Iraq War Puts a Wrench in the U.S.-Israel Relationship


Ronald Reagan, in his 1980 presidential campaign, famously asked the question that sucked the wind out of Jimmy Carter's re-election sails: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?"

It's a question that Israelis could be asking as we approach the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq this month.

The Bush administration liked to stress how it was doing Israel a favor by overthrowing Saddam Hussein, who, they reminded everyone, had fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel in 1991.

Assorted Israel-bashers — Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, and professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, for starters — have dined out on that ever since. Israel, they falsely charged, pushed us into war.

They were abetted by a timid Jewish leadership that refused to criticize Bush policies out of fear of offending an administration with a reputation for vindictiveness, despite a majority of American Jews consistently opposing the war (77 percent according to Gallup surveys).

When Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon raised concerns at the White House, he was told to keep them private. That silence was drowned out by a vocal minority here and in Israel who enthusiastically backed the war.

Saddam Hussein is gone, and democracy is putting down roots in Iraq, argues the administration, and that validates the invasion.

In reality, by the time that George W. Bush came to power, Saddam was no longer a serious threat to Israel — to his own people, yes, but to Israel and the United States, no — and he had no weapons of mass destruction.

As for democracy, the facsimile Iraqis have today was imposed by Washington and unlikely to survive our departure.

Bush's pressure for premature elections elsewhere just empowered and legitimized Islamic extremist groups in Lebanon and Gaza.

Nearly four years after Operation Iraqi Freedom began, there has been a profound loss of trust in American leadership and influence abroad, and at home the nation is deeply divided as opposition to the war spreads across the political spectrum.

When America catches a cold, Israel sneezes. If Israel's best friend is weak, Israel suffers as well.

The big winner in Iraq is Iran, according to February's U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, which reported that the war has led to the expansion of Iran's power and influence in an increasingly unstable region, while Iraq is plagued with chaos, violence and political deterioration.

American mishandling of the war has empowered Iran and its allies — Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. Tehran's goal is to undermine American influence, keep tensions high, block peace with Israel and become the dominant power in the region — and it is succeeding.

Iran has called for the eradication of the State of Israel, is funding and arming terror against Israel, and building ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons to carry out those threats — and the United States, bogged down in Iraq, is increasingly impotent.

The United States replaced Iran's worst enemy with a Shi'ite-led government hostile toward Israel, and moving into the Iranian orbit as the ayatollahs build a swath of radical Islamic power stretching to Lebanon on the Mediterranean and down into Gaza.

Try as they might, Vice President Dick Cheney and the Bush neocons couldn't prove any prewar links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Yet now that Saddam is gone and the Americans have come, Iraq is a haven for terrorists.

Israel worries that America's diminished credibility and clout make it less capable of dealing with threats like Iran — Israel's greatest worry — and increases the risk of destabilization and radicalization throughout the Middle East.

And that's brought pressure from the international community and some here, like Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker, who think that the way for the United States to improve its standing is to turn the screws on Israel.

The administration and the Congress aren't buying. So far.

Douglas M. Bloomfield is a Washington, D.C.-based columnist.


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