Foreign Policy Watch

Geopolitical musings through a progressive lens …by Matt Eckel and Jeb Koogler

Wanting Foreign Governments to Have Different Preferences is Not a Strategy

For those who missed them, check out Andrew Sullivan’s piece this morning on the bind into which the eventual UN vote on a Palestinian state has put U.S. foreign policy, as well as Josh Foust’s post on the inanity of accepting further Friedman unit extensions to the war in Afghanistan. Stepping back a bit from the specifics of each situation, it’s notable just how much crucial American policymaking seems to be based on asking/hoping/praying that foreign governments realign their policy preferences to better sync with U.S. interests. Not their policies, their preferences.

In the case of Israel, it’s been obvious for decades that unconditional American support for Tel Aviv complicates U.S. policy in the rest of the Middle East, and that some kind of deal on Palestinian statehood is a practical means of dulling the contradiction inherent in America’s approach to the situation. In order for that to happen, the Israeli government needs to stop caring about colonizing the West Bank and abandon Greater Israel as a national ideology. And to a certain American liberal point of view, this seems like the only rational course for Israelis who care about preserving the Jewish state. Permanent apartheid is immoral and unsustainable, ethnic cleansing is unthinkable, and granting political rights to everyone between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean would end the Zionist dream. By this logic, American and Israeli preferences ought to align fairly well. The problem is, they don’t. For better or worse, Israeli governments of recent decades have made it eminently clear that they prefer to exercise continued control over the West Bank and Gaza. This has been as true for governments of the left as it has been for those of the right (though Labor did flirt with a more sensible policy in the late 1990s). It’s clear that Israeli and American preferences just don’t align, and hoping for that to suddenly change is not a coherent policy.

Likewise with Pakistan. America would like Pakistan to stop caring about the threat posed by India, be less concerned with gaining “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, abandon its quixotic fits over the status of Kashmir, and thus be less inclined to openly and tacitly support Islamic militant groups that complicate American policy. From a certain American liberal point of view, Pakistan isn’t going to credibly compete with India for much longer anyway, and Kashmir is a nationalist hobbyhorse that the Pakistanis should stop riding. But, obviously, those in Pakistan’s government have different preferences and priorities. And hoping for that to change isn’t a strategy.

Israel and Pakistan are hardly the only examples of this phenomenon, but at the moment they’re the most consequential and illustrative. Not everyone sees the world through American eyes, and not everyone agrees with the American assessment of their strategic and political situation. American policymakers ought to try to understand the preferences of foreign governments and then shape their own policy accordingly (either by using carrots and sticks to encourage other states to reprioritize their goals, or by realigning American relationships). Hoping for others to see the light just won’t cut it.

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  1. Referring to "Tel Aviv" instead of "Jerusalem" is a tactic of de-legitimization.

    Is that your intent?

  2. The overwhelming majority of states, very much including the United States, do not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and view East Jerusalem as occupied territory. Though secondary as a legal matter, it's further notable that not a single country has an embassy in Jerusalem. Using "Tel Aviv" as the standard shorthand for Israel's political core thus comports with the prevailing consensus. Referring to "Jerusalem" as Israel's capital is, under prevailing circumstances, considerably more provocative.

  3. Accuracy has never been anything you cared much for, Matt. When referring to a country's seat of power it is commonly assumed there is a head of state seated in the place mentioned. Since Jerusalem is where Israel's government sits, it is ridiculously provocative and stupid to use Tel Aviv as casually as you would use Washington or Damascus. Israeli decisions are made from Jerusalem regardless of where the craven ambassadors of the world squat their fat asses. Your hatred of Israel seems to know no bounds.

  4. copy and paste into a browser's address bar:

  5. I'm no expert at decoding the use of this or that location as legitimate or illegitimate. I shrug. Also, I don't comb through every post, so I can't tell if Matt is anti-Israel, but that seems like a detour.

    I will say that the essential point seems to stand: craven ambassadors (I do like that term) and the public can wish all they want but they won't change the geography or psychology of a state or region. Even if we promise to be bestest friends forever. Or something.

    I did copy and paste that link, Jeff: I broadly agree that, again, we are picking and choosing our battles based upon (1) linkage to direct U.S. interests, (2) the reality that we can't invade an entire region… (let alone a single nation, it seems), and (3) point 1, but now underlined.

    It's ugly, dirty, and thoroughly immoral. I want to vomit a little in my mouth when its full impact washes over me, but we will continue to ignore the crimes of nations that do business with us. And we're all complicit, too. How nice! I see little interest (on the left or right) for seriously overturning American geopolitical strategy. It's just not interesting enough.

