As Israel ponders a new isolation in its neighborhood (one where it was never really accepted even at the best of times), I find myself wondering if there isn’t another long term trend that will threaten it even more profoundly. Its just a slight trend that I am noticing, but one that if played out, would spell enormous problems.  And that is the rightward shift of some Jewish American groups towards the GOP and away from the Democratic Party. This is something that Jewish American groups must avoid at all costs – lest it cost Israel dearly.
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Since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, US public opinion has swung firmly behind Israel. Supporting Israel has become an article of faith for both parties, responding as they are both to Jewish American activism and a strong Evangalical base whose support for Israel is unwavering. Bill Clinton once even said he would pick up a gun to defend Israel, a remarkable statement for a U.S. President to say about another country. People sometimes ask me why the U.S. support for Israel is so strong, and I answer that in many ways, Israel is a domestic issue more than a foreign policy one. Israel is us. Vast numbers of Americans, far beyond the Jewish community, identify with Israel (as they do with the English speaking world), and so an attack on Israel is seen as an attack on us – the geopolitics of the Middle East be damned.
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Given this bipartisan support, the White House has almost reflexively backed whichever party was in power in Jerusalem, even when it didn’t agree with it.  This support has allowed Israel to weather all sorts of international pressure. Time and again, the U.S. uses its veto to protect it in at the United Nations. Israel could feel comfortable that this support was forthcoming because it was so broad based. But what if Israel were to stop being an article of faith in Washington, and become a political football between the two parties?
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As it is, Evangelicals almost exclusively back the Republican Party. For them, any sign of wavering by a Democratic President is an invitation for partisan attack. Traditionally, this hasn’t mattered as much as the Democratic Party itself (particularly in Congress) is full of staunch friends of Israel. In fact, Jewish American groups have traditionally been more liberal leaning than conservative. With the rise of the neo-conservatives, however, this is changing. More and more, vocal supporters of Israel are identifying with the Republican Party, and are using charges of lack of support for Israel to attack the Democratic Party. At the same time, I am beginning to see some liberal Jews far more circumspect in their support for Israel than their parents’ generation. What we are witnessing therefore is a situation where unconditional support for Israel could conceivably become consolidated in the Republican Party, and weaken in the Democratic Party. What was once an article of faith for both parties could become yet another issue that divides the parties.
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When an issue stops being bipartisan and becomes a part of the party wars, our ability to consistently speak as one voice is severely hampered. In a world where support for Israel increasingly is seen by Americans as a Republican issue, a future Democratic President may feel far less kinship with Israel than he or she would today. Unflinching support for Israel would then be dependent upon who was in the White House and what the composition of Congress was. Have no doubt, the Democratic Party isn’t about to abandon its historic support for Israel, but it may become far more conditional on who is in power in Jerusalem and what policies it pursues. This, in fact, has already begun to happen. Take this to its logical conclusion, and Israel may find its days of unwavering U.S. support a thing of the past.
Anyone who knows me, or follows me on Twitter, knows that I am somewhat of a hawk when it comes to China. I acknowledge its rise – its rightful rise – and understand that the world order will change as a result of it. However, I also understand that other powers in Asia and the Pacific, including the United States, need to safeguard against this rise not being as smooth as Beijing suggests it will be. After all, nearly every major change in global power has resulted in war (with the exception of the handing of global leadership from the UK to the US, which was something of a special situation).
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I have argued that Asia needs its own regional security grouping – an Asian NATO for want of a better term – that would serve as a bulwark for the rest of Asia. In fact, we need a multilateral security structure in Asia far more than we do in Europe. The locus of the world’s economic activity has shifted from Europe, and the USSR no longer threatens anyone. Admittedly, a NATO do-or-die alliance may be too premature for Asia, and we are not looking to provoke China. But the current situation does not inspire much confidence, either in our Asian allies or in China.
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Lets look at the facts. In the past year, China has threatened Japan over disputed islands. It has issued stark warnings to the U.S. and Korea over sea exercises in the Yellow Sea (which it calls its “coastal waters”). It has told SouthEast Asia that it owns the entire South China Sea, and has threatened both Vietnam and the Philippines. It has even had an altercation with an Indian naval ship which was making a friendly call on Vietnam (and i am not even discussing China’s recent claim on an entire Himalayan border state). And of course, China continues to threaten Taiwan with war at the very mention of separation. All this is happening while China builds up its own military, particularly its maritime and cyber capabilities. Its not just its new aircraft carrier or stealth planes that worry me, but its anti-ship missiles that are clearly designed to deny the U.S. Navy access to Asia. Furthermore, it is eying bases across the Indian Ocean – not traditional military bases but stations nonetheless. Even distant Australia is now rearming. In the cyber realm, we have no idea the damage done to our national secrets by Chinese “students”.
