Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Flawed Analysis

Since he is based in Jerusalem, it is hard to tell whether Associated Press Writer Matti Friedman is simply naive or just plain ignorant about the American political system and how it works. It is also unclear whether he was part of the press entourage that traveled with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington or whether he wrote this morning's analysis piece strictly on the basis of interviews and reading matter. As a summary of how Netanyahu spent his time in Washington, the piece is at least adequate. The bottom line is that Netanyahu stuck to his guns, demonstrating that he was as capable of strong rhetoric as the Obama administration had been prior to his arrival; and, as might imagined, that rhetoric was at its most successful in the setting of his address to AIPAC.

More interesting, however, was that, in the context of tense relations with the White House, Netanyahu "was received warmly:" (Friedman's words) on Capitol Hill. This deserved analytical interpretation, which Friedman provided as follows:

Netanyahu's effusive reception on Capitol Hill was evidence of the power of Israel's arguments about the choices it makes for self-defense and the sway of its politically active supporters in the United States. The threat that Iran might soon possess a nuclear weapon has made Israel's case stronger and limited the pressure tactics available to a peace-minded American president.

You would think that someone actually living in Jerusalem would have a better understanding of the nature of power and how it is exercised, which is why I am inclined to go with the hypothesis that Friedman really does not understand how the American system works. As we are now well aware, regardless of what legislation or proposal is being debated, in our Legislative branch decisions are not made on the basis of sound arguments. They are made on the basis of the power of influence, usually exercised through a combination of financial support and membership endorsement. While it may be an exaggeration to propose that AIPAC "owns" both houses of Congress, it is not an exaggeration (in the face of documented evidence) that any candidate for Congress who lacks AIPAC support faces the most extreme of uphill challenges. Few organizations lobby with more power than AIPAC; and there is some chance that there may be only one of them, which would be the Pentagon.

This also throws a different light on the second sentence of the above quoted paragraph. We are so obsessed with Iranian moves that would threaten Israel and/or the United States that we willfully ignore evidence of the moves that both Israel and the United States make that are perceived as threatening by the Iranian government. As I recently observed, those Iranians with any memory of past good relations with Israel associate those relations with the Shah, which is hardly the basis for a strong argument to resume such relations; and, since the Shah was, for all intents and purposes, an "American agent" (at least in the lower-case terminology of Kenneth Burke's pentad), the promise of improved relations with the United States is no better.

Where Friedman is probably correct is in his conjecture that both the United States and Israel are counting on the strong rhetoric to blow over in the course of a brief period of time. After that, things will go back to business as usual; and any progress towards peace will be stuck in the same mud. Obama's time on Capitol Hill may have been relatively short, but it should have been long enough for him to get a grip on how the American political system works. Even a solid argument from the Pentagon on how our overt biases towards Israel can jeopardize our security (both domestically and internationally) is unlikely to put a dent in the extent of AIPAC influence to maintain a status quo that, in the course of a longer period of time, can only play out into a lose-lose situation.

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