President Evo Morales acted on a longtime threat Wednesday and expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development for allegedly seeking to undermine Bolivia’s leftist government, and he harangued Washington’s top diplomat for calling the Western Hemisphere his country’s “backyard.”
I was going to comment on this. But I’ve been asked to do so on NPR affiliate WBEZ’s Worldview tomorrow. So I’m going to hold off until after that. Plus, I want to get my thoughts together on this.
Last night’s Daily Show, while commenting on Israel’s election, included clips of administration critics suggesting that Obama is the most anti-Israel president, ever. I beg to differ.
Obama certainly has his differences with current Israeli foreign policy under “Bibi” Netanyahu. Then again, what two heads of state wouldn’t? I agree with those who suggest that making blanket statements about unyielding support for Israel comes dangerously close to writing a blank check we might not be ready to cash in (would we support Israel if it attacked vital US interests?).
But do Obama’s public differences in policy with “Bibi” make him the most anti-Israel president, ever? I think that title goes to Dwight Eisenhower during the 1956 Suez Crisis. Let me explain:
In 1956, after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, Israel, France, and Britain invaded Egypt. The United States was opposed to Israeli intervention and—together with the Soviet Union (although with different ulterior motives, obviously)—pushed Israel to withdraw from the conflict and give up its gains in the Sinai. And this wasn’t just public rhetoric: the US imposed (and encouraged its allies to follow suit) economic sanctions on Israel for its role in the conflict and even threats of expulsion from the UN.
I don’t think Obama has quite gone that far.
Of course, perhaps the award for the most anti-Israeli sentiment by someone at the White House could go to Henry Kissinger (scroll down to the “Middle East” section), Nixon’s Secretary of State. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Kissinger famously told Nixon to “let Israel bleed” (by denying assistance) in order to “soften it up” before negotiations.
I’m pretty sure Obama hasn’t done anything like that, either.
The US and Israel are, today, staunch allies. But that wasn’t always the case. The US cautiously supported Israel’s independence in 1948. And until the 1970s, the US worried that being too closely tied to Israel would weaken its position in the region (where lots of oil was at stake). Since the 1980s, however, our foreign policies have merged. But there’s a reason why we have other very close allies in the region. Like Saudi Arabia. And it’s telling that we never sent troops to back Israel in any of its conflicts, like we did for Kuwait in 1990. US-Israeli relations are much more complicated. As are all foreign relations.