>> Sunday, October 25, 2009
Especially when they come from different countries?
Former Ambassador Martin Indyk revealed an interesting wrinkle to the story of Eastern European missile defense system, which the Obama administration canceled last month, a move conservatives have heavily criticized as — what else? — appeasement.
Recounting recent meetings with Israeli national security officials, Indyk said that “the Israelis were upset at the way that Bush had offended Russia with missile defense” in Eastern Europe. The Israelis, like many Americans and most of the rest of the world, saw the deployment of untested missile defense technology in Poland and the Czech Republic as needlessly provocative of Russia, whose support is seen as necessary for any effort to bring Iran’s nuclear program under control.
Speaking about President Obama’s engagement policy, Indyk said “The key to this strategy has always been Russia,” because of their close relationship with the Iranians, and Obama “is bringing them [the Russians] around.” After the administration announced the canceling of the missile defense system, Indyk said, the Russians told the Iranians “if you do not go along with the proposal to ship out low enriched uranium” to Russia for reprocessing, “then you will be on your own.”
President Obama’s diplomacy “is about trying to concert the international community into a solid block against the Iranian nuclear program such that the Iranians would see that it is not in their interest to pursue nuclear weapons.” Indyk said “That is what is happening now.”
A simple point but an easy one. Right-wing Israelis can easily afford to hope for the United States to take a neoconnish line on Iran. And right-wing Poles can afford to hope fro the United States to take a neoconnish line on Russia. But the desires of right-wing Israelis are in significant tension with those of right-wing Poles. And officials in the United States of America can’t realistically take a maximalist line on every point of geopolitical tension. Regional powers basically have their priorities set for them by circumstances. But the hegemon has the luxury of deciding what it cares about. That luxury, however, doesn’t eliminate the basic need to decide.
There are some interesting observations to be made here regarding interdependence of commitments. Neoconservatives are HUGE on reputation; a reputation for weakness means that the terrorists will destroy us, while a reputation for strength means that they'll cower in their dark caves until they undergo conversion and emerge as fierce advocates of Reaganomics. Indeed, neoconservatives elevate this conception of reputation above all other diplomatic considerations, such that any move that takes into account the genuine foreign policy concerns of Russia, China, or Iran in fact indicates weakness, and thus should be avoided. This concept achieved a certain Purity of Essence in reference to missile defense; once the technological justification for the Eastern European systems was removed, all that was left was the need to demonstrate our strength to the Russians, which we would accomplish by wasting money on a pointless system that most Eastern Europeans didn't want.
For American neocons, the pro-Israel logic worked as followed: If the United States demonstrated an irrational commitment to a useless system just to piss off Russia, then it would indicate that the US would pay high costs to do irrational things in support of Israel. If we failed to push forward with the missile system, then our commitment to expensive, irrational programs would be in question, Israeli "will" would fracture, and the Jordanians would push the Israelis into the sea, or something. As all commitments are interdependent, the North Koreans would soon conquer Japan, Turkey would capitulate to Tehran and work to restore the Caliphate, Brazil would elect Hugo Chavez as God Emperor, and Washington State would secede and join Canada.
Of course, real Israelis have to actually live in Israel, and they saw the world a bit differently. Israeli hawks recognize that the US commitment to Israel matters in a non-rhetorical way. The defense system in Poland had no practical, real world impact on Israeli security. Moreover, Israel actually needs to deal with Russia; simply intimidating Moscow into acquiescence isn't on the table. Maybe US flexibility on missile defense wouldn't make the Russians more flexible on Iran, but a US hard line certainly wasn't helping matters. Accordingly, the Eastern European system was worse than useless to the Israelis.
None of this is terribly complicated. These observations are only useful in so far as they fracture the neoconservative vision of seamless alliance of liberty against tyranny, in which American, Israeli, and Polish hawks all have the same interests and policy preferences. It turns out, rather, that neither the Poles nor the Israelis care overmuch about the other; rhetorical support for the neocon vision of liberty/missile defense/bunker busting/awesomeness/sexy/democracy/whiskey collapses in the face of real world material interest. In the end, it's almost as if our allies value material and institutional commitments to their defense more than they value a nebulous American reputation for "toughness".