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China’s recent assertiveness has not gone unnoticed by an increasingly nervous Asia. Most countries in the region quietly are advocating for a stronger U.S. presence in Asia. We also belatedly recognize that this (as opposed to events in Afghanistan) is vital to our own interests, lest we be shut out of the center of the world’s manufacturing, trade and energy hub. Added to the concern about Chinese military intentions is the lack of trust engendered by its non-democratic system of government. I would argue that we are not an ideological struggle with China as we were with the USSR. We would have these same issues with China even if it were a democracy. However, a democratic country would be less opaque about its intentions. A democratic country would also not be as beholden to its nationalistic military, which the Chinese Communist party increasingly is, if only to keep its legitimacy.
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The best way to keep the peace in Asia, and to ensure China’s peaceful rise, is a strong defense. It is something that would give the countries in Asia confidence that they will not be subjected to Chinese hegemony. It is something that would give us here in the United States confidence that we are not going to be shut out of Asia (China’s real aim). Most importantly, it would signal to the Chinese military that adventurism will not pay. Forming a regional security structure will cause shrieks of protest from Chinese nationalists. But I argue that it is in their own interests to keep the peace, and that this is the best way of doing so.
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Advocating for a regional security bulwark to hedge against an assertive China, even one that does not carry the same guarantees ensured by NATO, is not Cold War thinking. Rather, it is a pragmatic approach to ensuring peace in a part of the world that is most vital to our interests.
For all its problems with its neighbors, Israel entered this year with relative security on its once-volatile borders. Its southern front with Egypt was quiet, and it enjoyed peace – if a cold one – with that important Arab nation. It also had a peace treaty on its Eastern borders with Jordan too. In the North, Hizbollah was a threat, but a manageable one, especially since the Hariri regime in Lebanon was not interested in war. Moreover, Syria, the regional heavyweight in Lebanon, also had no stomach for conflict with Israel. The Palestinians, for all the problems, were committed to the Oslo peace accords, and so while things were stalled (much because of Jerusalem’s own intransigence), global pressure on the Jewish state was muted. Further afield, Israel enjoyed strong relations with Turkey, and US influence elsewhere in the Middle East kept other Arab governments off its back. In fact, the only real problem it faced was Ahmedinejad’s Iran, and even there American support was reassuring.
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What a difference a year can make. Virtually of all of Israel’s geopolitical certainties have been washed away, to be replaced with something far more ominous. Three key factors account for this.
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Most visibly, Israel’s relations with Turkey have fallen off a cliff. While Gaza may have been the spark, it seems that Ankara has made a decision to switch course in the Arab World, and there is little Israel can do to reverse that. The long term implication of this is as unclear. Turkey has a historic role as the leader of the Islamic World. Any move to reclaim this position makes Ankara’s view of Israel far more critical than before. At this point, it seems that Erdogan has decided to use Israel as the rallying cry to garner support in the Arab Street (as can be seen by the welcome he enjoyed in Cairo).
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Secondly, the Arab Spring, which has unleashed popular anti-Zionist passions, is another cause for concern for Israel. The overthrow of Egypt’s pro-US Mubarak regime has made Israel’s peace with that country increasingly tenuous. While Cairo’s military government maintains that its peace agreement with Israel still stands, events on the ground (whether at the Israeli embassy in Cairo or in the Sinai) suggest otherwise. It is a very real possibility that Egypt will follow Turkey in downgrading ties with Israel. On its own this is a major problem. Add in turmoil in Syria, and you have the potential for a security crisis for Israel. If the Assad regime falls, there is every likelihood that it will be replaced by a more hostile Sunni regime, possibly Islamist.
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Underlying the above two factors, is perhaps the biggest long term cause of concern for Israel, and that is the relative strength of its biggest benefactor, the United States. As our own power in the region slips, Arab governments feel less need to make nice with the Jewish state. This can most noticeably be seen with the Palestinian decision to take recognition of its statehood to the UN. The Saudis, with whom we have enjoyed a special relationship since 1945, are making noises that they will downgrade relations with Washington if the US vetoes Palestinian statehood. This is something that would have been unthinkable a few years back. If there is another intifada (a very real possibility), a lack of US influence in Arab capitals will only add to Israel’s woes.
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On virtually every count, Israel will end this year in a vastly weaker geopolitical position than when it entered it. I have always maintained that Israel should make peace from strength. That position of strength has now passed. If Israel were to sit down with the Arabs today, I suspect they will find an opponent far more intransigent. This is a lost opportunity for Israel, one that I fear may not come back. Furthermore, heightened Israel-Arab tensions threaten our own standing in the Islamic World. Unflinching support for Israel (which is likely in an election year) will cost us far more dearly than only a year ago. It is going to take some deft diplomacy by Washington and some degree of flexibility by our Israeli ally to navigate these increasingly treacherous waters.

