Kerry on the Middle East

Via a link on Loose Democracy, I found this article by Sen. John Kerry on his vision of the relationship of the US to Israel. It is not, in my mind, a commitment to reforming the Middle East.

First, I find it problematic for Sen. Kerry to define America’s interest as the same as Israel’s interest. I do agree that Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia pose various threats to the US, but they are threats to the US; the challenges to Israel, European countries, Russia, etc., are different. By equating America’s and Israel’s interests, it makes it harder to create a separate policy identity for and in the region. Either Sen. Kerry is bushifying the issue (making it so simple, it’s wrong) or he is pandering to the audience so hard he is jeopardizing US interests.

[As an aside, I think it’s interesting that US policy is that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. I know of no other situation where the US would call a country based on religious affiliation a democracy in the sense the sense it is normally used – equal access and participation by all its citizens. As a technical definition, it is correct. However, by the technical definition, Iran is a functioning democracy. This aside is not meant as an indictment of Israel, but as commentary on US foreign policy.]

Sen. Kerry mentions Iran, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In principle, I agree with him, but the lack of details make it difficult to comment in a substantive form.

He does make a distinction between being anti-Israel and being anti-Semitic; much of the Middle East discourse treats the two terms as synonymous, when in fact they are not, and that distinction will hopefully allow more sophistication in the debate on the Israel-Palestine issue. However, I’m not convinced that creating a separate division for dealing with anti-Semitism is a good policy. Discrimination is a nuanced subject, but is anti-Semitism/Judeophobia so different from other forms of discrimination that is has to be dealt with in a separate office? Are human rights violations committed because of race or Islamophobia less important? Does this separate office lead to an enclave mentality within the Jewish community? Is the Jewish community perceived as an isolated group as a result? thereby increasing Judeophobic crimes?

He may be dismissive of Arafat, but where does that get the US in terms of being a fair and honest broker in the peace?

While understand that this is a short piece for a particular audience, I hope Sen. Kerry delivers a more nuanced and thoughtful, dare I say sensitive, approach to questions in the Middle East.

2 thoughts on “Kerry on the Middle East

  1. First, thank you so much for all these exciting posts. You must be avoiding something 🙂
    I think that your impression of Sen. Kerry is correct. He seems to make descisions exclusively on the basis of political expedience, which does not inspire confidence. He has also, as you note, been infuriatingly vague. That seems to be common in discussions of foreign policy by political candidates, though. I think there’s a fear of committing oneself to a specific position before having a cabinet and access to intelligence, etc.
    I am slightly puzzled by your aside. What does religious affiliation have to do with whether or not a nation is a democracy, or is viewed as such by American politicians? The fundamental issue is whether there is “equal access and participation by all citizens,” as you put it. In that sense, there are no pure democracies, nor have there ever been. “Democracy” is a relative term, and whether a nation qualifies as a democracy is dependent on numerous factors. Who is allowed to run for office? Who is allowed to vote? To what extent does the popular vote determine the composition of the government? Can the popular vote be overruled, and how commonly does that occur? The nature of recent Iranian elections suggests that it is not much of a democracy, although there seem to be many Iranians who want that to change, and maybe it will.

  2. elf, what I’m avoiding could be a post in it’s own right. I am actually working on several longer posts that I keep putting off, in addition to a chapter on the dissertation, which I also keep putting off. Eventually…
    I’ve actually also been spending a lot of time at airports and on airplanes. Not enough to do substantial writing, so lots of little posts get written, and then spread like manure when I have a connection again.
    In any case, I suppose what I was thinking of with respect to the aside was the limited nature of citizenship within Israel. If you were to take a Muslim majority country, and give it the exact same political structure as Israel, and have citizenship dependent on religious affiliation, I can’t imagine too many people would be running around arguing it was a democracy. I agree that how a democracy is defined is contextual, which is why I wanted to make it clear I was talking about the definition with respect to US foreign policy, not as an absolute.

Comments are closed.