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May 26, 2010

Comments

To put it bluntly, American foreign policy is distorted by an over-identification with Israeli interests in the Middle East.

Hmmm... blunt would have been something like "American foreign policy in the region is totally insane due to a slavish devotion to Israeli interests in the Middle East, even when such interests harm our own." But I see what you're saying

I ask: what do we get in return to our slavish devotion to Israeli interests? I assume we get some decent intelligence on the happenings in the ME, but other things?

what do we get in return to our slavish devotion to Israeli interests?

Chuck Schumer continues to raise money for Democratic campaigns from hedge funds and private equity companies?

I assume we get some decent intelligence on the happenings in the ME

Maybe...is there any evidence to support this belief though? Based on their performance in the 2006 Lebanon war, I'm a bit skeptical of the competence of Israeli military and intelligence units.

There is an old saying about what happens to the effectiveness of armies engaged in occupation; something to the effect of not knowing what to do with an opponent unless he arrives already strapped to a board with electrodes clipped to his genitals. I wonder if the same principle holds true of intelligence services. Gaza is a pretty awful place so extracting information from the locals there might be much easier than in places were people have more options. Like, say, anywhere else in the world. That would at least explain some of their atrocious performance in the 2006 war.

"Gelb notes that other countries don't understand why all the fuss about Iran and not about de facto nuclear weapons states like India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel."

What a strange objection to non-proliferation. First of all, these countries weren't particularly helpful re North Korea oh the last 3 times there were issues with it. Second, isn't the fact that proliferation is really tough to deal with after the fact a huge reason to make "all the fuss"?

And if the problems are largely because the US is caught up with Israel, why haven't we forced Pakistan, India and North Korea to get rid of their nukes?

The question answers itself, right?

"...Israel . . . will nearly always do what is best for Israel."

It might be more accurate to say that the Israeli government will do what the parties in government think is best for their continuing hold on power.

The policy of the current government regarding settlements, for example, is not in Israel's long-term interests. As most of the Israeli population is aware. Unfortunately, the fanatics who demand settlements are important to keeping the ruling coalition in power. So it continues, even though changing it is Israel's best chance of achieving peace and acceptance from its neighbors.

No question that US interests should not override Israel's interests in their government's actions. But assuming that their government is acting in their nation's interests is as silly as assuming that every US government actually acts in our nation's best interests. Whatever their personal rationalizations on the matter.

What a strange objection to non-proliferation. First of all, these countries weren't particularly helpful re North Korea oh the last 3 times there were issues with it. Second, isn't the fact that proliferation is really tough to deal with after the fact a huge reason to make "all the fuss"?

Yes, but even US intelligence concludes that Iran is not currently building a bomb, and has no active weapons program. Which makes "non-proliferation" a dubious justification.

And if the problems are largely because the US is caught up with Israel, why haven't we forced Pakistan, India and North Korea to get rid of their nukes?

We have taken punitive action against each of Pakistan, India and North Korea in response ot their nuclear activities (though, with the former two nations, we have recently softened our policies).

Whereas with Israel, we have not even publicly acknowledged their arsenal, let alone their activities with states such as South Africa.

There are multiple standards because the US is caught up "most" with Israel. Then India and Pakistan were dealth with on friendly-ish terms. NoKo and Iran, not so much, even though the latter doesn't even have an active weapons program, let alone a weapon, to the best of our knowledge.

"Whereas with Israel, we have not even publicly acknowledged their arsenal"

Unlike Pakistan, India, and North Korea(ish), THEY have not publicly acknowledged their arsenal. And punitive action is broad phrase. We seem to have had good if not excellent relations with India for quite some time now, and our fraught relationship with Pakistan has very little to do with the nuclear issue, and very much to do with the Taliban. So you have a good point with North Korea.

And why didn't Brazil et al. help much on North Korea? Because it is an actually difficult problem, especially when you worry that they already have nukes...

"Yes, but even US intelligence concludes that Iran is not currently building a bomb, and has no active weapons program. Which makes "non-proliferation" a dubious justification."

That would be the same US intelligence that missed Saddam's actual 1990 program almost entirely. And barely even knew about Libya's program until Libya admitted to it. And was shocked by Pakistan becoming a nuclear power when it did. The track record sucks. And Iran is doing all sorts of things to make verification sketchy.

Which isn't a good reason for bombing Iran or anything, so please don't attribute that kind of thinking to me. But we can still be clear about the situation.

It might be more accurate to say that the Israeli government will do what the parties in government think is best for their continuing hold on power.

True.

Unlike Pakistan, India, and North Korea(ish), THEY have not publicly acknowledged their arsenal.

And Iran claims that it has no intention of attaining a nuke. And yet our leaders treat, as gospel, the fact that Iran either already has one, or is trying like the devil to get one. And those same leaders continue the kabuki about Israel's extensive arsenal. Go figure.

And punitive action is broad phrase. We seem to have had good if not excellent relations with India for quite some time now, and our fraught relationship with Pakistan has very little to do with the nuclear issue, and very much to do with the Taliban.

