Burning Issues #11: Impact of US elections in Mideast

JPost columnists share their views on the new reality in Washington.

bush sad 88 (photo credit: )
bush sad 88
(photo credit: )
Burning Issues brings our best opinion writers to one podium, where they respond, in brief and in real time, to a question about one of the hottest news topics on the agenda. Our aim is also to get you, our readers, involved, by sharing your opinions with the JPost community, or if you wish, by responding to any specific posting. A link to the writer's most recent column appears at the end of each posting. Burning Issues 1-10 Saddam on death row, the Lieberman factor, Gaza mess, Katsav scandal, North Korea, system of government, Abbas vs. Hamas, talks with Syria, Bush vs. Ahmadinejad, pope remarks.

Question #11

What impact, if any, will the results of the US midterm elections have on US policy towards Israel and the Middle East? Contributions by David Horovitz, Daniel Pipes, Amotz Asa-El, Michael Freund, Gerald Steinberg, MJ Rosenberg, Jonathan Tobin and Isi Leibler. David Horovitz: Now that the midterms are over, the hope must be that the wider challenges facing the US and the rest of the free world are allowed to belatedly take precedence. The only superpower cannot afford to duck its global responsibilities and capabilities, miring instead in partisan bickering. And chief among those challenges is Iran, which is quietly and determinedly profiting from international drift and internal US argument to move steadily towards the bomb. Republican-Democrat in-fighting has to be recognized as marginal when set against the looming reality of an Iran, dominated by a regime with a murderous Islamic extremist ideology, achieving a nuclear capability. Editor's Notes: 'Mr. Reassurance' sounds the alarm Daniel Pipes: In every full democracy, the legislative branch mostly enjoys power in domestic affairs, while the executive branch predominates in foreign policy. The United States is no exception; especially with the virtual disappearance over the right to declare wars, Congress has a distinctly secondary role in formulating America's role in the world. Its main domain is that of taxation, pensions, welfare, and the judiciary. One vivid example of this: Congress has long tried to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but has never come close to succeeding. Therefore, I expect the changes from this week's mid-term elections to have only minor impact on US policy in the Middle East, including Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is especially the case given:
  • The stagnant quality of Arab-Israeli relations
  • The war on terror having only a minor Congressional dimension;
  • The debate over Iraq having more sting and anger concerning events of 2003 than events of 2007
  • The almost complete presidential prerogative when it comes to responding to the Iranian drive to build nuclear weapons. By extension, I expect that the internal conservative debate over George W. Bush's profligate spending will have more of a long-term impact than the parallel debate over his decision to go and uproot the Saddam Hussein regime. America, Islam and reciprocity MJ Rosenberg: I would expect more thoughtful policies as a result of the elections. After all, there are significant difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to Israel. Republicans largely come to their support for Israel out of their religious convictions. With the exception of the minority of GOP moderates, Republicans strongly support Israel because they view the revived Jewish state as part of their end of the world theology. Israel, the place, takes a back seat to Israel the holy land in which Jews must be gathered in to bring on the so-called End of Days. Democrats support the real Israel. Very few are religious fundamentalists so their view of Israel is as democratic ally of the United States and sanctuary for the Jewish people. They do not wave the Bible in support of a Jewish state but the legitimate claims of a persecuted people, now secure and at home. As a result, they will be more eager to help Israel achieve a secure peace with the Palestinians. I expect less of the mindless Congressional resolutions, which "support" Israel by bashing Arabs. Instead, we will see Democrats attempting to work with the President to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. This is good news for Israel and President Bush. He now knows that should he choose to pursue peace, he will have strong backing from Congress rather than cries about Biblical prophecy. Israel also benefits from the utter rejection of neo-conservatism dished out by the voters. Americans overwhelmingly voted against the Iraq war and, by inference, against the people who misled the country into that war. That, too, is good news for Israel. The neocon intellectuals who created a brave new world in which radical Shi'ism is on the march everywhere will likely be answering subpoenas from Congress about their role in fixing pre-war intelligence. Their plans for more wars that would endanger Israel's security are on the shelf. Having cost Bush almost everything, we won't be seeing them at the White House for the next two years or, I expect, ever again. The rightwing revolution is over. Moderate Democrats and Republicans, working with a chastened President who has two years to save his legacy, are going to support Israel not only at war but to achieve peace. It's a new day. And Israel is among the winners. In Washington: Olmert should attend the next Arab summit Amotz Asa-El: What shapes the course of Middle Eastern history in general, and the Arab-Israeli conflict's in particular, is not the identity, or even the priorities of American administrations, but the choices of the region's majority, namely the Suni Arabs. In the past, Israel and its friends were alarmed when administrations perceived as cool to the Jewish state rose to power. There were precedents, like Eisenhower's arm-twisting in '56 that led to the retreat from the Sinai, and Gerald Ford's "re-assessment" of the aid to Israel in 1975. Since then, however, Israel has lost the fear to cede land, and the US has been disabused of the misconception that land-for peace axiomatically generates peace. Meanwhile, on the aid front, Israel has matured and no longer depends on foreign transfers for its survival. In fact, it arms many foreign nations. In other words, even if America wanted to seriously pressure Israel into making a particular move, it would have fewer tools with which to pursue such a policy than it did in the past. Having said this, the US election does make an American retreat from Iraq more imminent than it may have been until now. Yet there too, an American withdrawal