Israel and Laissez Faire

Israel and Laissez Faire May 18, 2009

In the course of one of his magnificently twisted rambling posts, Mencius Moldbug* addresses the Israel/Palestinian conflict, and specifically the claim that U.S. foreign policy is unduly influenced by the “Israel lobby”:

Which side of the Arab-Israeli conflict does the US support? Obviously, both are “special interests,” and an easy way to tell whose pull is stronger is to see whose side USG favors.

There’s a wrong way to answer this question and a right way. The wrong way is to start by asking: what should US foreign policy in the Middle East be?

Having answered this question, we can define the answer as the “center,” and then compare what USG’s policies are to what they should be. Ie, if USG’s policies are more pro-Israeli than the center, the pole is tilted to the right, and the Israel lobby must be stronger. If USG’s policies are more pro-Arab than the center, the pole is tilted to the left, etc, etc.

This procedure is not useful because, to answer the question, we must first judge the dispute . . .But this judgment is not relevant to the problem at hand, namely, ascertaining objectively which lobby is stronger.

So the right way is to start with an objective question: if USG’s involvement in the conflict were to cease, which side would benefit? If the answer is “the Palestinians,” USG’s involvement must logically favor Israel, and thus the Israel lobby is stronger. If the answer is “the Israelis,” vice versa. This procedure produces an answer without the need for any sort of judgment.

Looked at this way, Moldbug argues, the obvious if counter-intuitive answer to the question is that American foreign policy is objectively pro-Palestinian.

I tend to agree with Moldbug both on the procedure he uses to answer the question and on the answer that he gives. For this reason, I find claims that the U.S. needs to stop taking an uncritically pro-Israel approach to the conflict if it wants to advance peace to be somewhat baffling. Actually, it would be baffling even if you did think the U.S. approach was uncritically pro-Israel. If the Israeli and Palestinian leadership wanted an “honest broker” who would be more “even handed” in mediating the conflict there are plenty of places they could go to. That they do not do so suggests that (for whatever reason) the parties prefer pro-Israel America to any of the alternatives.

But I digress. What Moldbug views as a hypothetical to assess the bias of American policy, I see as a desirable policy in and of itself. The U.S., taking a page from Senator Aiken, should simply declare victory on the Israel/Palestinian issue and go home. That means no foreign or military aid to Israel or to the surrounding Arab nations. It means no diplomatic efforts to solve the conflict; no sanctions or security guarantees for either side.

To those on the right who urge the need to protect an ally, I would say: Israel can take care of itself. And if it can’t, if a Jewish state can only be maintained in the region with the assistance of other nations halfway around the world, then perhaps it’s time for the Jews to find somewhere else to live. If that sounds harsh, sorry, but the world’s a tough place some times. Talk about Israel’s right to exist is beside the point. No state has the right to exist. A state may defend itself, but if it can’t do so then it’s probably not long for this world.

To those on the left who want to talk about the plight of the Palestinians, I would say: Decades of diplomatic efforts have failed to bring about a resolution to the conflict. That ain’t likely to change any time soon. At about the same time Israel declared its independence, India was being split in two. As with Israel, this caused much bloodshed, and millions of people were forced from their homes. But sixty years later you don’t see a bunch of Bengali Hindus still living in refugee camps. There are plenty of people in the world who have it bad, and that no one cares about. Given that all our concern for the plight of the Palestinians has done nothing to actually improve their condition (and may have made matters worse) I see no reason to continue playing Sisyphus for peace.

* If you’ve never experienced Moldbuggery before, be forewarned that it can initially be a quite disorienting experience. Moldbug is a good stylist, but brevity is not his strong suit, and it can take a while to master his technical jargon (like our own MM, Moldbug is very down on calvinists, though he means something quite different by the term). Some of his views are also, shall we say, a little creepy.

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  • jh

    Well Blackadder I pretty much disagree with you on abandoning Israel for many reasons

    But there is a huge practical problem with this espcially as to helping maintain the stability of Israel. That is the that little nuclear arsenel they have.