Yes, one of the things that Bush did was...loosen embargos/other punitive measures on India that were put in place because of its nuclear proliferation activities. This angered Pakistan because it was still under some of the same punitive measures.

But, yeah, the actions weren't deal breakers with either state.

Hence the claim that the our attitude toward proliferators does not follow a single standard, but many, depending on our disposition to those same nation states.

With Israel: no negative repercussions whatsoever, and a willingness to continue to deny the obvious.

With India and Pakistan: some punitive actions, forceful rhetoric, etc.

With NoKo: Much more of the prior.

With Iran: Same, despite, again, the fact that Iran has not actually violated the NPT or built a nuke.

Just to be clear, "embargos/other punitive measures" includes sanctions that were imposed on each in response to nuke activities.

I'll add one more bit to exemplify our fluid standards: even with respect to India and Pakistan, our sanctions and other measures have ebbed and flowed in correspondence to their strategic value to us.

So, sanctions on Pakistan in the late 1970s, but those were relaxed during the Afghan war in the 1980s, but then re-applied after that, and then loosened again with the most recent war/Bush's concession to India.

Impressive display of principled dedication to non-proliferation.

"Impressive display of principled dedication to non-proliferation."

Umm, I have no idea who you think you are arguing with.

I'm beginning to suspect I should comment under another name but my spelling errors would give me away.

Seb,

You started out asking this:

And if the problems are largely because the US is caught up with Israel, why haven't we forced Pakistan, India and North Korea to get rid of their nukes?

What was your point? I took it to mean that the problem, or varying standard, isn't really our relationship with Israel (or other secondary concerns) as evidenced by our treatment of those other states' efforts. Nevertheless, it was a little unclear.

So, I responded in an attempt to clarify my point, and to elicit clarification of yours:

We have taken punitive action against each of Pakistan, India and North Korea in response ot their nuclear activities (though, with the former two nations, we have recently softened our policies).

Whereas with Israel, we have not even publicly acknowledged their arsenal, let alone their activities with states such as South Africa.

There are multiple standards because the US is caught up "most" with Israel. Then India and Pakistan were dealth with on friendly-ish terms. NoKo and Iran, not so much, even though the latter doesn't even have an active weapons program, let alone a weapon, to the best of our knowledge.

To which, it seemed to me, you were offering a rebuttal:

We seem to have had good if not excellent relations with India for quite some time now, and our fraught relationship with Pakistan has very little to do with the nuclear issue, and very much to do with the Taliban. So you have a good point with North Korea.

The last sentence implies that I have a good point with respect to a varying standard with respect to North Korea only (at least from the list of NoKo, Israel, India and Pakistan).

So, after providing much evidence of a contingent, varying and inconsistent standard driven by ancillary US interests with more than just North Korea, I concluded with:

Impressive display of principled dedication to non-proliferation

To which you ask who I'm arguing with?

What am I missing?

You wrote: "To put it bluntly, American foreign policy is distorted by an over-identification with Israeli interests in the Middle East. The rest of the world is less influenced by Israel's core interests, and thus is not as convinced that Iran represents such a special non-proliferation case as opposed to states like India, Pakistan or...Israel itself. The disconnect, and imbalance, results in inordinately high costs paid by the United States for dubious benefits."

If this is a general concept about all possible areas of foreign policy as they relate to Israel, I'm not getting into it today. But as a comment on nuclear proliferation issues specifically, it just isn't accurate. It has a lot of unfounded assumptions. The main one being that "the rest of the world" is particularly interested in actually doing anything serious (and by that I don't mean war, but I do mean more than diplomatic preening) about anti-proliferation.

Our stance on Israel is most certainly not causing real problems for our stance on North Korea. The problem with North Korea is that it can shell Seoul, and that China doesn't want to deal with refugees if it collapses (and perhaps that China doesn't want South Korea to become an instant nuclear power if they reunify). Israel is at best a tenth order concern.

Our stance on Israel is most certainly not causing real problems for our stance on India and Pakistan. The problem with them is that they hate each other plenty, and want to have nuclear options against each other. They are also concerned about having nukes so China would have trouble invading.

Israel might rise to the level of 5th order concern there.

The world community has not been dedicated to non-proliferation in any of those cases. So it should strike absolutely no one as shocking that they aren't dedicated to non-proliferation now either. That isn't a 'price' the US is paying for Israel.

And the reason I'm annoyed with your snark "Impressive display of principled dedication to non-proliferation" is that it has nothing to do with me or my argument. I certainly don't believe that any of the major actors on the world stage have have even a "strong" display of dedication to non-proliferation. You aren't arguing with me if you think that snark has anything to do with my argument.

My argument is much more cynical. They don't want to do anything anyway. That has been seen repeatedly in cases that are very far removed from Israel. So blaming their disinterest in do anything on Israel-US relations isn't looking at the real problem at all.

US-Israel relationships cause all sorts of problems for the US. But our apparent inability to rally the world on non-proliferation is not one of them.

And to be very clear, I include the US as one of the major actors on the world stage that doesn't seem particularly dedicated.

We're better than many, but uneven at best.