of some sort, perhaps to the sparsely settled desert, was anyhow long overdue, while an abrupt and comprehensive departure would prove difficult even to a declared antiwar Democratic President, should one succeed George W. Bush. It follows, that the Middle East is not in for massive change in the wake of the US midterm election. Asa-El's Israel: Thoughts in a Jerusalem library Gerald Steinberg: The main impact of the change in power in both houses of the Congress, the end of total Republican control in Washington, and the departure of Rumsfeld is likely to be seen in Iraq. Instead of the faith-based foreign policy, centering on democracy as a universal objective, the US can be expected to adopt a pragmatic approach, focusing on containing the violence and instability in Iraq. The test for the Democrats is whether they can provide an effective alternative to the previous policy, focusing on the threat of mass terror and on the Iranian nuclear weapons program. If Democratic leaders fail in this task, they will pay the price in the 2008 presidential elections. For Israel, the US policies over the next two critical years in Iraq and Iran will, to a large degree, determine the security environment for a much longer period. The strengthening of radical groups in Iraq (Sunni, Shi'ite or both), and the departure of US and British troops will further weaken America's deterrent image, threaten the survival of the regime in Jordan, and force Israel to reevaluate security policies. On the other hand, if a pragmatic bi-partisan approach, with broad international backing, is successful in ending the hemorrhaging in Iraq and in confronting Iran, the Middle East might begin to stabilize. Getting beyond slogans of Palestinian victimization Jonathan Tobin: In the short term, the answer is not much. The Democrats were at pains to demonstrate solidarity with Israel during the campaign thanks to pressure from a determined ad campaign by Jewish Republicans that made a point of GOP support for Israel. Though there will be several new committee chairs that are not friends of the Jewish state, the caucus as a whole will remain on Israel's side and have no interest in a distracting quarrel on this issue. Israel did lose several good friends in the election carnage, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, being the most prominent Republican. On the positive side of the ledger, one of the least friendly members of the Senate Republican caucus, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, also went down. However, the real danger for Israel in the coming months appears to not be from the House or the Senate but from Condoleezza Rice and the State Department. She appears determined to return to the failed policy of pushing for Israeli concessions to prop up so-called Palestinian "moderates." The possibility that former Secretary of State James Baker (no friend of Israel to put it mildly) may have a lot to say about both Iraq and the rest of the Middle East is also troubling. If that's the way things play out, Israel's best hope will rest with the idea that President Bush will prevent Rice or Baker from repeating the mistakes of the past. But if he doesn't, then friends of the Jewish state may well come to regret the change in Congress. Whereas GOP leaders like former House Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas or Santorum would have challenged the White House and the State Department in defense of Israel, it isn't likely that their Democratic successors will do the same. View from America: 'Rachel Corrie' is a liar Michael Freund: The Democratic take-over of the US House and Senate is unlikely to have any profound effect directly on US policy towards Israel, as support for the Jewish state remains high among the American public. But it is almost certain to have an impact on US policy towards Iran, which poses an existential threat to Israel's existence - and this is something that we should all be worried about. The Democrats will undoubtedly press for a more conciliatory US approach to Teheran, backing the use of diplomacy and sanctions rather than military force. This does not bode well for Israel, because it should be obvious by now that the Iranians have no intention of backing down from their desire to obtain nuclear weapons. Since it is only military force that will stop Iran, the Democrats will be pushing the worst possible policy at the worst possible time for Israel and the West. Therefore, one can only hope that President George W. Bush will not heed the weak-kneed approach of his critics, and will instead take decisive military action to stop Iran's slow but steady march toward a nuclear arsenal. But there should be no doubt about it: when it comes to US policy towards Iran, the Democratic takeover of Congress should have us all very, very worried. Right On!: An appeal of faith to President George W. Bush Isi Leibler: The victory of the Democrats in the US elections should not be regarded as a catastrophe. However a weakened Bush administration is likely to intensify negative pressures against Israel and exert further pressure on our impotent government to make more unilateral concessions to the Palestinians. We are already reaping the consequences of having submitted to irresponsible American demands to cede control of the Gaza borders to Egypt, which led to a huge inflow of sophisticated weapons into Gaza including new missiles to target Israeli civilians. We are fortunate that aside from fringe Democrat anti-Israeli splinter groups, Congressional support for Israel remains bi-partisan. But that can speedily erode if Jewish support is perceived to be divided. The Israeli government's failure to sustain its close relationship with the American Jewish leadership has enabled radical Jewish groups to aggressively promote themselves. In recent months they have begun actively lobbying the Administration to pressure Israel to make further concessions. George Soros, one of the wealthiest men in the world who does not hesitate to display his disdain for Israel, has announced the formation of a "pro Israel" coalition to "balance" AIPAC. Setting aside the double talk, "balancing AIPAC" - which lobbies on behalf of Israel - means urging Washington to exert further pressure on Israel. There are ill winds of change on the horizon and an atmosphere in which the perception of an American Jewish community being divided over Israel could not come at a worse time. It is therefore crucial that American Jews unite and capitalize on the powerful public support Israel enjoys and vigorously present our case - stressing that there can be no peace whilst our neighbors direct missiles against our civilian population centers. Weakness fosters anti-Semitism