Baker, Brzezinski, Malley, Mearsheimer, Scowcroft, Walt, etc. have all been called foreign policy realists. What are they being realistic about?
In connection with the Middle East, there are apparently two things:
- There are far more Arabs and Persians than Israelis. There are 24 Arab nations in the Middle East and Africa with about 325 million people (Iran has another 70 million). On a map large enough to show them all, Israel with its 6 million people is almost invisible.
- About 56% of the world’s petroleum reserves are found in five Arab countries and Iran.
Now it so happens that almost all 25 nations — their leadership and the man in the street — are more or less hostile to Israel, from the openly confrontational Iran and Syria to the ‘cold peace’ of Egypt and Jordan. The realists believe that facts 1) and 2) above imply that American policy should tilt toward these nations and against Israel.
There are other facts, but because they do not bear on questions of power they are not taken into account by realists. Examples of such facts are that Israel is the most free and democratic nation in the Mideast, that Israel is entirely legitimate under a fair reading of international law, and that despite pro-Arab historical revisionism, the existence of a Jewish state in the land of Israel is morally justified.
And then there is one more fact that does not appear on realist radar: the intentions of many of the state and non-state players in the Mideast toward Israel are frankly genocidal.
All these are irrelevant to the realist who is only concerned with hard relationships of power and economics. However, there are some power-related facts that have kept Israel alive despite almost continuous challenges from her enemies. One of the most important ones is the impossible-to-ignore Israeli nuclear deterrent. Although a weapon of absolute last resort, it gives Syria, for example, with its tens of thousands of conventional and biochemical warheads aimed at Israel, something to think very carefully about. I suggest that even mighty Russia can’t entirely ignore this factor.
The realist point of view seems to have taken hold of Bush Administration policy. It was expressed in the Iraq Study Group report of December 2006, and is the driving force behind the ‘Annapolis process’, whose goal is to create a Palestinian state, above all. Judging by President Elect Obama’s choice of advisors and by reading between the lines of his very guarded comments, it appears that his administration is likely to be even more ‘realistic’ about the Mideast than this.
During the campaign Obama advocated engagement of nations hostile to both the US and Israel such as Iran and Syria, and the exercise of ‘tough diplomacy’ to achieve such goals as ending the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Critics asked exactly what leverage we would have in diplomatic talks, given that we have made it clear that military options and actually painful sanctions are off the table. There has been no clear answer.
By pressuring Israel to cede land to Syria and the Palestinians, Obama’s apparent foreign policy will provide Iran with still more territory from which to attack Israel both through its terror proxies and with its expanding ballistic missile arsenal. By embracing the Syrian regime in spite of its support for terrorism, its nuclear proliferation activities and its subversion of Lebanon, the incoming Obama administration will embolden Syria to increase its subversion of Lebanon and Iraq, while strengthening its ties to Iran still further.
As for direct talks with Iran itself, the question immediately arises, what could Obama offer Teheran in exchange for an end to its nuclear program that Bush hasn’t already offered?
What it can offer is Israel.
Over the past few years, Obama’s top nuclear nonproliferation adviser, Joe Cirincione, has repeatedly advocated placing Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the negotiating table and offering it up in exchange for an Iranian pledge to end its nuclear program. Defense Secretary Robert Gates – whom Obama is considering retaining – insinuated in his 2006 confirmation hearings that Iran is only building nuclear weapons to defend itself against Israel. Gates, it should be recalled, has been instrumental in convincing Bush not only not to attack Iran’s nuclear installations, but not to support an Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear installations. [my emphasis]
So that’s the gist of it (but read all of Glick’s excellent article). Of course Obama and his officials will continue to insist that the security of Israel is paramount, and that the US will not allow it to be compromised — just as he did during his campaign. But there’s no question that an Israel without its nuclear deterrent would shortly cease to exist.
While this may not be the intention of Barack Obama, it is a consequence of the realist policy — in essence, to sacrifice the interests of small and economically insignificant Israel in favor of those of the massive oil powers of the region. And those interests include the elimination of Israel.