Recent statements from Vice-President Joe Biden, General David Petraeus, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on how how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the perception of U.S. favoritism toward Israel, negatively affect U.S. interests in the Middle East have generated a number of frantic and strained responses from Israel hawks who insist that the U.S.-Israel relationship, unlike every other relationship that has ever existed between two states in human history, exists in a kind of special bubble that magically only ever generates positive things for both states, and that suggesting otherwise means that you hate Israel and love Osama bin Hitlernejad.
The best one of these yet comes from the Hudson Institute’s Lee Smith, who is fast overtaking Michael Ledeen as my favorite unintentionally comic writer on the Middle East. Acknowledging that the “linkage” argument “has won the support of a broad consensus of U.S. congressmen, senators, diplomats, former presidents, and their foreign-policy advisers, seconded by journalists, Washington policy analysts, almost every American who has ever watched a Sunday morning news roundtable, and the Obama Administration, from National Security Adviser James Jones to the president himself,” Smith insists that all of these people are wrong. Why? “Having written a book that describes the Middle East in terms of a clash of Arab civilizations,” Smith informs us, “I give no credence to the notion that the Arab-Israeli arena is the region’s defining issue.” Do you hear? Smith has written a book that argues something different! (I hate to break it to Smith, but many of the people whose views he dismisses have written books, too.)
Smith lists a number of other conflicts in the Middle East, cleverly showing that… there are a number of other conflicts in the Middle East. “Nonetheless,” writes Smith, “I can hardly help but recognize the central role that U.S. Middle East policy has given to the belief that, from the Persian Gulf all the way to Western North Africa, a region encompassing many thousands of tribes and clans, dozens of languages and dialects, ethnicities and religious confessions, the Arab-Israeli issue is the key factor in determining the happiness of over 300 million Arabs and an additional 1.3 billion Muslims outside of the Arabic-speaking regions.” Typical of linkage deniers, Smith has to rely on caricature in order to make his argument. No one has ever suggested that “the Arab-Israeli issue is the key factor in determining the happiness” of anyone, other than the nearly 4 million Palestinians who continue to suffer under Israeli occupation and siege. But it’s simply a fact that Arabs themselves report the Palestinian issue as one that is very important to them, and one that negatively affects their view of the United States.
How to get around this inconvenience? Smith has an idea:
Where does such an extraordinary idea come from? The answer is the Arabs — who might be expected, in the U.S. view of the world, to give us an honest account of what is bothering them. However, this would ignore the fact that interested parties do not always disclose the entire truth of their situation, especially when they have a stake in doing otherwise.
Ah yes, those wily Arabs, always fudging the truth. It’s part of their culture, you see. On the other hand, lobbying groups and think tanks closely aligned with the Israeli right wing, such as the one that pays Lee Smith to write books full of anecdata about how Arabs are inherently violent and untrustworthy, can always be counted on to be completely truthful about Middle East issues.
There’s quite a bit more hilarity to be mined from Smith’s piece — such as his inclusion of Dennis Ross among those who endorse the linkage argument, which links to an article about how Dennis Ross rejects the linkage argument, or his contention that the linkage argument is essentially a game of telephone begun by Ibn Saud in an attempt to gain advantage over the Hashemites — but I’ll just say that, if you were to judge an argument solely by the wild pitches it prompts from critics, linkage would appear to be an impressively strong one.