For what its worth, here is something I found in the Economist. I am not saying I agree with the 2030 projections, as history has a funny way of not working in straight lines. China should not take its continued high rate of economic growth for granted. By the same token, we should not take for granted the idea that we will remain the world’s most powerful nation for ever either.

I came across an article in The National Interest that caught my eye. The article is called “Once upon a time in Westphalia” and discusses how two British MPs, Richard Cobden and John Bright, made a convincing case for England not to interfere in the affairs of other nations. It highlights England’ undue concern about the internal workings of other countries (sound familiar), and why England would be better off eschewing all foreign entanglements. (Remember England shared the same messianic commitment to liberalism that many in America do today). Cobden’s dinner toast would be “No Foreign Policy”. Technology and globalization renders the idea of no foreign policy moot, but the main thrust of their argument still applies. I am not saying that I agree with this, but it is worth a read. Seems like some arguments withstand the test of time.
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In all my travels . . . three reflections constantly occur to me: how much unnecessary solicitude and alarm England devotes to the affairs of foreign countries; with how little knowledge we enter upon the task of regulating the concerns of other people; and how much better we might employ our energies in improving matters at home.

Robert Cobden

How are the interests of England involved in this question? This is, after all, the great matter which we, the representatives of the people of England, have to consider. It is not a question of sympathy with any other State. I have sympathy with Turkey; I have sympathy with the serfs of Russia; I have sympathy with the people of Hungary, whose envoy the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton [Lord Palmerston, recently Foreign Secretary and soon to be prime minister] refused to see . . . I have sympathy with the Italians, subjects of Austria, Naples, and the Pope; I have sympathy with the three millions of slaves in the United States; but it is not on a question of sympathy that I dare involve this country, or any country, in a war which must cost an incalculable amount of treasure and of blood. It is not my duty to make this country the knight-errant of the human race, and to take upon herself the protection of the thousand millions of human beings who have been permitted by the Creator of all things to people this planet.
John Bright

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For good measure, I am adding some words from our own Founding Father, George Washington, who speaks very much along the same lines.
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Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations, cultivate peace and harmony with all; religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? . . .
Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humour or caprice?
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…nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others should be excluded; and that in place of them just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. . . .
A passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld.

