Is Israel a strategic asset or a liability?

Greg Sclobete writes:

To be honest, I don’t know how huge a deal the revelations are in this Foreign Policy piece (and needless to say, these are allegations, not established facts). The short version – agents from Israel’s intelligence service are alleged to have disguised themselves as American CIA agents to hire terrorists to kill people inside Iran.

I think a good way to frame this is to ask: would Britain’s intelligence service do something like this? If the answer is yes, then Israel’s actions are in keeping with how international spy craft and subversion work among allies. If the answer is no, then the argument that Israel is key strategic asset for the United States becomes a lot less credible.

Daniel Larison adds:

 It’s not just the false flag nature of the operation that is bothersome. If the report is true, this operation involved a terrorist group that blows up civilians in mosques, and the perception that the U.S. was behind the group that did these things invited attacks on Americans. In addition to encouraging atrocities against civilians, the operation made it seem as if the U.S. were complicit in those atrocities. […]

Suppose instead that it was U.S. agents posing as Mossad who recruited Sunni terrorists to launch a series of attacks on civilian targets in southern Lebanon, which in turn invited Hizbullah retaliation against Israel. Wouldn’t there be a great deal of outrage about this if the roles were reversed? On top of that, what purpose could be served by such an operation except to slaughter civilians and sow chaos?

Good question. These days it appears as though both Iran and Israel are doing their best to keep up the impression of imminent war. Iran’s chest-thumping and Israel’s own bellicosity may be more hot air than anything. Both stir trouble, sow chaos, but does either really want war?

America is the helpful stooge in all of this. Either that or we’re doing our best to keep things from boiling over. Perhaps, in fact, those are one and the same. Either way, Iranian nuclear scientists are showing up dead; allegations that the Mossad is impersonating the CIA in order to hire terrorists are floating about; and Iran is saying damn the torpedoes and plunging ahead with its nuke program.

It’s hard to know how this would play out under a Ron Paul presidency. As Alex Knapp noted a while back, Paul wants us out of essentially all of our foreign treaties, and that would include our entanglement in Israel:

Let’s not forget that Ron Paul doesn’t just want to bring the troops home. He wants to pull the United States out of all international organizations and as many treaties as possible. He wants the U.S. out of the United Nations. Out of NATO. Out of the WTO. Out of the ICJ. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he opposes the Vienna Convention.

In other words, he wants the richest, most militarily powerful nation in the world to reverse its 200+ year tradition of strengthening international law as a means to settle disputes between nations without resorting to war. I’ll be the first to admit that the system of international law is weak and imperfect. But it’s a damn sight better than the alternative. The Founding Fathers didn’t put, in the Constitution, the provision that treaties trump Congressional statutes for nothing. They’re important for the wheels of diplomacy to keep turning. Pulling the United States out of so many international organizations will no doubt cause quite a few to collapse. What’s going to replace it?

Thinking about this again in terms of Israel only, while I think Americans need to disentangle and take a big step back from that conflict, it’s one of those precarious steps that you don’t want to make too quickly. That’s one of my own quibbles with Paul’s foreign policy – he may be right on the broad view that we’re far too entangled in the world’s affairs, but when it comes down to the particulars it all becomes much more complicated (notably, the same rule applies to shrinking the government; conservatives talk about wanting to shrink the size of the federal state but since they spend so little time actually caring about governance, it’s always Democrats who come up with detailed plans. See for example, Obama’s recent plan to consolidate agencies like the Small Business Administration.)

Israel has grown far too comfortable with a reliable friend in the United States. This would not be the first time they’ve done something like this, if the allegations are true. Something needs to change in this special relationship of ours.

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.


Jon Huntsman Is Out – Is He In A Better Position To Run In 2016?

James Fallows thinks that Huntsman’s exit was graceful enough that despite some bruises, he comes out a lot stronger than before:

We can’t tell anything about politics in real time, but my guess at the moment is that the run will have left him somewhat better off, bruised and rejected as he and his (attractive) family and staff must be feeling now. He has trivially embarrassed himself in a way he’ll easily be able to make fun of next time, with his Tourette’s-style interjection of Mandarin one-liners at debates and on the stump. This will be the equivalent of Bill Clinton making fun of his embarrassment at the 1988 Democratic convention, where he was mocked and practically hooted off the stage for an interminable speech nominating Michael Dukakis. Huntsman embarrassed himself with another split-second decision he’ll have time to reflect upon and learn from. That was when he raised his hand, along with everyone else, in saying that he, too, would reject a budget deal skewed even 10-to-1 for budget cuts rather than tax increases.

