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The Strategic Asset Sham

Anthony CordesmanAn Analysis of the Position of Anthony Cordesman

Anthony Cordesman occupies the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS] in Washington, D.C. CSIS claims to "provide strategic insights and policy solutions to decision makers in government, international institutions, the private sector, and civil society."

With all due respect to Mr. Cordesman, if his recent offering (June 2, 2010) on U.S. - Israeli relations entitled "Israel as a Strategic Liability?" ( is a sample of what the CSIS is telling folks in both our own and the Israeli government, we haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of seeing progressive change. It is a naive, superficial and misleading treatment that tries to tell the US government it can scold the Israelis into being more cooperative. Here is what Mr. Cordesman has to say.
1. "The real motives behind America’s commitment to Israel are moral and ethical. They are a reaction to the horrors of the Holocaust, to the entire history of Western anti-Semitism, and to the United States’ failure to help German and European Jews during the period before it entered World War II. They are a product of the fact that Israel is a democracy that shares virtually all of the same values as the United States."
A. I think this is a cover story that most Americans, including Mr. Cordesman, have repeated so often that they now really believe it is true. However, it isn’t so. The real reason the United States backs Israel, even when that country spits in our national eye, is due to inordinate lobby power. I recommend that Mr. Cordesmen, and anyone else who is interested, read my book entitled "Foreign Policy Inc. – Privatizing America’s National Interest (University Press of Kentucky, 2009). I trace the history of lobby influence on foreign policy since the founding of the nation. While after World War II there was sympathy for Europe’s surviving Jews it was not sufficient to turn the U.S. into Israel’s protector from the end of Harry Truman’s presidency and the Six Day War of 1967. After 1967 what did turn us in that direction was a fully matured Zionist lobby (both Jewish and Christian). The Holocaust and anti-Semitism angles go down better with the public, but inside the beltway they are not what motivates policy.
B. The claim that we pour billions of dollars a year into Israel because that country is a democracy and one that shares our values is an even flimsier cover story. Anyone who has taken an honest look at Israeli democracy knows that the closest it comes to a U.S. model is pre-desegregation Alabama. Israeli treatment of 20 % of its population is outright illegal by U.S. standards. There is hardly a hairs width separation between church and state in Israel. So where are the shared values? This is just a myth that the American people have bought because they have no contextual knowledge by which to judge the claim.
2. "The U.S. commitment to Israel is not one that will be the same time the depth of America’s moral commitment does not justify or excuse actions by an Israeli government that unnecessarily make Israel a strategic liability when it should remain an asset."
A. This is just whistling in the wind. Cordesman’s similar pronouncements to the effect that the U.S. has not the "slightest interest in supporting Israeli settlements;" that the United States should not be "passive when Israel makes a series of major strategic blunders;" that "it is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States...and that it becomes more careful about the extent to which it tests the limits of U.S. patience...." are equally bluffs. They are bluffs because when it comes to Israel, our foreign policy is not driven primarily by what the Israeli government does. It is driven by what the Zionist lobby here in the U.S. does. As long as Israeli barbarism and colonialism are not voting issues for the U.S. public, and as long as there are not effective competing lobbies that can outplay the Zionist lobby, the U.S. government, particularly the U.S. Congress, will support the madmen in Jerusalem no matter what they do. That is the way it has been since the Johnson administration (remember the USS Liberty), and that is the way it still is.
B. So when Mr. Cordesman sternly addresses the Israeli government and says they should "act on the understanding that the long-term nature of the U.S. strategic relationship will depend on Israel clearly and actively seeking peace with the Palestinians" he is really missing the point. The strategic asset argument is a sham. It is another cover story dreamt up during the Reagan administration. Hardly anyone used the term before that. No doubt Ronald Reagan and his neo-con advisers came to believe their own story and so has establishment analysts since then. But it remains unexplained in Mr. Cordesman’s analysis just how Israel can be simultaneously a strategic asset and a strategic liability. And, why Israel’s "major strategic blunders" which add up to multiple violations of international law and the mass pauperization of over a million people, don’t make a wit of difference to the U.S. Congress.
3. "It is time to return to the kind of strategic realism exemplified by leaders like Yitzhak Rabin."
A. Well, it is nice to know that Mr. Cordesman agrees with Yasser Arafat on what a great "partner for peace" (Arafat’s words) Rabin was. In my estimation they are both wrong about Rabin. Oh he was certainly to be preferred to Menachem Begin or Yitzhak Shamir or Ariel Sharon. But Rabin had no intention of using the Oslo agreements turn the West Bank and Gaza into a Palestinian state. Indeed, he started backtracking on those agreements almost immediately. The people who killed him did not do so because he accepted the inevitability of a Palestinian state. They killed him because he dared to even negotiate with the Palestinians and the killers did not wait around for him to explain how little he planned on giving them.
In the end, Mr. Cordesman and the rest of the establishment analysts mislead us and themselves with their semi-tough talk about Israel moving from an asset to a liability. The only asset that matters is the Zionist lobby’s status as an asset to American politicians on the domestic front. If ever that lobby really becomes seen as a liability by American voters, then the politicians will, as they say, "turn on a dime" and Israel’s influence will collapse overnight. In the meantime Mr. Cordesman is looking in the wrong direction.

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