Yesterday, Richard Haass, the prototypical foreign policy éminence grise–he is literally the president of the Council on Foreign Relations—had an interesting Wall Street Journal op-ed his voice to the gathering chorus that favors putting the peace process on hold, not because it is fatally flawed or unfair to one side or the other, but because the time is just not quite right. Specifically, he says, “The Palestinian leadership remains weak and divided; the Israeli government is too ideological and fractured; U.S.-Israeli relations are too strained for Israel to place much faith in American promises.”
But that’s not what most caught my eye. What I found interesting is that Haass spends most of his essay repudiating the controversial notion, prominently expounded by Gen. David Petraeus and even President Obama, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hinders the completion of vital U.S. military and national security goals in the region. Dubbed “linkage” by its critics, the idea is that the dispute cultivates enmity toward the U.S. throughout the region, thereby making it more difficult for U.S. troops to pacify Afghanistan and Iraq and for U.S. diplomats to stymie Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
According to Haass, this is wrong: an equitable Palestinian settlement would not calm Iraq, subdue the Taliban, cause Iran to cede its nuclear ambitions, win over Arab governments, or halt terrorism.
What do I find interesting? When the question is simply Israel-Palestine, those most inclined to support Israel are the first to point to Israel’s tremendous importance to the United States as a strategic and intelligence-gathering partner, while those advocates of taking the special out of the “special relationship” tend to downplay Israel’s direct importance to U.S. interests. When the subject becomes America’s troops in the field, though, the most pro-Israel folks find themselves saying Israel is one thing and America is another, and the left-wing folks find an intimate connection between the two countries.