By IRA SHARKANSKYUpdated: AUGUST 11, 2015 12:47
Barack Obama's latest contribution to relations between the US and Israel is the comment that he does not recall a foreign leader who has involved himself in American politics as much as Benyamin Netanyahu.That may be true or not. It is hard to conceive of a metric that would measure the extent of involvement in American politics.Or the extent of involvement of Americans in the politics of other countries.A British friend notes that Obama overlooked the pressure from Winston Churchill, who was active before the US entered the European war, and brought the US to the edge of participation prior to Pearl Harbor. After the war, Churchill made an iconic speech in Missouri that is credited with setting the tone of the Cold War.This has been the American era since it was the only country left standing in 1945, took on itself first the rebuilding of Europe and Japan, and subsequently the leadership of the "Free World" and defending it from others."Free world" as a unifying slogan has pretty much declined in prominence since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but 9-11 brought about US involvement in the Middle East no less impressive than its involvement in Korea and Vietnam.The use of American forces and the outlays of American money for the purpose have declined, due in part to frustration and more overtly in response to decisions of Barack Obama. Nonetheless, American footprints are still event in many parts of the world.AdvertisementAmerican money was prominent on both sides of Israel's most recent election. Sheldon Adelson's Israel Hayom did its part to re-elect Bibi, and an American funded campaign labeled Victory 2015 did what it could to elect anybody but Bibi. Its use of an American political consultant who was Barack Obama's national field director for the election of 2012 carried the smell of a White House connection.Americans' concern about outsiders intervening in their politics strikes an outsider/insider as strange for a number of reasons. My own life may open or distort my views. It has been divided more or less equally between its first half in the US and subsequent years here, with feelings of both American and Israeli attachments as well as citizenship, and service (as lecturer, not fighter) at the upper reaches of both nations' armed forces. Growing up as a Jew in the 1950s , and spending years in each of New England, the Middle West, the Deep South, and the Mountain West sensitized me to the nature of American society where almost everyone is an outsider in one way or another.Barack Obama has wrestled with multiple attachments, and has articulated his feelings associated with having a father who he may not have known, but who was Muslim and African.This should in no way be viewed as an approach to the birthers or those who say that Obama is a Muslim. Yet he is diverse in his background, in ways that provoke the question about the nature of the United States and its politics.WASPs may think of the country as theirs, but it was always a complicated place. Native Americans, Africans, and newcomers from a variety of European countries were there since the beginning. Mass migration from other places began in the 1840s, spurted ahead from 1880 to World War I, and began again after World War II.The Second World War and the end of colonialism shook up many countries' governments and populations. Changes in regime came first, then migrations--legal and otherwise--that have not stopped.The United States may pride itself on not having a history as a colonizer, but its record of involving itself in other countries is second to none. It's come with troops (Germany, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and several countries in Latin America), money (government money as well as corporate investments), and no lack of pressure--sometimes backed up with violence--concerned with countries' domestic as well as foreign policies.Is there anything like a purely American politics that is closed to outsiders? Or the same with respect to an Israeli politics? Or that of any other countries so often in everyone's headlines and seen as breaking or threatening someone's sense of how things should be?Benyamin Netanyahu represents as well as Barack Obama the complexities in two countries' national politics.Both reached the top, and each have every right to describe themselves as American or Israeli. Obama's background is as complex as that of any American, and Bibi spent formative years in the US and acquired a skill with English no less impressive than Obama's. It's not much of a stretch to conclude that he is more familiar, and more comfortable with American politics than is Obama with Israeli politics.(Those with an interest in the history of foreign officials intervening in US politics may recall that Churchill was half-American, with a capacity to express himself in English as good as anyone's.)The US is more prominent in the thinking of any Israeli with national responsibilities than is Israel in the perspective of any American official. America is the giant in Israel's firmament, while Israel is one noisy pisher among many in America's.Even Barack Obama admits that Israel has reason to worry about Iran. Hardly a day goes by that one or another prominent Iranian official mentions the liquidation of Israel as a national goal. Allowing Iran to reach close to a capacity to produce nuclear weapons and to create missiles capable of delivering them is an obvious threat, and primarily to Israel.If Bibi is breaking the informal rules of international politics, he would appear to have a right to do so. He's done nothing that appears to violate the US Constitution or laws. Ideas about the freedom of expression should cover an outsider invited by the leaders of Congress.Claims that Bibi is doing something unique, or even unusual, seems of little weight compared to the influence of the US on Israel and numerous other countries. The US leverage on Israelis comes from what the American government does, or fails to do. It clearly took the lead in negotiations with Iran, and so it is legitimately open to claims, influence, or pressure from a country that stands to lose a great deal by virtue of that agreement.If you can't stand the noise or the smell, stay out of the kitchen is an epigram appropriate to this as to much else in politics. Americans are up to their kishkes in world politics, and Israeli politics. None should be surprised at the noises or the smells.
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