I have a policy: avoid debating Israeli policy via blog. I have some experience with deeply-contested histories (obliquely referenced in my St. Patrick's Day post, below). Contested histories are nuancy. But the blog format isn't long enough, or interactive enough, to allow for any nuance. Reduced to spurts of 200 or 500 words, everyone becomes a caricature. And I'm not interested in debating, or being, a caricature.*
Obviously, with that lead up, I am now going to violate my policy in spectacular form. Moreover, for maximum effect, I'm going to violate my policy with a headline that is 100% certain to be misunderstood. (This is called assuming the risk, and then raising it one.)
We start with Abe Foxman of the ADL, who claims:
Israel should immediately battle a charge emerging in the US that its actions are endangering the lives of US soldiers, because it is a particularly “pernicious” argument that “smacks of blaming the Jews for everything,” Anti-Defamation League National Chairman Abe Foxman said on Monday.
Andrew Sullivan responds:
Reality is meeting a lobby. In Washington, that usually means the lobby wins. But this time, we are at war and America's vital interests are at stake. This will be a struggle - but that there is a struggle at all is progress in a way. I'd be more worried if no sparks were flying.
Two points need to be made here. First, it is not clear that Foxman is responding to Gen. Patraeus' recent testimony. That linkage is assumed by Sullivan, Yglesias, and Ackerman -- and then deployed for maximum effect -- but it's not in Foxman's reported comments. Rather, it seems more likely from the context that Foxman is responding to Biden's comment last week. Biden's off-the-cuff statement was a good deal stronger than Patraeus' prepared testimony (and Biden may have been misquoted).
The second point, however, is possibly more important. Sullivan frames this debate as "Reality is meeting a lobby [e.g., AIPAC]." Let's be perfectly clear on one point: The most powerful lobby in Washington is not AIPAC, Abe Foxman, the Weekly Standard, "neocons," their allies, or any combination of the foregoing. The most powerful lobby in Washington is the United States Military. And it's not even a close call.
That is the true import of Patreaus' measured statement. If the Department of Defense concludes that a particular Israeli strategy is likely to injure or kill US troops, no one on Capitol Hill is going to stand up for that Israeli strategy. No one will argue that a settler should build a new home in East Jerusalem at the expense of an American life. That game is over. No number of faxes will change it. And everyone knows it, which is why any gentle pressure from Patreaus will alter US policy more than the harshest words from the usual combatants.
Whether you find this terrifying or exciting depends on your views on the Netanyahu's current governing coalitiation. And, perhaps, your views of Gen. Patreaus.
Finally, for what it's worth, I think that Jeffrey Goldberg's reporting has been spot-on throughout these recent contretemps. I also think that Goldberg is absolutely correct that Obama's long-game is to force Netanyahu to ditch the far right parties that make up his coalition. A goal that I support, by the way. (Indeed, my second policy is: The first thing to do is, ditch the crazies.)
*The exception to my first policy is Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has somehow found and/or created a way to talk about complicated things on a blog.