Today's article has been suggested by two articles written by others. The first, by my friend Andrew Bacevich,appeared several years ago in Pat Buchanan's publication, The American Conservative, which shares Bacevich's apostasy towards prevailing American foreign policy. Entitled "How We Became Israel," it argued that the United States, like Israel, now defined "peace" as complete dominion over any potential enemy--a policy that inevitably leads to endless war. The second, by conservative Sam Tannehaus, appeared much more recently at Bloomberg.com. Entitled "The GOP is campaigning for George W. Bush's third term," it dealt with related issues within the context of the Republican contest for the 2016 presidential nomination. It did not, however, in my opinion, go far enough.
My own view is this: both the Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu (and indeed, under every Israeli leaders ince 2000) and the U. S. government since George W. Bush have embarked upon endless wars. The Israelis are trying to subdue the Palestinians while expanding further and further in the West Bank, while Washington has adopted a far more hopeless goal of wiping out any unfriendly political movement in the Middle East. Several weeks ago I discussed why I think Israeli policy is destined to fail: despite all Israel's efforts, the Arab population of the West Bank has increased much faster than the Jewish one, and Arabs will soon outnumber Jews within the whole area of Israel, Palestine, and the Gaza strip. The US crusade, based on a search for mythical good guys who will be loyal allies and share U.S. values, is even more hopeless. What Tannehaus led me to see, however, is that both of these policies can work politically, especially during the kind of great crisis or fourth turning which both the U.S. and Israel are going through.
The Netanyahu government's increasingly shrill refusal to make peace with the Palestinians is turning the rest of the world against Israel, but this seems to be striking a chord among Israelis who have come to expect nothing else. Hamas and Hezbollah have sprung up on Israel's borders in response, and Hamas has become the strongest political force among the Palestinians. That makes peace much harder to achieve anyway, and makes it easier for Likud and its new, even more expansionist allies to argue that Israel has no choice but to rely completely upon itself. And despite the anguish of more liberal Israelis, on display daily at haaretz.com, this is working, politically. Netanyahu increased his own vote in the last election, although his coalition now looks a bit fragile. Fewer and fewer Israelis seem to believe in peace. The Israeli government's intransigence both heightens and benefits from the fear that is an inescapable part of a fourth turning.
The controversy over Jeb Bush's statements about the Iraq war, which triggered Tannehaus's article, shows that the Republicans are trying to do something similar. George W. Bush's response to 9/11 was an unmitigated disaster, and the young Republican who told Jeb that his brother had created ISIS was only exaggerating very slightly. (There is still a conspiracy of silence, by the way, among the American media, which refuses to mention that ISIS is a direct descendant of Al Queda in Iraq, which of course did not exist before the US invasion.) But such facts do not get in the way of the Republican position that more forceful action is needed against America's enemies in the Middle East, lest we suffer more attacks here at home. Jeb significantly argued, at one point in the controversy, that any questioning of the wisdom of the Iraq war dishonored the sacrifice of our troops. Now that our major ground combat role in the region is ending and we, like the Israelis, are relying on air strikes, drones, and occasional raids by special operations forces, the endless war in the Middle East has become almost ideal for maintaining a consensus on behalf of a merciless foreign policy, and feeding the new military-industrial-intelligence complex. As the Israelis have found on a smaller scale,. drone strikes do nothing in the long run: the supply of bad guys appears to be endless. Our opponents also enjoy playing this game. ISIS obviously beheaded Americans on camera to provoke retaliation, and they seem to have strengthened themselves, not least by recruiting from the West, as a result. They are still gaining in Syria and at least holding their own in Iraq, where they gave up Tikrit but won a striking victory in Ramadi.
I suspect that Karl Rove originally devised this strategy as a replay of the Cold War. At least since Richard Nixon, Republicans enjoyed an advantage with the public on national security issues, and Rove made it very clear in the wake of 9/11 that he wanted once again to cast the Democrats as dangerous wimps, arguing that they responded to the attacks by calling for indictments and therapy, while Republicans went to war. In many ways the Democrats have also accepted the idea that their only option in foreign affairs is to be as Republican as possible, even though Obama has shown some guts regarding Cuba and Iran. The drone strikes that we are continuing and the air strikes we are making against ISIS make it look as though we are in the fight, even though none of the major combatants shares our values or our interests. But no one cares. For Boomer and Xer politicians, it seems, foreign affairs--and even war--and completely dominated by politics. Neither Hillary Clinton nor President Obama nor any of the Republican candidates seem troubled by the contradictions and self-defeating aspects of our policy during the last 15 years. Even Rand Paul is edging towards the middle on these questions.
These are difficult days for those of us who grew up believing that knowledge could result in better policy, either at home or abroad. In weeks to come I will discuss two books, one of which I am still reading, which brilliantly analyze critical aspects of the problems we face in the Middle East, but which have been almost completely ignored by the media in the United States. We apparently have a consensus on foreign policy comparable to that we had for most of the Cold War. That one, however, had at least some relation to reality, and I am not at all sure that this one does.