Special relationships

#1
Via The American Conservative No exit from the special relationship by Scott McConnell
In December 1962, President Kennedy hosted Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir at his family home in Palm Beach. Mrs. Meir opened their conversation by speaking of Jewish history and the threat of another Holocaust. The president responded with an effort at reassurance. “The United States,” he said, “has a special relationship with Israel really comparable to what it has with Britain over a wide range of issues.”1 Perhaps Kennedy was engaging in diplomatic flattery; he would go on to stress that America’s ties to the Arab world were of critical importance as well. Still, his words marked a landmark of sorts. The Eisenhower administration would not have used “special relationship” to describe its generally chilly ties with Israel. And Kennedy would inaugurate the sale of advanced weapons to Israel, an important early step in the development of a strategic relationship between the two countries.

The British comparison had then, and retains, a powerful and favorable resonance with Americans. Britain was our closest ally in America’s last “good” war. Recently, former Israeli ambassador Dore Gold would resurrect Kennedy’s statement in an effort to dismiss John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s essay, “The Israel Lobby.” Look, Gold was saying, this is what one of the most beloved American presidents thought about Israel. The implication is that the relationship is intimate, based on powerful bonds of shared values and interests.

But if one delves deeper into the special relationship, a more complex portrait emerges. The Anglo-American tie was based on the readiness of much of America’s ruling establishment reflexively to take Britain’s side, and more: to see the world through Britain’s eyes. If this sensibility was laudable in a world with an aggressive Nazi Germany, it had been seeded by Britain long before, in the decades preceding World War I. Americans were the audience for Kipling’s call to “take up the white man’s burden.” Rhodes Scholarships prepared Americans for leadership. Before America was Britain’s ally, it was Britain’s pupil. Or, as Christopher Hitchens would describe it in Blood, Class and Empire: “[T]his relationship is really at bottom a transmission belt by which British conservative ideas have infected America.”2

Two generations later, the special relationship with Israel has almost completely supplanted the British tie. But like the earlier special relationship, the new one is at bottom a transmission belt, conveying Israeli ideas on how the United States should conduct itself in a contested and volatile part of the world. To a great extent, a receptive American political class now views the Middle East and their country’s role in it through Israel’s eyes.

An early step in the relationship’s evolution was the development of an American taste for Israeli political intelligence. As the Franco-Palestinian scholar Camille Mansour puts it in Beyond Alliance: Israel and U.S. Foreign Policy (a book published nearly 20 years ago, when the relationship was less mature than today),

The Israelis are seen as the experts, the ‘Orientalists’ of the Middle East in the sense defined by Edward Said: they are at once knowledgeable about the terrain and imbued with Western civilization. They are the ones who can claim to understand Arab mentalities, their political processes, their ‘irrationality.’3

When the Cold War ended, traffic on the transmission belt grew apace. Radical Israeli strategies for dominating the Middle East, which might once have been scoffed at, were repackaged by newly empowered American neoconservatives and eventually found a receptive audience in a White House reeling from the shock of 9/11. As Israel’s list of potential enemies grew to include wider and wider swaths of the Muslim world, Islamophobia made inroads into the United States, nudged along by pro-Israeli funders and intellectuals.
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This is an interesting idea: an impressionable DC being ideologically captured first by the fading worldview of The Breed and now by an increasingly paranoid Israel. There's some truth in that. As with Wall St folk within The Beltway have come to an unconsidered conclusion that what's good for them is good for America.

It's a long essay, concluding that the lopsided Israel-US bond may have a multi-trillion dollar cost and will continue precisely because this traumatized victim state must be held close and constantly reassured and coddled as otherwise it may lash out and endanger regional stability and DC's oily interests.

This is an exaggeration of course. DC is quite capable of messing Persian Gulf stability up largely under its own steam. DC's single biggest problem here is simply that the dusty little midden is a tremendous distraction. An insoluble and relatively minor conflict that absorbs vast amounts of political energy. Just observe Barry's predictable vaudeville of pratfalls in attempting to herd an obviously unwilling team Bibi and the hapless Pals towards illusory peace talks. Like a yapping lapdog attention evidently just encourages the buggers, it actually would be best ignored. What happens in The Holy Land pales in importance compared with the fate of The House Of Saud, Pindi or Ankara and what Beijing, New Delhi and The Kremlin are busy with is even more important than those.
 
#2
"it had been seeded by Britain long before, in the decades preceding World War I. Americans were the audience for Kipling’s call to “take up the white man’s burden.” Rhodes Scholarships prepared Americans for leadership. Before America was Britain’s ally, it was Britain’s pupil. Or, as Christopher Hitchens would describe it in Blood, Class and Empire: “[T]his relationship is really at bottom a transmission belt by which British conservative ideas have infected America.”

I always find it remarkable how commentators - usually US ones steeped in their own airbrushed version of the US revolutionary liberation myth - tend to overlook the fact that much of USA's anglo-conservatism arises not from some perceived malevolent trans-Atlanitic virus out of London, but because the country is of course itself of substantially British origin and tradition. The most anglo-conservative parts of the US are that way by virtue of tradition, and not "infection"....
 

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