Next week, I will be voting for Barack Obama because of his pledge to provide universal health care; his calls for restructuring the financial regulatory system; and his support for more aggressive emissions cuts in the effort to curb global warming. I will vote for Obama because I do not wish to see a continuation of the last eight years, in which prosperity has been replaced by massive debt and major financial turmoil, in which America has been mired in wars that have failed to bring the desired results, and in which America’s once-great superpower status has seen a steady decline. Obama, I believe, is better able to repair the economy and restore America’s standing in the international community than John McCain, whose proposed policies differ little from the disastrous foreign and economic policies of President George W. Bush.
Even if the candidates’ positions on Israel were my sole criteria for voting, however, I would still vote for Obama. Here’s why.
Since Israel’s establishment, nearly every serious presidential contender has expressed strong support for the Jewish state, acknowledging the shared values and common interests between America and Israel. While some presidents have displayed greater warmth toward Israel than others, real friendship ought to be measured not by what has been said, but by what has been done – particularly during times of need. Thus, Harry Truman’s recognition of Israel, Richard Nixon’s airlift during the Yom Kippur War, and Jimmy Carter’s efforts in bringing about the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty ultimately transcend the less pleasant aspects of each president’s relationship with Israel or with the American Jewish community. Conversely, President Bush’s oft-stated affinity for Israel has not been accompanied by actions that could have enhanced Israel’s security.
What Israel needs most from the United States today is not empty expressions of solidarity, but active involvement in Arab-Israeli peacemaking.
Obama’s agenda likely to yield better results
Contrasting himself with President Bush, Obama has pledged to “take an active role and make a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace from the start of my administration.” Obama’s team of Mideast advisers includes former Mideast peace coordinator Dennis Ross, former Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer, and Dan Shapiro, a former National Security Council official. These individuals have impeccable pro-Israel credentials, are longtime supporters of US engagement in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, and will likely have important roles in an Obama administration.
By contrast, two of McCain’s advisers – Max Boot and Richard Williamson – have publicly stated that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement would not be a high priority in a McCain administration. A McCain presidency would thus be a throwback to Bush’s first six years in office, which were marked by a hands-off policy concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is hardly coincidental that during these years, Hamas made huge political gains, the peace process was moribund, and scores of Israelis and Palestinians lost their lives through violence. McCain’s advisers have further stated that a McCain presidency would discourage Israeli-Syrian talks. This, too, would represent a continuation of the Bush administration’s shortsighted policy, which has been harmful to US and Israeli interests in the region.
With Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas committed to a negotiated peace agreement with Israel, Syrian President Basher Assad’s strategic decision to do likewise, and recent talk in Israeli political circles of backing a modified version of the “Arab peace initiative,” according to which all 22 Arab countries would offer Israel normalization following an Israeli return to the 1967 borders, an important opportunity exists for drastically improving Israel’s strategic position in the Middle East. Without an involved American President, however, any potential for a peace deal is doomed to fail.
What Israel needs is an administration that will energetically pursue Arab-Israeli peacemaking at the highest level and in a sustained manner, not a continuation of Bush’s failed approach.
While McCain undoubtedly views himself as a stalwart supporter of Israel, Obama’s stated agenda is likely to yield better results for the Jewish state.
Dr. Guy Ziv is Visiting Professor of International Relations at St. Mary’s College of Maryland