  6. Matt Warren, can I say that I am envious of you living in Seattle? I drove my family out there a couple of years ago for two weeks and did some impromptu interviewing without knowing a soul. The houses were much smaller for what I have invested in mine and the wages were going to be lower than what I had, so I could not bring myself to move out there. It has been a long term wish, though.

    If I seem harsh on Mr Eckel it is because of his illogical prejudice that I have confronted from time to time. For example, spreading the myth that the Arabs in Gaza are starving at all, let alone that whatever condition they find themselves in is somehow Israel's fault, is a tactic of war propagandists and bigots. The longer this little blog marches the less the thread bare pretense of objectivity seems to matter. Further, since propaganda and demonization has been proven to be a precursor to genocide I oppose the use of it on a people who clearly are under a real threat of becoming victims. In my opinion, the Jews in Israel are one charismatic Arab leader away from total annihilation.

    Matt referred to Tel Aviv as if it were Israel's capital, because Matt is both arrogant and blinded by the blood in the water created by the feeding frenzy of anti-Israel sentiment infecting the pathos of the villains, like Stephen Walt, he admires.

  7. Michael — If Venezuela declared its capital to be Maracay, but no one recognized it, would you refer to the country's capital city as Caracas or as Maracay? Obviously Caracas. Well, then, what is the difference? Establishing a capital city is a function of recognition. Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, is recognized by the UN and most other countries as Israel's de facto capital (in the absence of final status negotiations.) I'm not sure what you're up in arms about.


  8. If the seat of government moves I would use the city it moved to when referring to decision made by the leaders of that country.

    You need to go back to international law 101, the only thing "obvious" is you are clueless.

    Establishing a capital is not a function of recognition. Establishing sovereignty might be said to be a function of recognition…sort of. It is each sovereign's inherent right and sole discretion to choose its own capital. That can not be imposed by consensus, though I am sure many wish it were so…fascists, tyrants, communists, liberal democrats, and other totalitarian thinkers mostly.

    Ahhh, the UN. On the floor of the UN in an open statement a spokesman for the oil producing states threatened that any nation relocating its embassy to Jerusalem or recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital would have all relations severed. Oil is a strategic commodity. Any nation cut off from oil would be brought to its knees in short order. If you put two and two together even you might be able to see a connection between what the UN says and what the Jew hating Muslims want. What is your excuse?

  9. Meant to add that the US has this little Law known as the Embassy Relocation Act of 1995. Not a Bill stuck in congress hoping to get passed, it is a Law. In the section on "Findings", the very first item states that "Each sovereign nation, under international law and custom, may designate its own capital." I meant to put this in the part where I suggest you go back to school before you make a fool of yourself next time you are going to tell me how things work in the world, kid.

  10. The American people disagree with the arrogant elitists that think they can dictate internal matters to a sovereign. In 1990 Congress passed a resolution stating that Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel. In 1995 a law was ratified stating that the embassy must be moved as soon as circumstances allow to Jerusalem. Today there is a bill in the Senate with bipartisan support that seeks to strip the power to postpone the will of the people from the President. For political convenience the leaders of our nation have sided with tyranny and evil against the will of the people. Once the foreigner occupying the White House is removed I have a feeling the winds will change towards justice.

    So long as the Arabs calling themselves Palestinians cling to the farce that they have a claim to Jerusalem the peace process will go nowhere. Once they realize that we are no longer playing along with the cowardly charade they will have no power to continue their intransigence.

    Just because embassies are located in Tel Aviv this does not mean that any nation has the right to call Tel Aviv the capital of Israel. That would be like building a home somewhere and having your neighbors tell you which room you can use as your bedroom.

    Matt and yourself have a fair talent at arranging words, but you sorely lack objectivity and wisdom. You are wrong in your analysis of just about everything you write about. It would be hilarious if it wasn't so sad. Try supporting your claim that the international community has the right to dictate where Israel's capital is. With a source of law preferably. While you are researching that, brush up on sovereignty and tell us what sovereign's land is Israel occupying. Further, the territory is not considered corpus separatum by law. Nothing produced by the General Assembly is considered binding in international law. Basic stuff. Try using something other than Wikipedia for your research if you want anything other than mockery for your effort.

    Lastly, if things work the way you think they do, why do the so called Palestinians get a US embassy in Jerusalem that is excluded from use by Israeli citizens? Either Jerusalem is not recognized as the sovereign land of a power or it is. Don't you find this a bit absurd?