Liberal circles in the United States and the American leftist camp, which in the past sympathized with Israel, have recently become hostile, particularly in respect to our conflict with the Palestinians. The shift from enthusiastic support to reservations and even hostility can clearly be detected in the Democratic Party and its positions. However, at this time we are seeing a similar process emerging in the American rightist camp, particularly among the classic, non-religious conservative groups, which always espoused diplomatic isolationism. Should this process keep developing in the Right as it did in the Left, the essential support offered to Israel by the only global power supporting it in a hostile world will be eroded.
The book Smart Power: Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy for America, published by the Cato Institute, attests to a process that is growing stronger among parts of the Right (yet not among devout Christians, whose support for Israel is solid) in respect to objecting to the support offered to Israel and to the Jewish lobby that assists it. The book’s author, Ted Galen Carpenter, apparently chose not to deal with Israel directly. He offers general criticism on America’s foreign policy, yet while doing so he also slams the seemingly “reflexive” American support for Israel.
American foreign policy is indeed a mess of incoherent goals that reflect the State Department’s confused thinking. As Carpenter justly argues, the American Administration’s current positions prompted the US to “dictate outcomes everywhere and on every issue” – an impossible mission even for a great power. American foreign policy became entangled in relatively minor conflicts such as Serbia and Somalia. It also invested plenty of energy and resources in the Israeli-Arab conflict, which in strategic terms is no more than a neighborhood brawl – yet neglected great dangers such as the Saudi regime’s unclear future or the devastating effect that a nuclear Iran would have on the availability and price of oil; that is, on the economic and political future of Europe and America.
However, the solution offered by Carpenter is not a reordering of priorities that would shift the focus to the main strategic threats, but rather, the adoption of an isolationist foreign policy. Carpenter is calling on the US to back off from major conflicts and cut back its power, rather than use it in a more effective way. Dangerously, he also ignores or downplays major threats against America and the world, such as fundamentalist Islam’s spread and its effective utilization of the price of oil and of terrorism as a strategic weapon against the West.
Carpenter argues that terrorism is a tactic, rather than a danger posed by an identifiable enemy. Such insights appear truly ludicrous in the face of the sophisticated strategic utilization by Iran – clearly an “identifiable enemy” – of its terrorist proxies in promoting threats and attacks that prompted a steep rise in the price of oil, enabling Tehran to reap huge profits, which it has been using to pursue nuclear armament and terror whose strategic danger keeps on growing. Indeed, only a few observers have recognized the Iranian strategy for boosting oil prices and controlling its flow, but this doesn’t make it any less dangerous.
Carpenter’s ideology blinds him to such extent that he is attempting to downplay even the use of a dirty bomb by terrorists. He argues that al-Qaeda has “no realistic hope of obtaining thousands of nukes,” noting that while the destruction caused by one dirty bomb would be great, it won’t rival the extent of horror and bloodshed we had seen in the 20th Century. This attempt to downplay the danger of a mega-terror attack on American cities using an irrelevant comparison is typical of his attempt to ignore reality and draw the wrong conclusions, prompting the “alternative” foreign policy stemming from this view.
The book was published by an economically orientated institute, yet it makes no reference to the immense economic implications of Iranian control over the flow of Gulf oil and its price; the kind of control that Iran would be able to secure via its ability to threaten a nuclear response to any attempt to forcefully end an Iranian blockade in the Gulf. Carpenter is right to argue that terrorists will apparently not be able to acquire hundreds of dirty bombs. But wouldn’t they be able to acquire a few such bombs, spread a smallpox epidemic, or pollute the air with toxic gases?
Carpenter’s blindness is even more apparent when looking into his main policy prescription. He calls for the establishment of multiple centers of power worldwide instead of American hegemony. The multitude of such centers is meant to provide the world with “security buffers” that would protect it. Carpenter adds that such centers should ideally be stable and democratic. His plan therefore rules out China, Russia, India,
and Saudi Arabia and leaves just one more hub alongside the US – Europe. Yet as we already learned from the saga surrounding the establishment and role of NATO and the boost in Islam’s power within Europe, there is little chance that Europe would be able to defend itself, let alone constitute an effective security buffer.
Carpenter’s arguments in favor of cutting back America’s power are in fact a sophisticated expression of the revived isolationist tendencies among conservatives in America that have peaked upon the entanglement in Iraq and the sense that America is powerless in the face of Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. This tendency bodes badly for Israel.
The writer is the director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress, a non-profit group dealing with economic policy and education