    Nuclear weapons are poltical weapons in the end. THe whole key is make sure that they are not used. The key to that is conventional forces. A good example of how this works was in the Clancy book Red Storm Rising. There were reason why we had so many troops on that German border and that a lack of good conventional forces were a threat tot he world.

    For those that want us to leave Iraq a key part of that is to make sure Iran does not get a nuclear arms program. If it does you have to have troops on that border in sufficient numbers to make sure that the Nuclear option is not quickly the only option.

    The Jews will not abandon Israel and if they have to take drastic measures they will. It could result in horrors beyond belief in the Middle East as each side replies.

    I am afraid we are stuck with it. I mean look at the mess we are in with Pakistan’s arsenel.

    Also in the end it is a poltical non starter. The Jewish left and the right would balk at all this.

  • Looked at this way, Moldbug argues, the obvious if counter-intuitive answer to the question is that American foreign policy is objectively pro-Palestinian.

    Counter-intuitive is one way to describe. “Oblivious” and “false” are others.

    That they do not do so suggests that (for whatever reason) the parties prefer pro-Israel America to any of the alternatives.

    You mean other than if the US doesn’t bribe Israel, Israel isn’t going to give an inch?

    Talk about Israel’s right to exist is beside the point. No state has the right to exist.

    I’m guess you didn’t follow Pope Benedict’s visit very closely.

    Given that all our concern for the plight of the Palestinians has done nothing to actually improve their condition (and may have made matters worse) I see no reason to continue playing Sisyphus for peace.

    Terrible analogy. In India, the people had places to go. The Palestinians have been unwanted by the surrounding countries and have been used as a pawn in the games played by Radical Arab Nationalism and fundamentalist Islam.

  • wj

    This is an awful piece of analysis. The comparison between India (and the plight of the Bengalis) and Israel/Palestine is especially laughable. For it to make any sense whatever you have to abstract from the actual, concrete, particular historical realities that structure the two scenarios. But when you do begin to particularize, you see very quickly that (for starters):

    1. The Palestinians cannot leave their designated area (due to Israel).

    2. They cannot trade outside of their designated area (due to Israel).

    3. They are denied, as a matter of Israel’s state policy, adequate education and health care.

    4. They are subject, at Israel’s whim (and usually before elections), to overpowering military force.

    Who *wouldn’t* become a “radical” in the face of all this? I sure would.

  • blackadderiv

    Anyone who objects to Moldbug’s analysis should at least clarify whether they disagree with his conclusion (Israel would benefit if the U.S. took a 100% hands off approach to the conflict) or if they agree with him on this but disagree that this is the proper way to assess the effect of U.S. policy (and if they do think it’s the wrong way, it would be interesting to hear how they think the question ought to be addressed).

  • blackadderiv

    1. The Palestinians cannot leave their designated area (due to Israel).

    2. They cannot trade outside of their designated area (due to Israel).

    3. They are denied, as a matter of Israel’s state policy, adequate education and health care.

    4. They are subject, at Israel’s whim (and usually before elections), to overpowering military force.

    None of this was true for the period 1949-67. If someone is still living in a refugee camp eighteen years after being evicted from their home, one begins to suspect that something else is going on.

  • I suspect that his point about the hands off approach is likely right — now. (It might not have been at some points in the past.) The US provides lots of military and economic aid of Israel. However, this comes with strings attached. If both the aid and the strings vanished, simplying looking at the relative economic and military strength of Israel versus its neighbors, it’s pretty clear that Israel could defend itself successfully. It would be most costly to them than the current status quo, but their victory would be more total.

    Which to my mind would actually be an argument for the US _staying_ involved. If you think human suffering in the Middle East is bad now, the results of Israel having to wage a multi-front total war for survival would be much, much messier.

    On the flip side, it’s arguable that the continued suffering of the Palestinian people is in part the result of well-intentioned attempts by the US and the international community to broker peace in the Middle East. The West Bank used to belong to Jordan, the Gaza Strip to Egypt. The normal solution to Israel having conquered both of these areas in a war (normal as in: without an international peace organization or hegomonic power to make general promises of resolving conflicts) would be for people in the conquered territories to either clear out to the country that used to be part of (mass exodus of Palestinians to Jordan and Egypt) or accept the fact that they need to acclimate into the new regional power. The fact that the US and UN are around to make continued promises of a “solution” to the regions problems has instead kept people in a state of limbo for forty years no. One might legitimately question whether that was a good thing.

