For people who love politics, last night was one of the most exciting nights of our lives. Two great races brought two great surprises; and in his vector-y speech at midnight (not quite a victory) Bernie Sanders could justly claim to have rocked “the economic establishment, the political establishment and by the way, to the media establishment.”
But the biggest loser of the night was foreign policy. Any thought that the Paris and San Bernardino attacks were going to bring a serious conversation about the US policy in the Middle East was dashed. Sanders and his adorers (including this one) say they want a revolution, but he won’t do anything to revolutionize foreign policy. The only candidates to talk about my favorite issue last night, Israel, were both Republicans: Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, vowing undying support.
So in the most convulsive political season in anyone’s memory, when outsiders are running against the establishment, and everything is up for grabs, the only ones running against the status-quo foreign policy are doing so from the right wing. Donald Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Chris Christie too will compete over who is going to do the most to smash ISIS. At least Trump is running against the Iraq war.
Bernie Sanders is running against Hillary Clinton’s Iraq decision, and in favor of the Iran Deal, too. But as Jeff Stein states in Newsweek, beyond that he has no foreign policy to speak of. “Is Bernie Sanders a Hawk on Foreign Policy?” Stein asks provocatively, then reports that Sanders has consulted neoconservative Ray Takeyh, liberal interventionist Tamara Cofman Wittes, and liberal Zionist Michael Walzer– but those are just phone calls. Sanders has no foreign policy braintrust and doesn’t want one.
I believe Sanders’s absence of a stable of foreign policy advisers is actually good news. It means that all the “knowledge producers” of the Beltway, the people who explained why the Iraq war was such a good deal and the Iran nuclear agreement such a bad one, are not feeding Sanders horseshit.
But it’s a very passive position on his part. He can’t actually say that we should get the hell out of the Middle East– though he has hinted as much when he calls the Middle East a “quagmire” and says that It’s a war for the soul of Islam, and Muslims should battle this out for themselves. At Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt says that the Obama administration has no Middle East foreign policy either; and it’s simply afraid to say what is clear to anyone from watching the last ten years:
“the fate of the Middle East is going to be determined by the people who live there and not by us, though we might be able to play a constructive role on occasion. And the sooner Americans recognize that they’re better off coaching from the sidelines, instead of getting bloodied on the field, the better off they’ll be.”
I actually think Sanders believes that, too, but Mr. Revolutionary can’t say so aloud, let alone call Steve Walt.
Why can’t he say so aloud– even as he’s battling Wall Street, “the billionaire class,” corporate America, the Koch Brothers, and the health insurance industry– all by name? The reason is the Israel lobby: or to be more precise, the attachment on the part of the Democratic Party elites to the project of sustaining the Jewish state as it comes under attack by Europe and the delegitimizers, the Palestinian solidarity movement and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign. Sanders can even talk up the Black Lives Matter movement (he addressed the intolerable incarceration rates of people of color in his speech last night) but he is unable to bring himself to openly question blind American support for Israel as a pillar of U.S. foreign policy.
One reason Sanders can’t do that is that he is himself part of the lobby; he has a generational Jewish attachment to Israel, as we have substantiated. And if you watched the coverage on the cables all night, as I did, you know that the media is heavily populated by Jewish conformist types who were at least indoctrinated in Zionism and in some cases are true believers. Yes some of those Jews will do a jailbreak on Zionism; but support for Israel is still an article of faith on the lib-left. Anyone can bash the gun lobby or the Koch Brothers on TV or in the papers; Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both work the National Rifle Association to their political advantage; but our elites still refuse to name the Israel lobby during this political season. Even to name the rightwing Israel lobby that almost brought down the Iran deal.
Because I’m such an optimist and progressive and flagwaver, I think this is all going to change. There is just too much political opportunity in saying, We need to distance ourselves from (occupier/apartheid) Israel. The Democratic populist base wants to hear that message, so does the libertarian Republican constituency; and before us now is such a hard-fought terrain that someone’s got to take that position, starting with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Did I just say that Sanders is a Zionist? Sure; but he’s also a free thinker by temperament and a realist on these questions. He has to know that our Israel policy is screwed up. And Hillary Clinton is on the wrong side of this question because she’s pandering to the billionaire class, in the person of Haim Saban. That’s a political opportunity he’s got to exploit.
Policy depends on knowledge production; and the secret lessons about Middle East policy in the last year were, The Israel lobby is not ten feet tall (AIPAC got crushed), and, It’s OK to edge away from Zionism (from Ban Ki-moon to the Europeans to Haaretz’s non-Zionist conference to the growing closet support for BDS). These lessons can’t escape our politicians forever. Sadly they were nowhere in evidence last night.
PS. Speaking of AIPAC’s grip, it held a gala in New York last night and according to Jewish Insider, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez, who both voted against the Iran deal, spoke to great applause, and the event was closed by hard-right Zionist Daniel Gordis. Menendez is of course under indictment. But look at the roster of those who attended. Notice all the allegedly liberal Democrats. Eric Schneiderman? Letitia James!
Rep. Eliot Engel, Rep. Jerry Nadler, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, New Jersey Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, NYC Public Advocate Tish James, NYC Councilman David G. Greenfield, Robert and Louise Cohen, Howard Friedman, Elliot Brandt, Brian Shankman, Jay Haberman, Michael Sachs, Barry Mannis, Erika Liles, Phil Rosen, Tamar Remz, Stephen Greenberg, Joshua Landes, Daniel Mael, Michael Miller, Robert Gottheim, Maury Litwack, David Lobl, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Yaacov Behrman, Walter T. Mosley, Pinny Ringel, Dr. Michael Makovsky, Michael Kassen, Leon Goldenberg, Rabbi Meir & Layaliza Soloveichik, Henry Swieca, Ezra Mosseri.