Friday, February 27, 2009

The water in the State Department

Remember when Condoleeza Rice was a hawk? When Condi was National Security Advisor she was pretty consistent in her rhetoric against terror, in her support of Israel and her impatience for Arab coddling of terrorism.

Then, once she became Secretary of State, she seemed to come down with State Department disease - an unremitting hostility towards Israel, and a single-minded notion that more pressure on Israel is the best way for achieving the nirvana of Middle East peace.

A large number of Secretaries of State throughout the years have spent a significant part of their time trying to pressure Israel, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. They will make empty declarations of demands for the Arabs (The PA must do X) but their pressure on Israel always comes with an implicit threat, that the US' friendliness to Israel (or aid) is on the line.

Now, we have a feeling of deja vu, as Hillary Clinton moves from her job as a senator cheerleader for Israel to another Secretary of State who seems to believe that Israel is the only side that has to make any concrete, permanent moves for peace.

What happens at State that causes these changes to occur?

The reason is that it is almost a part of the job description. The State Department is tasked with forging and maintaining friendly relations with other nations around the world. It is impolitic to alienate nations unless necessary.

And when this is one's mandate, the calculus changes from "doing what is right" to "doing what will please the most nations." It is a simple calculus that 20-odd Arab League members representing hundreds of millions of people are more important - within the State Department's defined mandate - than Israel is.

The Arab nations, whose members hate the US anyway, have nothing to lose by placing Israel on the front of their agendas when talking with State Department officials. And the State Department, desperate to make inroads in the Arab world, will listen to them and identify with these agendas. After all, if a mere statement that Israel must do X will make dozens of nations a little bit happier, isn't it worth it?

The State Department's job is not to moralize. Even though they will come out with occasional reports on human rights, the department is focused on building relationships.

Another of the State Department's jobs is to protect American citizens worldwide, and when a single slip of the tongue can cause Arabs to riot and kidnap Americans the department will do everything necessary to avoid such an outcome.

It isn't that the water at State is tainted with anti-Zionist cooties. This is literally a part of the job. And Israel, as always, needs to do what's best for her own people in the long run, whether it is at odds with State or succumbing to pressure.