And the reason I'm annoyed with your snark "Impressive display of principled dedication to non-proliferation" is that it has nothing to do with me or my argument.

Seb, obviously, I misinterpreted your argument. In my defense, you weren't exactly clear about it. Which is annoying in its own right. Trust me, the last thing I want to do is engage in pointless discourse.

If this is a general concept about all possible areas of foreign policy as they relate to Israel, I'm not getting into it today. But as a comment on nuclear proliferation issues specifically, it just isn't accurate. It has a lot of unfounded assumptions. The main one being that "the rest of the world" is particularly interested in actually doing anything serious (and by that I don't mean war, but I do mean more than diplomatic preening) about anti-proliferation.

Actually, my point here is that our efforts to contain Iran are proving to be costly - in a way that doesn't correlate to the benefits. Part of the high cost comes in making concessions/cashing in chits/cashing in threats to cajole other nations to come along on sanctions that they don't see as particularly vital.

But, in addition, I do believe a more consistent approach to non-proliferation would be easier (cheaper?) to sell in terms of purchasing international cooperation to punish non-complying states.

The world community has not been dedicated to non-proliferation in any of those cases.

How do you know this? How do you even measure "dedication to non-proliferation"? Or is this just something you take on faith?


Can we all agree that the US' relationship with Israel demonstrates to everyone on Earth that the US does not care about non-proliferation per se but might care about non-proliferation for countries it does not like? And can we all further agree that since the US government couches its advocacy for non-proliferation in universal terms, our clear refusal to embrace non-proliferation undercuts our credibility in the matter? In the same way that the US has done nothing to advance disarmament, it seems like our relationship with Israel is just another way of screaming to the world that we have no intention of honestly and fairly fulfilling our NPT responsibilities.

I think reasonable people can disagree about how significant the loss of said credibility is in practice. But can we at least agree that credibility has been lost?

A contributing factor is the difference in attitudes toward nuclear electricity by the developed and developing worlds. Several developed countries have, or have started, or are at least thinking about shutting down their commercial power reactors. Many developing countries, without ready access to affordable coal, natural gas, or oil, and desperate for reliable baseload electricity to power their economy, see nuclear as their best answer.

In addition to whether they trust the US or other developed countries as reliable long-term fuel suppliers, their grids are not generally well-suited to the kind of monster plants offered by US companies. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the reactor characteristics that would best suit many of those developing countries -- modest size, very long refueling intervals, high burn-up rates, reduced volumes of waste -- generally require at least some amount of highly-enriched uranium or plutonium fuel.

So long as US non-proliferation policies look like they're denying the developing world access to technology that can address one of their biggest economic problems, I would expect the US to continue getting a cool response.

"A contributing factor is the difference in attitudes toward nuclear electricity by the developed and developing worlds. Several developed countries have, or have started, or are at least thinking about shutting down their commercial power reactors. Many developing countries, without ready access to affordable coal, natural gas, or oil, and desperate for reliable baseload electricity to power their economy, see nuclear as their best answer."

Fair enough, it IS the best answer. For them, and for us. The difference being that they're not wealthy enough to pretend it isn't, while we are. Wealthy enough to pretend, that is.

A number of companies are trying to license small, high burnup reactor designs, which once started just pump out power for decades without significant maintainance. We could probably sell a lot of those in the developing world, if the NRC would get off it's dead rear, and actually process the applications...

Building on what Mr. Caine wrote, it should be noted that Iran's nuclear power program began under the Shah, with exactly that justification.

"But, in addition, I do believe a more consistent approach to non-proliferation would be easier (cheaper?) to sell in terms of purchasing international cooperation to punish non-complying states."

I agree that it would be cheaper if we didn't have to purchase that cooperation at all. But it certainly reinforces Seb's point that there is little committment beyond posturing from those countries we are "buying" that cooperation from.

That we are still in the position of buying that cooperation reminds me of one of the greatest failures of the Bush administration, when Iran decided we should negotiate shortly after the invasion of Iraq, they did not take advantage of the fact that, at that point, they didn't have to "buy" anyone elses cooperation. Bad policy execution.

When we get tagged as the nuclear aggressor or outcast etc. because of Israel it is a convenient reason, it wouldn't advance our position if they had to find another one, because they know they have something to sell and, oddly, we are always the buyer.

"I think reasonable people can disagree about how significant the loss of said credibility is in practice. But can we at least agree that credibility has been lost?"

I don't agree unless you are allowing for huge variability in "how significant". I would say the the loss of credibility on the Israel issue has absolutely nothing to do with North Korea, and almost nothing to do with Pakistan and India. Reasonable people could ramp that up as high as "pretty close to nothing" or maybe "barely noticeable" but certainly no higher. The fact that the world reaction in general to those three has been very low key outside of direct and enormous US pressure (and really outside of NK not even successful then) strongly suggests that the world opinion *even entirely outside of concerns having to do with Israel* in favor of strong non-proliferation action is not well evidenced.

"In my defense, you weren't exactly clear about it. Which is annoying in its own right. Trust me, the last thing I want to do is engage in pointless discourse."

I tried to reread my comment and get what you got out of it, but I really can't.

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