Going the full Cantor

Barack Obama addressed AIPAC yesterday in anticipation of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, which has led to some interesting responses.  There’s something in Carol Lee and Jay Solomon’s Wall Street Journal write-up that is worth considering in more detail, however:  Mr. Obama’s efforts to recalibrate the administration’s position—cooling talk of war while nodding to the ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Barack Obama addressed AIPAC yesterday in anticipation of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington, which has led to some interesting responses.  There's something in Carol Lee and Jay Solomon's Wall Street Journal write-up that is worth considering in more detail, however: 

Mr. Obama's efforts to recalibrate the administration's position—cooling talk of war while nodding to the concerns of hawks such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—won some applause, including from the Israeli leader. Some of Israel's strongest backers on Capitol Hill weren't appeased, however.

"I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say," Mr. Obama said Sunday at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Washington's most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group....

Barack Obama addressed AIPAC yesterday in anticipation of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, which has led to some interesting responses.  There’s something in Carol Lee and Jay Solomon’s Wall Street Journal write-up that is worth considering in more detail, however: 

Mr. Obama’s efforts to recalibrate the administration’s position—cooling talk of war while nodding to the concerns of hawks such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—won some applause, including from the Israeli leader. Some of Israel’s strongest backers on Capitol Hill weren’t appeased, however.

"I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say," Mr. Obama said Sunday at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Washington’s most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group….

By clarifying the administration’s willingness to use force, the White House also hopes to lessen the chance Mr. Netanyahu will order a unilateral strike.

Mr. Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Sunday, praised Mr. Obama’s speech and said it was an important step in unifying the U.S. and Israeli positions on Iran. "I appreciated the fact that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat," he said in a written statement.

Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, said the speech was "a step in the right direction," but that "we need to make sure that this president is also going to stand by Israel and not allow his administration to somehow speak contrary to what our ally thinks is in its best interest." (emphasis added)

Now, this bolded part of the quote is quite extraordinary, if you think about it.  Apparently, Cantor’s standard with respect to American policy towards Israel is that the U.S. government cannot and should not contradict anything that Israel’s government says.  What’s good for Israel’s national interests — as defined solely by Israel — serves American interests as well. 

Step back for a second and ask yourself if this is true of any other U.S. ally.  A NATO member?  Nah, we disagree with them all the time.  Japan?  Nope, there was a pretty bruising fight with that country’s government on Okinawa bases just a few years ago.  Canada?  Hell, Mitt Romney pretty much made it clear that the U.S. is gonna get Canada’s oil and I heard nary a peep of criticism from the GOP foreign policy establishment.  I can’t think of a Latin American, Pacific Rim or Central Asian ally that meets this criteria. 

A few months ago, I asked whether, in the eyes of some, Israel was now the most super-special ally we have.  I think statements like Cantor’s are an excellent signal that the answer appears to be yes.  So I hereby propose the following definition:  if a prominent U.S. official or foreign policy commentator proposes a standard for U.S. policy towards Israel that would never be used for any other U.S. ally or treaty partner, then they have gone the full Cantor

With the AIPAC conference going on this week, I hereby summon my readers to alert me to any further statements or criticisms that suggest the U.S. alliance with Israel is in a super-special, unique category that No Other Allies can join.   

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he is the co-director of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Twitter: @dandrezner

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