The theme of American naivete unto gullibility when faced with conniving Oriental slick dealing is well-worn by now, and makes me suspicious.  American elites have always tried to excuse their short-sightedness and (let's not mince words) incompetence and/or collusion with authoritarian regimes by claiming that they were babes in the woods, outclassed by tc the ancient wiles their opposite numbers deployed.  It's echoed by the Vatican apologists' claim that, confronted with sexually predatory priests, they were so unprepared to deal with such Evil that they could do nothing but send them to new parishes to prey some more.  In either case the defense is unconvincing, and could only be supported by immediate resignation, confessions of incompetence, and departure from public life, except perhaps as garbage collectors.

On the next page Ehrenreich continues:
In the end, the officials pinned the blame for the negotiations' failure squarely on Israel, and on Netanyahu's insistence on continuing settlement expansion throughout the talks: "The Palestinians don't believe that Israel really intends to let them found a state when at the same time it is building settlements on the territory meant for that state.  We're talking about the announcement of 14,000 housing units, no less.  Only now, after the talks blew up, did we learn that this is also about expropriating land on a large scale." 

When I first read that line, I nearly coughed up a small piece of my kidney. "Only now," the unnamed official said [263].
And, of course, six weeks "after the talks collapsed ... Obama sent his secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel," to Israel to pledge eternal U.S. fealty, along with "$3.1 billion per year in foreign military financing, which is not only more than we provide to any other nation, but the most we have provided to any nation in American history" (264).

Which brings me to another bit of comedy.  After the end of the talks, Hagel's opposite number, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, complained to the same newspaper about Kerry's "naive and meddlesome 'messianic fervor' ...'The only thing that can save us ... is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Peace Prize and leave us alone" (234-5).

Of course, Ya'alon doesn't really want Kerry or the U.S. to leave Israel alone, any more than corporate CEOs want meddlesome big government to leave them alone.  Leave them alone -- but continue to send vast amounts of money, stand by them in the United Nations, and make it illegal for any Americans to organize boycotts against them.

The other examples I gave show that this is not a new problem in American foreign policy or diplomacy.  But once again, combined with Obama's (and his fans') feckless responses to domestic opposition, it makes it impossible for me to believe that he or his advisors know what they're doing.