The argument that Israeli leaders or pro-Israel groups in Washington drive US policy in the Mid-East represents something akin to conventional wisdom at the Guardian, and a recent op-ed in the paper by Carne Ross, about Barack Obama’s May 28th foreign policy speech, contributes to the media group’s impressive body of work in perpetuating this reactionary narrative.
The Obama administration can hardly be blamed for the descent of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and much of Northern Africa into fratricidal and sectarian violence. But you can challenge it for supporting the Al-Sisi regime in Egypt, the repressive behavior of which tragically mimics that of Mubarak, who was the perfect recruiting sergeant for al-Qaida. As Egypt drifts into a persistent low-level civil war, and thousands of Muslim Brothers are imprisoned with barely the pretense of judicial process, the soil is being fertilized for yet another generation of anti-Western terrorists.
There’s a legitimate suspicion that US foreign policy on this front is not being driven by America’s own needs. Even Obama said as much
Then, to buttress his claim, Ross quotes a small excerpt from Obama’s May 28th speech:
In Egypt, we acknowledge that our relationship is anchored in security interests – from the peace treaty with Israel, to shared efforts against violent extremism.
However, as you can see, Obama is certainly not acknowledging, as Ross suggests, that his administration’s foreign policy “is NOT being driven by America’s own needs”. The president is merely saying that his administration’s policy is driven by US security interests in the region – the desire to maintain peace between historic adversaries and the effort to fight violent extremism.
Next, Ross contextualizes – and grossly distorts – the Obama excerpt further:
Indeed, Israel prefers “stability” in Egypt – just as it resists military intervention in Syria or significant game-changing arms supplies, like MANPADs, to the pro-democracy Syrian opposition.
First, Israel has not resisted US military intervention in Syria, and indeed openly supported possible US strikes against Syrian defense capabilities (in response to Assad’s chemical weapons attack against civilians) last year.
Additionally, Israeli and US opposition to MANPADs (sophisticated shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles – or SAMs) is not, as Ross suggests, driven by fear that such “game changing weapons” will get in the hands of “the pro-democracy Syrian opposition”, but is driven by concerns that these SAMs will eventually get in hands of non-democratic extremists like Hezbollah or jihadists groups.
Moreover, even if there is a significant degree of overlap between Israeli and US interests in the Mid-East, policy agreements between two countries are of course not evidence of causation.
Indeed, perhaps someone should remind Ross of the painfully obvious fact that Barack Obama is the President of the United States, and that it is Obama and his advisers – not political leaders in Jerusalem – who determine US foreign policy, based on what they determine to be, rightly or wrongly, “America’s own needs”.