Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bush: Israel's Best Friend Ever?

Months ago, I had an argument with DovBear about whether Bush is a great President for Israel. Obviously such a question sounds a little strange. What does it mean for a US President to be good for another country?

We disagreed on this fundamental point. He argued that a President that makes Israel do what's in its best interests is a President that's good for Israel. This argument struck me as odd. His definition is dependent on the answer to another question, namely what is good for Israel. So under his definition it would be impossible for two people who disagreed on what's in Israel best interests to agree on whether someone is a good President.

I argued that a President who allows the Israeli democratic machine to function is a good President. Israel is a sovereign state, with a democratic government fairly responsive to the people. A foreign leader should not impose his will on the people. So a good President is someone who lets Israel do what it wants, even if he feels those actions are not in its best interests.

This concept does not apply across the board. One could plausibly argue that a good President for Syria would be one that forced Assad out of Lebanon or made him implement human rights reforms. Why? Shouldn't the best President for Syria be the one who gives it a free hand?

No. Syria is not a democracy. The people cannot elect their leaders and so they cannot (directly) influence policy. A good President for Syria is one who gives them that option. If they choose to elect a dictator and support terrorism, that's their choice. We can, of course, use all type of pressure, military included, to force them out. But such actions would make the President a bad President for Syria.

Coming back to the key point: DB supported Clinton because he pushed Barak to make the Camp David and Taba offers. I disagreed precisely because of the pressure he put on Barak. Bush, for the most part, has let Israel do what it wants. That in my eyes makes him a good President for Israel.

Note: I am not saying the President cannot pressure Israel. The US gives Israel all kinds of political, military, and financial support. A President would be well within his rights to make Israel sign a peace agreement. But he would not be a good President for Israel.

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