The recent controversy surrounding Ilhan Omar has got me thinking more about both the Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy. In reflecting on her comments, I am inclined to agree that her reference to “Benjamins” was at best, an unthinking resort to anti-Semitic tropes. An interesting article in The Atlantic makes the argument that this kind of statement makes the sort of public discussion we need to have about Israel more difficult.
For many reasons, I have deep seated misgivings about Boycott, Divest and Sanction Movement yet this in no way detracts from the fact that both AIPAC and Elliott Abrams are emblematic of much that is wrong with foreign policy debates (or lack thereof) in national political discourse. Criticism of AIPAC and of Israel is not anti-Semitic, anymore than criticism of Saudi Arabia for it’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi or it’s role in Yemen makes one Islamophobic. The root of the problem, in my view, is the way in which Neo conservatism has dominated public discourse and thereby helped to propel the U.S. into constant and failed wars. As Andrew Bacevich recently noted:
I admit to a preoccupation with the nation’s seemingly never-ending armed conflicts. These days it’s not the conduct of our wars that interests me—they have become all but indecipherable—but their duration, aimlessness, and cumulative costs. Yet even more than all of these, what’s fascinating is the way that they continue more or less on autopilot.
I don’t wish to imply that political leaders and media outlets ignore our wars altogether. That would be unfair. Yet in TrumpWorld, while the president’s performance in office receives intensive and persistent coverage day in, day out, the attention given to America’s wars has been sparse and perfunctory, when not positively bizarre.
If we think back to the days of George Bush Jr., when the neocons were clearly running the show, the clear failure in Iraq, as well as the financial crisis, led to the unpopularity of the Bush administration. Though it would take more space than is available here, the closeness of the 2008 Presidential race until near the end, had much to do with the ability of the even more hawkish John McCain and Sarah Palin, running as Republican “mavericks”. By 2016, the rejection of the Neocon agenda was pervasive enough that the candidate Donald Trump could run as an anti-establishment conservative and portray himself simultaneously as both hawk and dove, while Hillary Clinton was forced to disavow her support for the Iraq War. In retrospect, as I thought was actually clear during the campaign to those who were actually listening, Trump never had any intention of enacting a more realistic and sober foreign policy. And at present, as I noted last time, the role of people like John Boltan and Elliott Abrams in his administration is proof positive that the neocons remain in charge.
All this could provide the Democrats, or a Republican challenger to Trump, with an opening to begin an actual conversation about the nature of our foreign policy. Instead, the Democratic leadership by and large remains captive to cold war rhetoric on Russia, while actual Russian experts such as Stephen Cohen are effectively blocked from appearing on MSNBC. This may however be an election cycle in which a candidate who is willing to challenge longstanding assumptions about U.S. foreign policy could receive an actual hearing and overcome the legacy of being “McGoverned”. It is unfortunate that as of this time, no effective candidate has actually emerged who could provide this path and that valid points are being obscured by the mainstream media’s reflexive rejection of substantive criticisms of U.S. foreign policy, the leadership of both major political parties and what is at best careless rhetoric from those wishing to chart a different course.