  • jh

    I often wonder why Jordan gets a free pass in all this. I mean for all the talk of ISrael’s right to exist Jordan as we know it is not exactly much older.

    What is their responsibility to land and assimilation in all this? maybe they recall when King Hussein of Jordan ejected them in 1970 because they were trying to take over his kingdom. Of course many to went to the Lebanon and we saw how that turned out

    One question as to this mess is why have Arab Governments refuse it seems to assimilate this populations into their countries

  • digbydolben

    “Mencius Moldbug” is a blather-mouthed American fool, more interested in scoring debating points and in exhibiting verbal pyrotechnics than in coming anywhere near the truth about global politics.

    There are so many things that are fallacious about his blog entry that I hardly know where to begin, so I’ll go in order:

    If the Israeli and Palestinian leadership wanted an “honest broker” who would be more “even handed” in mediating the conflict there are plenty of places they could go to.

    If you’re talking about us here in Europe, we have no influence whatsoever on Israel, and the reason is our still-paralyzing guilt over the Holocaust. American pundits like to brainwash the public there into believing that we’re all a bunch of increasingly anti-Semitic Israel-bashers. The truth couldn’t possibly be further from that, as far as permitted and politically-correct discourse in institutions like schools and the academe are concerned. Israel can do no evil as far as European governments, financial institutions and the media are concerned. The constructive criticism Israel needs won’t be coming from the Europeans.

    To those on the right who urge the need to protect an ally, I would say: Israel can take care of itself. And if it can’t, if a Jewish state can only be maintained in the region with the assistance of other nations halfway around the world, then perhaps it’s time for the Jews to find somewhere else to live. If that sounds harsh, sorry, but the world’s a tough place some times. Talk about Israel’s right to exist is beside the point. No state has the right to exist. A state may defend itself, but if it can’t do so then it’s probably not long for this world.

    Israel CAN defend herself—by starting World War III. That means by fighting Iran in such a way as to cause Iran to attack residual American forces in Iraq, to close off the West’s (and India’s and China’s) oil supplies moving through the Persian Gulf.

    sixty years later you don’t see a bunch of Bengali Hindus still living in refugee camps.

    This is the kind of insane ignorance that is only produced by Americans. Who here in Europe doesn’t know that “sixty years after partition” you DO see the Indian jawans murdering and raping civilians in Kashmir? Who here in Europe doesn’t know that Kashmiri nationalist aspirations aren’t the key to al Qaeda’s and the Taliban’s grip on Pakistani politics? The answer?—Nobody’s who educated!

    Obviously any fool can get on the Internet and pontificate there.

  • RR

    Israel would benefit from American non-intervention. I find fault with that method. It only works if the status quo is the way it should be.

    I take your house by force. The police arrive and prevent me from killing you. If the police leave, I will kill you. However, the police let me keep your house. Not only that, but they supply me with guns so that I can keep you under submission. Who are the police favoring?

    Preventing further detriment doesn’t mean the US is favoring the Palestinians when the US is also supporting past and on-going injustice.

  • I take your house by force. The police arrive and prevent me from killing you. If the police leave, I will kill you. However, the police let me keep your house. Not only that, but they supply me with guns so that I can keep you under submission. Who are the police favoring?

    They are favoring you. I admit that it may not look that way at first glance, but that’s because the pro-you part of the policy (supplying you with guns) is visible, whereas the pro-me part (keeping you from killing me) is not.

  • Kurt

    It seems to be a call for a new American isolationship, which is a troubling trend among some segments of the left (though the support for Israel remains strong among American liberals including this liberal).

  • blackadderiv

    It seems to be a call for a new American isolationship

    There’s a difference between isolationism and non-interventionism. In any event, the post only calls for a policy of non-interventionism with regard to the Israel/Palestine conflict. A generalized non-interventionist policy is, I think, less warranted.