Much has been reported on United States presidential candidates trying to one-up each other at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, DC last week as they pledged their intentions to, as president, stand with Israel. Significantly less media attention was paid to another presidential contender, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who, instead of speaking at the AIPAC conference, presented in Utah a speech he says he would have given had he attended the AIPAC conference. While Sanders’ comments regarding Israel were rather nuanced, he did say up front that “Israel is one of America’s closest allies” and that the US is committed “to guaranteeing Israel’s survival.”
Even less reported, but arguably most important, was a presentation a few days earlier in Washington, DC by Lawrence Wilkerson, a former US Army Colonel and chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. In his speech at the Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America? conference in Washington, DC, Wilkerson challenged the contention that there is any foreign policy or national security benefit whatsoever from unwavering US support for Israel. Indeed, Wilkerson convincingly argues that such support creates danger for America.
Wilkerson begins his speech with an account of how many people will use the phrase “self-loathing Jew” as “a riposting device against any Jewish American who, through critical thinking, questions from time to time the policies of the modern state of Israel and US relationship with that state.” Speaking of “gentiles like me” who may question Israeli policies or the US and Israel governments’ relationship, Wilkerson notes that the analogous denigrating term is “anti-Semite.” Thus language can be used to help keep cemented in place a major foreign policy paradigm.
Wilkerson then discusses the very different situation in 1948, when the current set view of the relationship between the two governments was not so “engrained.” Then, he says, there was strong and vocal opposition by US Secretary of State George Marshall and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to President Harry S. Truman’s support for partitioning Palestine and recognizing Israel.
Wilkerson relates, with examples from Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, that over the following few decades US presidents “managed a rather precarious balance” in foreign policy relative to Israel. That course of action ended, Wilkerson recounts, with the George W. Bush presidency “captured by the neoconservatives.” Wilkerson, who worked in the State Department during that presidency, relates the change in policy as follows:
In a flash Israel became publicly a strategic ally. Its Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in every Arab eye dripping blood all over the Oval Office carpet — blood from Israel’s invasion and occupation of Lebanon in 1982 and ’83 (I might add, an invasion we had to haul their asses out of and ultimately at the cost of the greatest single-day casualty of marines since Tarawa in World War II). This man Ariel Sharon became, in President Bush’s own words, “a man of peace.” And all the fears of the 1948 Joint Chiefs of Staff loomed so largely in the rearview mirror of American history that some of us in the US government sucked in our collective breaths and found it hard to exhale thereafter.
Wilkerson says that in his three decades-plus in “military counsels” the sentiment “was often voiced,” as by General David Petraeus in a March of 2010 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict foments anti-American sentiment in the region due to a perception of US favoritism toward Israel, and it makes military operations that much more difficult.”
There can be, however, negative consequences for making such a statement. Wilkerson notes that Petraeus “was himself subjected to the ritual of head bashing that accompanies such remarks.”
Wilkerson, who is a Ron Paul Institute Academic Board member as well as a professor at the College of William & Mary, further provides in his speech empirical backing for his contention that the notion of Israel as a US strategic asset is far from the mark. Wilkerson explains:
There is concrete evidence of Israel’s detracting from US security and of its being a strategic liability rather than an asset. Where is, after all, US hard power in Southwest Asia, in Africa, and the Persian Gulf today? First, it ain’t in Israel. Nor could it be, unless the world was at war and all bets were off. And I’ll come to that scenario in a minute. Under any other conceivable scenario, the US will never land meaningful military forces on “the unsinkable Middle East aircraft carrier of Israel.” (That’s a phrase used by some of my neoconservative colleagues.) Every instance of the use of force by the US in the region to date has proven that reality beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Most disturbing about the US-Israel relationship may be this prospect Wilkerson addresses at the conclusion of his speech:
Does the unbalanced policy of the US towards this enclave jeopardize US national security interests? You bet it does, big time.
In fact, Wilkerson concludes that the policy threatens to lead to the “tiny enclave” (Israel) sucking the “master” (US) into a morass.
Watch Wilkerson’s complete speech here: