Friday, June 4, 2010

A Bit on the Candid Side, No?

Via Sullivan, check out this piece by Andrew Exum about a particular conversation he had with a retired senior military officer from Israel. Money quote:

At the end of the conversation, though, this retired officer took my hand, squeezed it hard, and said, "Andrew, just remember one thing: the Muslims are like shit. They stink, and there are plenty of them for all of us."... Could I imagine a senior U.S. military officer, post-Iraq, saying something like that to a guy with a notebook at the end of a formal interview? I could not.

Well, I don't know if I could imagine such things coming out of a senior officer's mouth, but in my brief associations with the U.S. military I heard plenty. While travelling in Egypt's Sinai towards Sharm-el-Sheikh with some American enlisted men (including a staff sergeant) in 1994, I remember how the soldiers were always polite to the Egyptian soldiers who manned checkpoints or the civilians who tried to talk to them, but once the car windows were closed and we were on our way again, it was clear that these guys had nothing but contempt for their hosts. I don't remember the exact words, but I remember the sentiment: "If you want to know why Egypt is such a chaotic, overcrowded, filthy place, you just need to look at these people and it will be perfectly clear."

In reading more deeply into Exum's piece, however, reveals this juicy conclusion:

What is so shocking about this most recent fiasco, though, is not just the lack of any coherent strategy. (If you're trying to ensure Iran does not become nuclear-armed, might you not want to ensure strong relations with the United States and other key allies -- Europe, Turkey -- in pursuit of that goal? Wouldn't you avoid anything that got in the way of that existential challenge?) What is most shocking is the tactical and operational incompetence of the Israelis. Check out the comments in this post and read the reactions -- many of them from U.S. and allied officers, who make up a large portion of this blog's readership -- chuckling at the expense of the Israelis. When did the IDF -- the elite units in the IDF, even -- become such a laughingstock?

I'll be happy when this storyline fades to the background, but I do not think the dynamic [New Yorker writer George] Packer describes -- the new way in which the U.S. military views its Israeli peers -- will. Your guess is as good as mine as to how that might affect U.S. strategy and operations in the region. But when even Meir Dagan starts wondering if Israeli and U.S. interests and attitudes are divergent, we have a crisis in the relationship. And I think most Israelis would concede it matters a lot more for them than it does for us.

My emphasis. This is a problem for Israel. And, as a Jew, it's easy to lay the responsibility for the success of the relationship at Obama's feet and say that it's up the the U.S. to accept Israel's behavior without comment and let anything they do in defense of their country slide. I mean, after all, we have let admitted war criminals in the United States government who devised, authorized, and implemented a torture regime, in violation of national and international law, escape any sort of accountability or justice. But -- and this is a big but -- Israel is not the U.S., and the U.S. is not Israel. Their interests are deeply connected to ours, but we cannot assume that they can "enjoy" the same blindness to criminal acts that the current administration has regarding the Bush/Cheney administration.

Israel needs to investigate -- at the very least -- the events surrounding the raid on the flotilla and make a good faith effort to report them accurately. Very strategic relationships are at stake (Turkey, the U.S.). Or maybe Israel really does want to go it alone and thumb its nose at the whole world. Who knows?

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