George Washington


NATO has been the most successful military alliance in human history. It served as the bulwark, not just for the Western World against the USSR, but for freedom against totalitarianism globally. That it won without ever having fought an actual war is a real testament to its strategy and its commitment. However, its very success has rendered it without a role. No question, war hasn’t gone away, and that too war involving Western powers. But with the off exception of Bosnia, war in the European continent seems largely a matter of the past (at least right now it does). “Out of area”, the US & Europe do face challenges – from Afghanistan to Libya, and NATO has tried to become the main vehicle for Western military engagement. But this has not worked. Its become more a coalition of the willing – the very thing that NATO was not meant to be. In practice, it is now a coalition where America (with assistance from Britain) defending everyone else. Article 5 bound was supposed to bind members to their common defense.
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The world has changed and NATO has tried, unsuccessfully, to change with it. I believe the only way to save NATO, is to fundamentally rethink its purpose. Without a successful revision, its members (particularly the United States) will ultimately walk away, if not now, then in 10 years. First of all, lets be clear. The Soviet threat is over. Russia is not its replacement. The need therefore for an Article 5, drawing a line in the sand against the expansion of the Eastern block, is moot. Obliging the U.S. to defend say Lithuania against a Russian attack is both foolhardy and foolish. First, we risk an attack on US cities for something that is not a US priority, and second, we would never actually do it. So why the charade? NATO actually weakens its own credibility when it promises something that everyone knows it will never actually deliver.
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NATO needs to be a flexible group of allied countries, committed to each other’s security and with interoperability among its militaries to conduct joint exercises. Countries will align for the common good, but there is no do-or-die military obligation. Simply put, the current environment no longer calls for this. Ending Article 5 will go a long way to ending the free-loading off the US, something we can no longer afford. Wealthy Europe can pay for its own defense, or not have one. It may be that we do have an Article 5 style arrangement with some countries – a hub and spoke system that we have in Asia – but that can only be with important countries who are critical to us, and who are willing to share the burden eg Britain or maybe France.
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To keep NATO alive, it needs to be relevant. To be relevant it needs to be real, ie have a strategy that meets today’s world and have the credibility that people know it will back its words with action. NATO must remain the vehicle that binds the two sides of the Western World (North America and Europe). But it must be restructured for a world where the Soviets are gone, and neither Russia nor Al Qaeda replace it. A flexible alliance, devoid of non-credible do-or-die commitments, where each country is obliged to pony up for its own defense, may be best way of achieving it. It doesnt have to lessen our commitment to certain key countries where we have greater interests, but those can be negotiated separately, and not part a blanket all-for-one which has effectively turned into a club where America provides defense for everyone.
I am not in the habit of calling myself a liberal. I prefer to describe myself a defense hawk. But i am impassioned in the defense of the idea that Democrats can be tough on national security and foreign policy. I wrote a few days back about President Obama’s tough “leading from behind”. His approach achieved our national priorities, yet it was also in line with the reality of our current resources. Furthermore, we did not need more international controversy. Rather we needed our allies to stand up. There was a great article in the Daily Beast which covered this more eloquently than me. I include it below, along with a link.

Obama as Hardheaded Liberal

Aug 26, 2011 8:02 PM EDT

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The president was accused of neglecting alliances and ceding too much ground to allies in Libya, but this week’s successes in Tripoli prove he’s heir to Roosevelt and Truman.

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Critics of President Obama are always banging on about his commitment to America’s alliance system. Yet the success of the NATO operation in Libya is the latest evidence of the effectiveness of his alliance approach.
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It is true that during his campaign for president, Obama de-emphasized the role of alliances. He did not always draw bright lines between allies and other states. Instead he bracketed alliances with other, less intimate relationships, writing of his intention to rebuild “alliances, partnerships and institutions.” As the first president to come of age politically after the end of the Cold War, Obama did not seem to view alliances as special.