But he also had a flash he can build on, when he dressed down Mitt Romney in the last New Hampshire debate for derogating Huntsman’s “service to country” as ambassador to China. And he had many more moments when he seemed to be making high-road (if occasionally wackyappeals than showing anger, bitterness, a willingness to pander, or other traits that will grate and make people dread the sound of his name four years from now. To illustrate the contrast: who, except the Democrats, would truly relish the prospect of Newt 2016? Or Cain?

So, sympathies to Team Huntsman on a race that was a long shot and that didn’t work out, but which he managed with a lot of dignity.

Indeed, although it is almost certain now that Romney will be the nominee – the troops will rally round him soon enough; Ron Paul is too much of a threat to the status quo – it is much less likely that Romney will beat Obama in November. He is the inevitable GOP candidate, but not a well-loved Republican among the base he needs badly behind him. A lot may ride on his vice presidential pick, though it’s hard to imagine that choice being as influential as it was for John McCain’s campaign in 2008.

Still, while Romney may be the nominee one has to wonder if Huntsman is still better situated to become president some day. He will be a more familiar figure over the next four years. Assuming Obama wins, 2016 is an open race. Huntsman comes into it popular and better known than in 2012. There’s plenty of unknowns, of course: the economy, the Iran situation, etc. But I’d wager that just about any Republican has a better chance in 2016 against a non-incumbent Democrat than they do toppling Obama in 2012.

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.


Jon Huntsman Picks Up a South Carolina Endorsement

Pundits and voters alike make politicians out to be more than what they are.

It’s probably too little too late for Jon Huntsman, but the Mandarin-speaking ex-governor and ambassador can tuck the endorsement of South Carolina’s The State under his belt:

Mr. Huntsman is a true conservative, with a record and platform of bold economic reform straight out of the free-market bible, but he’s a realist, whose goal is likewise to get things done. Under his leadership, Utah led the nation in job creation, and the Pew Center on the States ranked it the best-managed state in the nation.

He also is head and shoulders above the field on foreign policy. He served as President George H.W. Bush’s U.S. ambassador to Singapore and President George W. Bush’s deputy U.S. trade representative and U.S. trade ambassador, and the next entry on that resume is even more impressive: He was a popular and successful governor in an extremely conservative state, well positioned to become a leading 2012 presidential contender, when Mr. Obama asked him to serve in arguably our nation’s most important diplomatic post, U.S. ambassador to China. It could be political suicide, but he didn’t hesitate. As he told our editorial board: “When the president asks you to serve, you serve.”

We don’t agree with all of Mr. Huntsman’s positions; for but one example, he championed one of the nation’s biggest private-school voucher programs. And with George Will calling him the most conservative candidate and The Wall Street Journal editorial page endorsing his tax plan, independent voters might find less to like about his positions than, say, Mr. Romney’s or Newt Gingrich’s.

What makes him attractive are the essential values that drive his candidacy: honor and old-fashioned decency and pragmatism. As he made clear Wednesday to a room packed full of USC students on the first stop of his “Country First” tour, his goal is to rebuild trust in government, and that means abandoning the invective and reestablishing the political center.

One really is forced to recall, when reading things like this, how much of politics is style not substance. The pragmatic center-right independents are drawn to Huntsman’s demeanor as much as anything. Even if his record is far to the right of where they’d like to be, his “honor and old-fashioned decency” are enough to carry the day. I’m sympathetic to this, though I find it ultimately less persuasive than policies which I actually agree with. Of course, since we can’t trust any politician to stick to their guns on policy, maybe demeanor really does matter.

On the flip side you have the Herman Cains of the world, men who aren’t really all that conservative – who don’t really even know the proper conservative talking points – but who make waves with voters because of their folksiness or their willingness to come across as extreme. Who cares that Newt Gingrich’s record is pocked with glaring betrayals of conservative orthodoxy, three marriages, and a history of lobbying. The fact that he can talk the talk and call the Obama administration a “secular socialist machine” is all it takes.

Liberals have been suckered in by candidates as well. No better example comes to mind than Mr. Obama himself, a man whose record and statements portrayed him as every bit the centrist Democrat and liberal internationalist but whose many fans saw in his message of hope and change something far greater.

Something to remember when placing our eggs in lonesome baskets. Ron Paul has gathered about him a huge, diverse, and most importantly die-hard following. What if, in the end, he turned out to be just another politician? And what if our pragmatic, charming Jon Huntsman turns out to be just another boiler-plate Republican with a trigger finger?

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.