In a Christian Broadcasting Network interview Rep, Mike Pence (R-IN) (who appears to be doing a very good Michael Scott impression) shares his view that the U.S. shouldn’t decide its own policy toward Israel, but rather simply do what Israeli voters want:
PENCE: I have grown increasingly troubled at the mixed signals that this administration is sending to the various parties in the [Middle East] region. It feels for all the world that we are sliding back to the era of the Clinton administration where it was the ambition of the United States to be an honest broker in the region. I take issue with that.
I think President George W. Bush got it right. The United States certainly wants to be honest, but we don’t want to be a broker. A broker doesn’t take sides. A broker negotiates between parties of equals… America’s on the side of Israel. And to send any other message than our unwavering support, that we will stand with what the sovereign government and the people of Israel decide is in their interest, I think represents a departure from where the heart of the American people are at.
Given that Pence is said to have a fairly weak grasp of policy, it’s unsurprising that his recollection of U.S.-Israel relations during the Clinton administration is shaky. The idea that the Clinton era represented some sort of dark age of U.S. pressure on Israel is ridiculous. A number of commentators have suggested that the problem was precisely that Clinton was not acting as an honest broker in negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, but rather, in the words of Clinton’s Middle East adviser Aaron David Miller, as “Israel’s lawyer.” As it turned out, that was bad for Israel. (And horrible for the Palestinians.) More importantly, however, it was bad for the U.S. As Miller noted, it’s only “When we have used our diplomacy wisely and functioned as advocates and lawyers for both sides, we have succeeded.”
It’s interesting that Pence thinks George W. Bush “got it right,” given that the Bush’s and Obama’s policies on Israel are nearly identical. Both presidents have used almost the exact same language in describing the contours of a just resolution to the conflict. The main difference is that Obama, unlike Bush, has actually shown an interest in holding Israel to its commitments and obligations, which some conservative groups have tried, dishonestly, to interpret as Obama being “anti-Israel.”
But what’s most amazing is Pence’s insistence that it’s somehow inappropriate for the United States “to send any other message than our unwavering support” for whatever “the sovereign government and the people of Israel decide is in their interest.” That’s just crazy. There’s no other country in the world of which a politician could say something like this and be taken seriously. The U.S.-Israel “special relationship” means that the U.S. has a special commitment to Israel’s continued existence and security, and that our two governments consult closely in regard to shared concerns. It doesn’t mean that the U.S. has to acquiesce to every Israeli policy decision, even when those policies negatively impact the U.S.’s own security and credibility, as does, for example, Israel’s ongoing attempt to engineer the Jewish ethnic control of East Jerusalem.
But, of course, there’s a rather large lobbying infrastructure in place to make sure that this is exactly how the U.S. interprets the “special relationship,” and which will relentlessly attack and fund-raise against politicians who suggest that certain Israeli policies are bad for the U.S., or that the U.S. actually has interests in the region that might not accord with whatever the current Israeli government wants. And it’s pretty effective.