Israel and American Exceptionalism
In American politics, taking a strong pro-Israel stand is a way of communicating your commitment to American exceptionalism and to American global leadership. While there are plenty of individual exceptions, as a general rule of thumb voters who are skeptical about the value of the US Israel alliance or who have serious concerns about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians are voters who have qualms about the idea that America is an exceptional country with a mandate to change the world. Voters who identify strongly with Israel and want the US to support it tend to favor a strong US national defense and a forward leaning foreign policy.
To the extent that he’s right about this, Mead is inadvertently explaining why Romney’s egregious “pro-Israel” pandering is so redundant. The voters that Romney is reaching with his “pro-Israel” pandering are largely the same voters he is reaching with his hegemonist pandering. He is preaching to the converted, and there are no persuadable voters that will be swayed by any of this. It’s also safe to say that Romney is not losing many voters by confirming once again that he tends to favor hard-line and hawkish positions on foreign policy. Any voter not yet alarmed by Romney’s hawkish foreign policy isn’t likely to bolt now.
Romney doesn’t need to abase himself before “pro-Israel” hard-liners as much as he has to communicate his “commitment to American exceptionalism and to American global leadership.” He has made his commitment to a specifically hegemonist understanding of American exceptionalism abundantly clear for many years. Declaring that he won’t allow “once inch of difference” between the U.S. and Israel, announcing that he will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and pledging support for an Israeli attack on Iran all show just how eager he is to conflate U.S. and Israeli interests (or perhaps even to ignore the former for the sake of the latter). Needless to say, emphasizing his support for a very close relationship with a foreign country does not create the impression that Romney is “a solid and loyal American.” As a rule, support for a close U.S. relationship with any other country tells us nothing about a person’s loyalty to America, and it would be bizarre if it did.
Identifying as “pro-Israel” doesn’t really have much of anything to do with a belief in American exceptionalism or support for American “leadership” in the world. It is mostly an accident of domestic politics in the last twenty to thirty years that hawkish “pro-Israel” constituencies and ardent supporters of U.S. hegemony belong to the same voting coalition. Voters inclined to be hawkish on national security will tend to follow the lead of hawkish party elites, and the latter are responsible for defining American hawkishness to include support for hard-line “pro-Israel” positions. There is no obvious or necessary link between the two.
Scoblete concludes his post with this comment:
If Israel’s hard-liners adopted polices that American policymakers deemed detrimental to U.S. interests, it shouldn’t be construed as a betrayal of national character to disapprove of them.
No, it shouldn’t. Over time, the interests of the two states may end up diverging to a point where the gap can’t be papered over or ignored. Romney’s campaign positions are based on the assumption that the gap doesn’t even exist, or that any gap that does exist is the fault of the incumbent. That isn’t an accurate assessment of the respective interests of the two states, and it will eventually end up burning any administration that chooses to act as if it is correct.
P.S. Moving into the new place in Dallas is still taking up a lot of time, so blogging will be light for the next day or two.