As you know, I am a great admirer of Pat Buchanan and consider him one of the best minds out there, i.e. in the "commentariat". So when he goofs, I feel somehow called upon to administer a bit of tough love. In this case, it's a column from last weekend entitled, "Will Barack break Bibi?" This, in my opinion, makes about as much sense as asking "Will Neville break Adolf?" Behind the ongoing kabuki dance -- where the script entails the U.S. pretending to "get tough" with Israel, and Israel pretending to react with shock and dismay -- lies, thinly concealed, the same done deal that every American president has forged with Israel since its founding. Well, maybe "forged" is the wrong word; "forced" would be more appropriate, and Obama is no exception -- middle name or no middle name, black or not black, "reaching out" to the Moslem world or no. Relations with Israel are a matter of absolutes, in the spirit of Scripture where it is said, "Everyone who is not with us is against us", and where "with" implies absolute, undiluted loyalty, devotion, and willingness to sacrifice anything and everything. What it most emphatically does not mean is equivocation, compromise, or -- in particular! -- "historicizing" the Holocaust, which is, as I've pointed out before, an absolute and a cultural myth/icon/fetish that is the foundation for Israeli exceptionalism, and hence for American foreign policy in the Middle East.
And yet Buchanan persists in speculating that "a new day has arrived" in American-Israeli relations... that "the Israel-centric Middle East policy of George W. Bush is dead"... and that "a collision... now appears inevitable and imminent." Now, he is correct that there has been "rhetorical change" -- but he should know that style without substance is of no significance. And he is correct that "Bush... outsourced Mideast policy to Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert". But the outsourcing has continued with nary a transitional bump under Obama; it's just not quite as blatant. Perhaps the Democrats still have a twinge of conscience about permitting another country to determine our foreign policy -- a twinge that was long ago drowned out among the Republicans by the cheers and applause granted to Dick Cheney at AIPAC pep rallies.
But really, Pat -- "Obama has confronted Bibi Netanyahu and handed Israel an ultimatum... Either the president or prime minister is going to have to back down." Well, in the first place, there has been no "ultimatum", because for an ultimatum to have occurred, there has to have been an "or else" clause... and there hasn't been one. Buchanan admits that "Obama's address in Cairo broke no new ground" -- nor was it meant to. An ultimatum would, for example, have something to do with the billions in foreign aid that we have provided to Israel over the years... with weapons and other technology sales and assistance... with intelligence coordination... with not objecting when they attack one of our ships (the USS Liberty)... with allowing their spies into every nook and cranny of our intelligence apparatus and then not prosecuting them when they are caught... with fighting many of Israel's significant battles for them... with being their sole defender when the U.N. rightfully protests some of their actions, especially vis-a-vis the Palestinians... and so on. An "ultimatum" would involve drastically reducing, or eliminating, many or all of these. But we know that our position will not budge on even one -- not under Obama and not under anyone else. Obama got that offer he couldn't refuse way back on the campaign trail, and he is going to make good -- of this there is no doubt.
So, based on all of this, who is going to back down? And who is going to explain, and justify, and euphemize, his backing down with all sorts of lame excuses and rationalizations? (I've already heard "The world is not yet ready for a two-state solution". Actually, the world is good and ready for it; it's just we and Israel who are not ready.)
And besides, what does Buchanan mean when he imagines "a collision that could shatter the coalitions of both Bibi and Barack"? It might be relevant for Bibi, but is there a "coalition" loyal to Obama that is going to be "shattered" by his failure to cause any change in the Near East? I certainly can't think of any. I'm not aware that any of Obama's supporters had any great love for the Palestinians or any great skepticism about Israel. They are, after all, the same people (or the children thereof) who, back in the 60s, couldn't wait for summer to roll around so they could leave their dreary college towns and "goworkonakibbutz" (this was always spoken as one word). They just couldn't wait to get into those funny little hats and those shorts that only came down to crotch level, and get funky with some of those hot Israeli chicks (you know, the ones who keep an Uzi by the side of the bed).
But Buchanan goes on: "In Israel, the betting is that Barack will break Bibi because Israel cannot defy its last great friend, the lone superpower..." The problem with this is that Israel has been defying us ever since its founding, and there has never been even a hint of punishment or sanctions on our part in response. Besides, Israel has forced us into a corner at the U.N. and into diplomatic isolation in general because of its requirement that we defend its every action regardless of international law, laws of war, and the U.N. It would be no less accurate to say that we cannot defy _our_ last great friend, namely Israel, because that would leave us totally isolated on the international front -- assuming we were in no hurry to be rehabilitated, that is.
And the other problem we are dealing with is that the Israelis love war. They love conflict and strife. They love any opportunity to try out their advanced weaponry (admittedly, the world's best, because even though we buy it for them we don't stock it for our own troops). They love setting fire to all the neighboring ragheads and watching them race over the hill trailing smoke, like in an old Fleischer cartoon. But besides this, they are hypersensitive and paranoid to a point that makes the North Koreans look positively phlegmatic. And these are the folks that we have not only established an alliance with, but are determined to follow anywhere, even unto total ruin. The only difference between Obama and his predecessors is that he thinks he can gain some political points by at least appearing to be fair-minded about the whole thing. But when he is bruised and battered and unable to get up off the mat, he'll realize that he has lost much more than he could ever have expected to gain. And at that point he will become the laughingstock of the international community -- and the honeymoon really will be over.