Soft Power

A few days ago, I wrote about Samantha Power, one of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers. Power believes, as the infamous duo of Walt and Mearsheimer does, that “special interests” have caused U.S. foreign policy makers to defer almost automatically to the assessments and preferences of Israel. She considers the perils of conflating Israeli interests with U.S. interests one of the “take-aways” from the war in Iraq.
In making this argument, Power actually goes even further than Walt and Mearsheimer. As I noted, those two have been forced by the evidence to back away from their original claim that the Israel lobby was “critical” in pushing us into Iraq. Inasmuch as Israel viewed Saddam Hussein mostly as a distraction from the real problem in the region — Iran — Walt and Mearsheimer now take the more conventional path of blaming “neo-conservatives,” a group that they acknowledge comprises only a faction within the “Lobby.” The Obama-advising Power seems to go further.
I was also struck, though, by another of Power’s claims, which seems to betray even greater animosity towards Israel. Power blames deference to Israel not just for our intervention in Iraq but also for the way we have fought there. She stated that such deference has caused us “to replicate Israeli tactics, which, as the war in Lebanon last summer demonstrated, can turn out to be counter-productive.”
Power did not elaborate, at least not in this interview, and her statement makes no apparent sense except perhaps as some sort of modern blood libel. Our approach at the outset of the war was an all-out push to get to Baghdad. In a sense, this can be viewed as replicating Israeli tactics of the past, though it was the antithesis of the cautious and ridiculously incremental approach Israel recently used in Lebanon. Whatever the source of this approach, it was enornously successful.
Thereafter, the U.S. did not use its force as aggressively as it should have. For example, we declined in the first instance to put down the uprising in Fallujah, farming the job out to locals who made no serious effort to perform it. We also declined to take out Muqtada al Sadr early on, before he had gained strength, when we had an easy opportunity to do so. Israel at its best might have acted differently, though it was never willing to take out its leading adversary, the terrorist Arafat.
Power’s reference to Lebanon may pertain to Israel’s bombing of Hezbollah strongholds such as those in the suburbs of Beirut. These bombings have been portrayed as somewhat indiscriminate, but I don’t know that to be the case. In any event, Power presents no evidence that U.S. bombing in Iraq has been other than narrowly and reasonably targeted.
Barack Obama claims he’s putting together a coalition more diverse than any we’ve seen for a long time. His close association with an anti-Semitic pastor and his use of at least one virulently anti-Israeli adviser suggest that, at root, his coaltion isn’t as diverse as it might be.
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