In this post yesterday I wrote that Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama’s pick as WH chief of staff, was a dual, Israeli and US citizen. And I added,
- There is a good question as to whether anyone occupying such a sensitive position in Washington ought to also hold the citizenship of a foreign country– or whether, in the circumstances, Rahm Emanuel should lay down his foreign citizenship.
I based my judgment that Emanuel is a dual citizen on the well-known facts of the citizenship and longtime political involvement that his father has had in that country, on Rahm’s having served “in a civilian capacity” with the Israel Defense Forces in 1991, and on this Nov. 2 posting on Israel’s Y-net (Yediot Aharonot) website, which is headlined, “Obama’s Israeli adviser: Next White House chief of staff?”
On reflection, I am not sure that asking Emanuel to “lay down” his Israeli citizenship– if he still holds it, which I assume he does– would really be meaningful. After all, any person from anywhere in the world who is recognized by Israel’s rabbis as Jewish is entitled to Israeli citizenship the moment he sets foot in Israel, no questions asked.
But what I as a US citizen want to be assured of at this point is two things:
- 1. At any point that the interests of the US and the current government of Israel might diverge, can we be assured that all members of our president’s staff are acting 100% in the interests of the United States? and
2. Can we be assured that the president is getting the widest range of excellent, relevant, and fact-based advice from all his advisers in the tricky and very sensitive realms of Mideast policy?
regarding the first point, the assumption publicly expressed by most members of the US political elite in recent years– though not always– has been that “this could never happen.” Political leaders in the US spend so much time having to do their ritual dance of pro-Israeli obeisance in front of AIPAC in which they stress over and over and over that they have Israel’s best interests at heart, and that the policies of Israel only strengthen and never undermine US interests that many of them seem to come to internalize the belief that this is indeed the case.
The last leading American political figures who understood that there are, on occasion, serious divergences of interest between the US and the current government of Israel were Pres. George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State, Jim Baker. They played hardball with Israel’s Likud PM Yitzhak Shamir back in 1991, at a time when Shamir wanted to get $10 billion worth of US loan guarantees and Bush and Baker sought to condition that aid on Israel not proceeding with plans to yet further expand its colonialist settlement project in the occupied territories.
Oh yes, 1991 was also the year that Mr. Emanuel took time off from being an American and went and served with Israel’s military. That happened, I think, a little earlier than the contest of wills between Bush and Shamir broke out in full force. But still, it was a period when many people understood that you might have to make a choice between the two affiliations. He made his.
And then, in 2003, Rahm Emanuel was the only member of Illinois’s congressional delegation who supported the invasion of Iraq… That was another significant choice he made– and one for which he should certainly, five years and 4,000-plus US service-members’ lives later, be held accountable…
But I guess on my point 1 above, for now we just have to trust Barack Obama’s good sense.
And that is where my point #2 becomes very important. We could have all kinds of trust in Obama’s good intentions– but if he doesn’t have access to good, impartial, and broadly based advice on matters Middle Eastern, then all his good intentions may well end up counting for little.
So let’s see who else gets appointed to high positions in his cabinet and in those sub-cabinet positions that have a direct impact on the Middle East. If it is wall-to-wall people with strong and partisan pro-Israeli track records, then we will have to conclude that our country– and Barack Obama– will be in real trouble.
And what influence might Rahm Emanuel have on such high-level appointments? Zero, constructive, or destructive/suppressive? We don’t know yet.
If Obama and R. Emanuel are smart, they will take this opportunity to appoint people who haven’t popped right out of the AIPAC-designed cookie cutter. As the (incidentally, Jewish-American) former high State Department Mideast policy official Aaron Miller has recently been writing and saying, one of the big problems with the Clinton presidency was that they didn’t have nearly enough high-level input from people who understood the Arab and Islamic worlds. Indeed, for much of their “analysis” on Arab and regional political matters, as well as for much of the actual crafting and carrying of high-level messages, they had to rely on someone whose expertise was solely that of a linguistic interpreter.
That happened because the numerous people available to the administration, from within and outside the government bureaucracy, who had a lengthy, experience-based understanding of all aspects of regional politics had nearly all been systematically excluded from the inner corridors of power. By the lobby and its many supporters inside and outside the administration.
And that happened under Clinton, remember. The, that exclusion of anyone with real regional expertise continued with a vengeance under George W. Bush. On matters Iraqi, as well as Arab-Israeli.
So now, let’s see what the next batch of Obama’s high-level appointments brings. If it brings in people who really understand many aspects of Middle East dynamics– that is, those of Israel and of the region’s many other countries– and who understand, too, that it is quite possible that at times the interests of the US and of the sitting government in Israel might diverge, and that in those circumstances the US government should, of course, pursue its own people’s interests… then that would be excellent.
(Hey, how about my old Oxford class-mate– and natural-born US citizen– Dr. Rashid Khalidi for one of those posts?)
And if if the hardline ideologues and discourse-suppressors in the pro-Israel community should complain about such appointments, as they surely would– then President-elect Obama and his chief of staff will be in a great position to tell those critics to go jump in a lake.
It is, after all, the content of the new administration’s policy that should be kept firmly in focus. Its fairness, its plausibility, and its effectiveness.
But how to get to a fair and effective policy?
Not, I would say, by continuing to buy into and help propagate the myth that the interests of the US and of all possible Israeli governments are always the same. Because they aren’t.