Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Some Historical Perspective on Bibi's Speech to Congress

The Cato Institute's Leon Hadar has an excellent piece that frames Mr. Netanyahu's speech to Congress last week within a broader perspective of other luminaries who've been granted the same privilege - among them, tellingly, South Vietnam's Ndo Dinh Diem.
While Israelis should be proud that Netanyahu like Winston Churchill was invited to address Congress, they should also recall that the list of more than 110 foreign leaders and dignitaries that delivered speeches before joint meetings of Congress included in addition to Diem, also the Shah of Iran, President Ferdinand E. Marcos of the Philippines, and military dictators like President Syngman Rhee of South Korea and President Sukarno of Indonesia, who were also welcomed as staunch allies to Washington, only to be dumped by the Americans later on when their interests changed.

But unlike many of the other invitations to foreign leaders to address Congress which were seen at the time as an expression of gratitude for promoting policies that seemed to be in line with U.S. interests and values, the Bibi Spectacle on Capitol Hill was engineered by the Republican leaders as part of an apparent political strategy aimed at embarrassing President Obama and weakening his hands as he tries to revive the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and as he prepares from the 2012 re-election campaign. . . .

if Obama is re-elected next year don't be surprised if he treats Netanyahu as a member of the Republican-Likud team — who also happens to be the Prime Minister of Israel.

I eagerly second Leon's point about allies the US dumped when US interests changed.  A number of commentators have talked recently about being "on the right side of history."  In hindsight, of course, it was obvious that the Diem regime was not.  It was propped up by a neo-colonial US that, after the French were forced to abandon their colonial project in "French Indochina," stepped in to use South Vietnam as a supposed bulwark against the then global boogeyman of international Communism.  In fact, of course - and as historians like Frances Fitzgerald pointed out at the time - the Vietnam War was principally a war of post-colonial emancipation.

That the creation of a Zionist sanctuary in Palestine saved hundreds of thousands of Jews from perishing at Hitler's hands is undeniable - and, intrinsically, something that one surely would chalk up as on the "right side of history."  But it's surely difficult to list the consequent dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs in that column - and, most assuredly, to put Israel's "conquest" and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza post-1967 on that "right side."  Across the Middle East, we may be seeing a  turning to a new page of history, one that will record the self-liberation of the peoples of various Arab countries from autocratic regimes that, to a greater or lesser extent, collaborated with the West - and played ball with Israel - in a bargain to (they trusted) ensure their own survival.

The US - via Mr. Obama's "Arab Spring" speech - has tried to put itself on the side of that self-liberation, in the belief that history - and "American values" - will vindicate it as on that right side of history.  For the Arabs of Palestine, that self-liberation must mean the creation of a self-ruled, and viable state in the West Bank - something to which (his mealy-mouthed support for such a state notwithstanding) Mr. Netanyahu's government is staunchly opposed.

Congress can applaud and hug Bibi all it wants.  But at some point in the not-distant future, the US will be forced to accord the Israeli government the same treatment it accorded Diem's.

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