It was an event that held a little significance for everyone. For Israelis, because of the commitment that the US President reiterated to their security. For Americans, because of the opportunity that their leader took to excoriate their country’s opposition in a foreign parliament. And, for Iran, which was once again reminded that, despite how poorly the US is faring in Iraq and Afghanistan, America would still protect Israel from any manner of threat. In other words, it was an exercise in consistency, one that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert duly noted by nearly falling asleep during the President’s speech in Jerusalem on Thursday.
Notwithstanding the umbrage taken by the US press to Bush’s address to the Knesset, for anyone familiar with the importance that the Republicans have attached to securing Jewish votes in the forthcoming elections, it all made sense. Of course the President would take advantage of such an ideal opportunity. The problem is that, aside from the advantages that Israel most definitely accrued from playing host to the occasion, it had less to do with Israel than it did with the United States, and the failings of the present administration to make any positive achievements in the Middle East during Bush’s two terms in office. With the failure of Lebanon’s government to contain Hezbollah, one cannot ask for a more timely display designed for domestic consumption during an election year.
As the United States slowly loses Lebanon to Iran, despite the immense investment the Americans made in the Siniora government, once again we have another example of how US intervention in the region has worsened Israel’s security. Sandwiched in between an Iranian-supported state in the south, and not one, but now two in the north, Israel’s situation, at the end of Bush’s final term in office, is actually worse than it was on 9/11. No wonder Israelis would want the kind of dramatic security guarantees that the US President has offered. No wonder they’d want it specifically from Bush, and that Israel would place so much value on it, too. Given how poorly the Israel Defense Forces have performed in recent years, the need for American reassurance, of the kind that the President reiterated, is that much more important. Its a horrible situation.
Yet, there is also good reason to argue that Thursday’s event in Jerusalem had little to do with reaffirming the significance of Israel’s security, however flawed America’s conception of it might be. Bush’s speech, as an editorial in Friday’s Haaretz suggested, also signaled the President’s willingness to use Israel’s conflict with Iran as a way of maintaining control over US Mideast policy after leaving office. To implicate Israeli security requirements with such a possible maneuver can only serve to further damage Israel’s long-term interests, not simply because precedent suggests that the US would lose such an engagement against the Iranians. But, as important, because it would implicate Israel’s security interests in contravention of America’s electoral process.
Americans may not have a clear idea of an effective Mideast policy alternative to that of Bush. Though the Democrats have not exactly offered any compelling options, the amount of energy that Republicans have expended trying to debunk Obama’s alleged positions suggests that conservatives fear another emerging policy is surely out there, and that it really is different. For as nebulous as that position might be, the desire for such a policy change is an enormous part of what will motivate millions of Americans to vote Democratic in November’s Presidential election. As the Bush administration’s failures in the Middle East have repeatedly demonstrated, that’s exactly why Israel ought to remain open to whatever alternatives an Obama-led government might have to offer.
Originally published on Allvoices