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Republican provocateur John Bolton even claimed that Obama had “a post-alliance policy.”

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However, President Obama has turned out to be much more alliance-friendly than candidate Obama. The “special relationship” with Britain has cooled somewhat, and he has reached out to new powers such as Indonesia. Yet despite the attacks of his critics, Obama’s approach to alliances sits squarely in the tradition established by his predecessors Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

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Conservative commentators have mocked Obama’s belief in the efficacy of international rules. Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope that “nobody benefits more than we do from the observance of the international ‘rules of the road.’” Many of these rules were established by Roosevelt and Truman, who believed that a rule-based system amplified U.S. power rather than constraining it. And it was the propensity of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia to break international rules and agreements that hardened those two presidents’ determination to contain and defeat them.

Obama Vacation
.In the Middle East, Obama has been criticized for walking away from America’s long-term friend President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, a step that worried officials in countries from Saudi Arabia to Israel. In fact, Obama’s response to the Arab Spring, though initially uncertain and clumsy, came to be characterized by a blend of caution and hardheaded liberalism. He now places a lesser premium than most of his recent predecessors did on the stability provided by Middle East allies, and a greater premium on their people’s right to democracy. But some of those allies can no longer provide stability anyway.

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In the Egypt case, Obama is said to be insufficiently committed to allies. In the Libyan case, the opposite charge is leveled: that he ceded too much ground to allies, by allowing Britain, France, and other NATO allies to take the lead. Yet it would have been risky for the United States to lead another major military operation in the Middle East when it is already fighting two bloody wars nearby. It is especially galling when former officials of the Bush administration, which mismanaged the Afghanistan War, initiated the wrong-headed Iraq War, and blew out the Federal budget, refuse to acknowledge their own responsibility for the constraints that have limited America’s role in the Libya operation.

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Viewing Libya another way, Obama has revived an old American tradition—exemplified by FDR’s foreign policy in the early stages of World War II—of using European allies as proxies to wage war when the United States is unable to take the leading position.

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Events this week indicate that Obama’s approach in Libya has managed to cripple the Gaddafi regime in a way that maximizes the Libyan people’s ownership of the victory and minimizes the risks and costs to the United States. The contrast with George W. Bush’s approach in Iraq is stunning.

Obama’s Libya approach has managed to cripple the regime in a way that maximizes Libyan ownership of the victory and minimizes risks and costs to the U.S. The contrast with Bush’s Iraq approach is stunning.

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Obama’s critics also fail to acknowledge that he is much more popular with allied publics than was his predecessor. This has not translated into greater assistance for the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan. On the other hand, it has restored drooping public support in allied countries for the idea of allying with Washington. For example, the number of Australians who believe the U.S. alliance is very important to their country’s security has shot up by 23 percent since the nadir of the Bush administration.

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Of course, the biggest challenge to America’s position in the world comes not from the Middle East but from East Asia. And there, the president’s approach to China, and his commitment to America’s Asian allies, has strengthened significantly over his first term.

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Initially Obama set out to accommodate Beijing’s interests and its claims. Yet the Chinese leadership failed to clasp his outstretched hand, disappointing the world at Copenhagen, failing to rein in its North Korean ally, and throwing its weight around in the region. Obama responded in kind, pushing back against the Chinese, taking two major trips to Asia, with significant stopovers in Tokyo and Seoul, and moving to deepen further America’s defense ties with Australia.

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Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, the founders of America’s alliance system, were hardheaded liberals. They would certainly recognize Barack Obama as their heir.

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Michael Fullilove is the director of the global issues program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia and a nonresident senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. A lawyer and historian by training, he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and served as an adviser to the Australian prime minister. Fullilove’s next book, on the Second World War, will be published by The Penguin Press. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mfullilove.

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Steven Casey is a reader in international history at the London School of Economics.

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