Waiting for the U.S. to Fulfill Our Fantasies

What exactly do Israeli opponents of a war really mean? Would a war led by the United States be good for us? This is a neurosis after all, so the real questions get bypassed in favor of the whining underscored by the question: 'Where are you, Obama?'

Every once in a while there's an outbreak in the centrist and left-wing camps known as "the United States won't allow it." For years we have been told that the United States opposes settlements, and so for years Israel's settlement policy was not described domestically as bad in and of itself but as a stumbling block in our ties with our big ally. Even when hawks would provoke acts of war, the non-right would warn that the United States would not allow it. But then, astonishingly, even if we did hear some condemnation from the U.S. State Department, Washington's veto on Israeli issues would still be waiting for us at the UN Security Council and so would its military assistance - assuring us that the United States actually does allow it, and how.

During those years when there was still disagreement within Israel, its scope reflected much of the disagreement between the State Department and the Pentagon in the United States. Over time our leaders learned how to maneuver between the different positions in Washington, usually through two rules that Yitzhak Rabin expressed after the first Lebanon war. The first rule is that a superpower does not tell its vassal state what to do; the vassal state must assess the superpower's interests and target them, fashioning a war that will serve those interests. For the moment at least, this appears to be the approach of Israeli leaders who support a military attack on Iran.

But Rabin also came up with another rule, which he learned during the decisive years of America's defeat in Vietnam: The United States tends to operate relatively rationally, and when its interests are harmed, it cuts its losses all at once. No Israeli leaders seem to be taking this into account - neither the right nor the non-right, which is simultaneously warning against war but effectively supporting it as long as the United States is leading the way.

It's convenient for centrists and left-wingers to repress the truth about this dependence. They even repress the fact of U.S. intervention in our moment of greatest spiritual decline, the 1967 war. The non-right prefers not to remember, for instance, how Israel's foreign minister at the time, Abba Eban, flew to Washington to ascertain whether it would prevent the war - or how Mossad director Meir Amit traveled after him, and without his knowledge, to make certain that U.S. leaders wouldn't listen to our foreign minister if he sought to make peace. Not only was the green light given, but U.S. President Lyndon Johnson banged on the table and shouted, behind Eban's back: "Smash Nasser!"

The Americans, of course, won better standing with the Arab countries in this war, while Israel essentially committed suicide. Although it now looks like the tables have turned, the non-right camp is still having difficulty internalizing this kind of historical critique in relation to the United States and to its fundamental alienation from our interests. This matter is connected to the denied realization: Without American interests - in short, America's control of Middle Eastern oil - it's doubtful that we would still exist. Hence the frequent complaint that "the West isn't defending itself." What underlies this grievance is nothing but the complaint: "Why aren't the Americans fulfilling our fantasies?"

What exactly do opponents of a war really mean? Would a war led by the United States be good for us? This is a neurosis after all, so the real questions get bypassed in favor of the whining underscored by the question: "Where are you, Obama?" As though Barack Obama were Moses rather than the president of the United States. Now imagine the United States attacking to our applause and retreating, as with Iraq, after getting futilely entangled, because its losses in the Persian Gulf are too large. We will be left with the self-pity of soccer fans who believe their team must have lost because everyone else is a bastard.