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.