Israel and America, Part I: National interests, national chaos

Consider. For more than 50 years, Israel has managed to avoid a significant scandal that would damage relations with America. Not that there haven’t been opportunities aplenty.

Netanyahu and Trump (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu and Trump
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Of all the nonsense inflicted upon educated people by so-called political science, perhaps the most ridiculous is the canard that nations pursue their interests.
Pickle bellies! Nations do not pursue their interests. They pursue, sometimes, what their dominant elites and those with access to them/influence over them, presume their interests to be. These perceived interests may or may not coincide with the interests of the nation as a whole. Even when they do and are effectively pursued, times change and everything goes wrong eventually.
Sometimes, even effective pursuit of real national interests leads to catastrophe.
That cheerfully said, a few words on the present and probable condition of the American-Israeli relationship during US President Donald Trump’s tenure.
The best possible outcome: no change from the present messy situation. The most likely outcome: chaos. An alternative outcome that engages both the Israeli and American peoples: We’ll get to that next month.
Three weeks into Trump’s administration, it’s clear: no honeymoon for this guy. More than half of the electorate disapproves of his conduct. So does the law. Trump has already committed multiple impeachable offenses regarding improper executive orders, violation of constitutional due process and refusal to enforce federal court orders.
Moreover, the Beltway rumor mill has it that anyone who accepts a Trump appointment down at the working level (assistant and deputy assistant secretaries; directors and other senior types) will effectively trash his or her future in this town. To the extent that these positions remain unfilled, or filled by ideologues, slugs and other mediocrities, stasis/chaos ensues. If the permanent bureaucracy chooses, as it may already have, to wage protracted guerrilla war against the administration, anarchy seems quite likely.
As for Israel, well, it seems that all those gilt-edged campaign promises – recognize Jerusalem as the capital, encourage more settlements, abandon the twostate fantasy – are fading.
Bottom line: for the next few months or years, Israel will be dealing with an American government in chaos. No fun.
Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ample experience dealing with failed American presidencies. His tactic has always been to deny the obvious and reverse the roles.
Strictly speaking, Israel is an American client state, dependent on a steady stream of financial, national security and political support. Mr. Netanyahu usually manages to finesse this fact. The story is told that, after Mr. Netanyahu’s first meeting with US president Bill Clinton, the president emerged from the Oval Office, laughing:
“He thinks I work for him.”
It was funny then, perhaps, but Donald Trump is not Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush or Barack Obama. Donald Trump loves to degrade and humiliate people, sometimes for discernible reasons, sometimes simply because he can.
“Hey, Bibi. I’m the guy with the money, the assets, the clout. You don’t strike me as sufficiently deferential.
Let’s see you grovel a bit. And don’t forget, 80% percent of American Jews who voted, voted against me. Now what did you say you wanted?”
So, two points so far:
1) Israel will be dealing with an American government and an America in travail.
2) Trump’s personality does not lend itself to cordial relationships. A carefully choreographed Bibi/Trump love affair is not impossible. But a far uglier personal relationship seems more probable. Trump may love to see people grovel, but Bibi ain’t the groveling kind.
But what of it? For all the furor, is not the American- Israeli relationship, as Dennis Ross puts it, “Doomed to Succeed”?
Alas, not any longer. American antisemitism seems to be on steroids nowadays. Plenty of Trump supporters, from the so-called alt-right to the intellectual bastions of what’s left of the American Left, would love to see this relationship taken down a peg or three. Given how things are done in DC nowadays, it is entirely possible to imagine it happening.
Scandal over what?
Scandal over money.
Consider. For more than 50 years, Israel has managed to avoid a significant scandal that would damage relations with America. Not that there haven’t been opportunities aplenty. Jonathan Pollard. Industrial espionage (Rafi Eitan). Uranium gone missing (Zalman Shapiro). Questionable arms sales (the Noriega connection). The list goes on.
But – here I speculate – it is hard to believe that, after all these decades of military and other aid to Israel; after all these decades of interlocks between American and Israeli arms makers and the politicos who enable them; after all these scores of billions of dollars passing through thousands of hands, that the whole process has remained pristine. Embezzlement? Misappropriation? Other illegalities and unethical practices? What’s out there, waiting to be whistle-blown, WikiLeaked, or blared from the publishers of the anti- Zionist Left?
What would happen if, in the current atmosphere, “The Jews Are Robbing Us Blind” started making the news?
What would be America’s, and Israel’s, interest then?
And what of our people’s?