Time for Some Tough Love April 2, 2009

Original WAMC Audio

It was late in the Yom Kippur/Ramadan War of 1973, When Israel’s forces had managed to trap Egypt’s third army, ready to destroy it but the Nixon administration insisted they not do so. It was an American “request” that the Israelis were no doubt less than pleased with. They had after all had been the victim of Egypt’s initial surprise attack. But Israel complied, backing down under American pressure. How could they not? After all, the US was at that moment resupplying their beleaguered state. And maybe, just maybe some understood that the US was acting in Israel’s best interest.

After all another humiliating Egyptian peace was hardly likely to move Cairo toward a more accommodating stance – an American assumption that proved true a few years later when that same Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, who attacked Israel in 1973 opened peace talks. And perhaps just perhaps some in Israel understood as well, that friends just don’t let friends drive drunk – a gesture that occurred again in early 2003 as America’s long time ally France, tried to play the same role… urging the America of George W. Bush not to walk into the trap that Iraq was likely to become.

But of course the French had far less influence over Washington than Washington had over Jerusalem. And George W. Bush ignored the Paris’ heartfelt warning. He marched his troops in to Baghdad anyway ignoring the true friendship France had offered us – a gesture that might have saved us from six long years and counting of the Iraqi mess.

But the idea of friends not letting friend drive drunk remains a good one. At base the sort of “tough love” policy that most American administrations have employed successfully with Israel for decades. As one president after another, from Nixon to Carter, from Reagan to Daddy Bush and Bill Clinton worked not only to support the Jewish state but at times even against Israel’s own plans. At times denying loans guarantees, famously pushing leaders Israeli leaders towards peace conferences they resisted and occasionally strong arming them at marathon sessions at Camp David. And of course pushing for an end to the Israeli West Bank settlement policy while encouraging movements toward a two state solution.

And then came the second Bush Administration which stumbled from one counter productive policy to another. Encouraging the most extremist among the Israelis, isolating the more moderate among the Palestinians. Refusing to engage in the peace process while pushing the Palestinians toward an election whose results Washington undermined as soon as it became clear we did not like the outcome.

But the decks are clearing again. America has a new president. Israel a new government and with a great deal of luck the Palestinians might even figure out how to heal their own deeply divided community. Which makes this an opportune time to wash away the Bush years and return to that era of “tough love” that allowed America to act as a true friend of Israel. The sort of friendship the French tried to be with us as we went into Iraq. The friend who tries to stop their friends from driving drunk.

For Israel, it can’t be a moment too soon . After all, any state that could endure the assault of thousands of rockets last fall rockets that reined down on southern Israel from Palestinian Hamas bases in Gaza and end up being seen as the aggressor when Israel finally retaliated has obviously got a problem.

Any country that could be internationally condemned for blockading the Gaza strip when the Palestinians’ Egyptian Arab brothers so obviously control the backdoor to Gaza has obviously got a problem.

Any state that insists on holding territory, of the sort Israel’s West Bank settlers continue to control — territory whose retention will obviously dilute either the Jewish nature of the state or the democratic base of Israeli society has obviously got a problem

And most certainly needs a friend, but a real friend, You know, the sort that doesn’t let their friends drive drunk.

About Steven Leibo

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This entry was posted in The Middle East, US Foreign Policy, WAMC Northeast Public Radio Commentaries. Bookmark the permalink.

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