Of Deficit Hawks and War Hawks
When John McCain – the national security president that never was – ran for the highest office in 2008, foreign policy received top billing in the Republican Party’s platform, affirmed by a pledge to “defend the nation, support our heroes, and secure the peace”. It is the sign of not just how much things have changed under Mitt Romney’s stewardship, but out in the country at-large as well, that notes pertaining to American exceptionalism in the world have slipped to the back of the book in the 2012 platform.
Jobs and the economy are much on everyone’s mind, and Osama bin Laden’s corpse having dissolved into the Arabian Sea, the War on Terror and international relations are suddenly of secondary import. Even the party’s foreign policy platform tacks back to matters fiscal, arguing that “the best way to promote peace and prevent costly wars is to ensure that we constantly renew America’s economic strength. A healthy American economy is what underwrites and sustains American power”, it concludes.
Whither Republican foreign policy remains nonetheless an essential and inescapable question. For, since recent polling data shows President Obama up only 1 percentage point over Romney nationwide, and engaged in dead heats in swing states like Ohio, Virginia, and Florida, the matter of what a future Republican administration would do vis-à-vis China, Iran, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the transatlantic relationship becomes even more important.
It is immediately clear that, both as a party of the right and as the minority party in government, the Republican Party wishes to portray itself as far more hawkish than the Obama administration. “The current Administration has responded with weakness to some of the gravest threats to our national security”, including Russia, China, and Iran, and has fought House and Senate Republicans over “$500 billion in cuts through a sequestration in early 2013 that will take a meat axe to all major defence programs”. The Republican Party is, by contrast, “the advocate for a strong national defence as the pathway to peace, economic prosperity, and the protection of those yearning to be free”.
But today’s Republican Party has co-opted by economic libertarians, including the vice-presidential nominee, and this trend is reflected in the platform’s innate problem: that its two theoretical foundations are fundamentally antipodal and stand in direct contradiction with each other. On the one hand, in the name of “economic security and fiscal solvency”, the party pledges “articulate candidly to the American people our priorities for the use of taxpayer dollars to address those threats”. Put another way, the GOP tacitly acknowledges that rooting out the oft-mentioned trio of waste, fraud, and abuse are not enough to streamline the defence budget; cuts in real terms will need to be made to depress the national debt.
At the same time, the GOP remains wholly committed to the Reagan era axiom of peace through strength, and the idea, itself based on the false and downright ludicrous premise that the Berlin Wall was deconstructed on the back of having a bloated Defence Department, that “only our capability to wield overwhelming military power can truly deter the enemies of the United States from threatening our people and our national interests”. Thus the party commits itself to maintaining “military and technical superiority through innovation while upgrading legacy systems including aircraft and armoured vehicles” as well as “state-of-the-art surveillance, enhanced special operations capabilities, and unmanned aerial systems”.
In Israel, Considering Life After The Tal Law
Everyone knows the old joke, right? In Israel, a third of the country works, a third pays taxes, and a third does military service. It just so happens that it’s the same third.
The Tal Law — which has been ruled by the Israeli Supreme Court to be unconstitutional — was designed to correct at least part of this societal imbalance. Prior, Haredi men who entered into a yeshiva for religious instruction were exempt from military service. The Tal Law presented a pathway for the ultra-Orthodox to enter into the army. Torah students were permitted to take a year out for work or non-religious study. Following that year, haredim could then make the choice of whether to return to the yeshiva, or join the workforce and serve in the army in accordance with his marital status, or perform national service for a year and a half.
The number of haredim in service did in fact increase, but not to the extent hoped when the law was introduced some ten years ago. According to Israel Defense Forces figures, 1,282 haredi men enlisted in the army in 2011, up from 898 in 2010 and 729 in 2011.Of course, most of them served in special male haredi units, where the kashrut standards are higher and there is no mixing with women.
Nonetheless, the vast majority of young yeshiva student continue to receive exemptions without recourse, a situation widely deemed untenable given that the Haredi community is expected to double its numbers in the next decade. The Supreme Court ruled that “the wholesale exemption of yeshiva students from military service, authorized by the defense minister, did not conform with basic constitutional standards of equality”.
Attacking the Israeli Embassy: A Sign of Things to Come?
Burning the Israeli flag in the street was supposed to be antithetical to everything the Arab Spring represented: democracy, justice, the rule of law, and individual economic and political liberty. Columnists and opinion formers (I’m thinking mostly of people like Tom Friedman and Roger Cohen) often went to great lengths to stress the inclusive and all-encompassing nature of the revolutionary movement, particularly in Egypt, even as Muslims and Coptic Christians slid towards sectarian conflict.
Now the day we’d never hoped would come has arrived. After Friday prayers, agitators spilled outwards in the direction of the Israeli embassy. Armed with sledgehammers and battering rams, they stormed the building, scaling the recently-erected security wall in the process, leaving embassy staff fearing for their lives. Rooms were ransacked, document hurled out of windows, the Israeli flag was removed and a Palestinian one put in its place, and Israeli diplomats and their families were airlifted to safety.
The consequences of this assault is clear: In going after the Israeli representation in this fashion, the Egyptian people (or a subset of them at any rate) have accelerated in the onset of a diplomatic crisis, an event which has been muted since Hosni Mubarak was so gloriously toppled at the start of the year.
In the immediate, I do not believe the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty — a most vital pillar to upholding Israel’s current state of relative security — is under threat of extinction. Whilst the military remain in control of the organs of state, they will maintain the view that they as an institution, and Egypt as a viable state, has too much to lose from the collapse of bilateral relations. Hence, in the wake of the awful attacks on Eilat, an increased military and security cooperation between the two countries was put on the table, including the redeployment on Egyptian ground forces in the Sinai.
But in the longer term, the attack on the Israeli embassy might best be read as a sign that, if democracy ever flourishes in Egypt (and, at the moment, if is more apropo than when), then relations may turn cold very rapidly. Not only do the Egyptian people maintain a negative view of Sadat and Begin’s treaty, but they continue to hold not only a hostile position towards the State of Israel, but also a rather anti-Semitic outlook. A 2006 Ynet survey showed that 92pc of respondents saw Israel as an enemy, while only 2pc saw it as a “friend to Egypt”. Moreover, a 2010 Pew poll showed that 95pc of Egyptians surveyed had a unfavourable opinion of Jews in general.
Thus if Egyptian foreign policy ever comes to reflect to the opinion of the Arab street, then upholding good relations with their Jewish neighbours may suddenly fall off the top of the agenda. It was said, at the beginning of this wonderous season of light in the Mideast, that an open society in Egypt would been good things for Israel. Of course, this is still possible, but after the assault in Cairo, now I’m not so sure.