BEIRUT -- If the Israeli attack on Gaza that started 18 days ago was designed partly to send a message to incoming U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. Congress in the past week seems to have joined the battle to handcuff the new president and lay down the law for him, even before he takes office.
Obama has tried to remain aloof and stay out of the political battle over the Gaza war by making no substantive statements about it. Israel and its many supporters in Washington have different plans for him. He stayed away from the war, but they have brought the war to him -- shoving it down his throat as his first pre-incumbency lesson in how American presidents behave vis-à-vis Israel’s desires -- if they wish to remain in power.
The House of Representatives voted last Friday by 390-5 for a resolution that completely backed Israel in its onslaught against Gaza, specifically affirming “Israel's right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza". A day earlier, the Senate overwhelmingly supported Israel and its right to defend itself against terrorism.
Such extraordinary one-sided support for Israel by the United States Congress mirrors the same position taken by the administration. Both President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in press meetings that Hamas was to blame for the current war and the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, and that any ceasefire had to ensure that Hamas stopped attacking Israel. They seemed incomprehensibly blind to Israel’s combined strangulation of and assault on Gaza. (And as this goes to press, comes the story of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert bragging about forcing George Bush and Condi Rice to abstain from the UN call for a ceasefire that Rice helped draft.)
This almost irrational absolute support for Israel in both the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government occurs while a chorus of international condemnation of Israel for using excessive force includes calls by some United Nations officials and respectable non-governmental organizations to investigate whether Israel has committed “war crimes.”
Israel is using the two arsenals it is most comfortable with -- military force to kill, injure, terrorize and displace thousands of Palestinian civilians, and the equivalent political overkill to bludgeon the American political establishment into total submission.
After six decades of trying, Israel has been unable to turn Palestinians into vassals and subservient slaves -- but it has succeeded in transforming an otherwise impressive American political governance system into a herd of castrated cattle who cower before the threats that Israel’s Washington-based henchmen and hit men hold over them.
Gaza will get its ceasefire soon, but will Washington ever find relief from the choking stranglehold of Israel’s political thugs?
These Congressional votes in the past few days were not an unusual event, sadly, but rather a routine reaffirmation of the chokehold that Israel enjoys over the elected representatives of an otherwise healthy democracy. For example, two years ago, when Israel attacked Lebanon with similar ferocity, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 410-8 to support the Israeli onslaught and to condemn Hamas and Hizbullah for "unprovoked and reprehensible armed attacks against Israel."
Two years before that, in 2004, the House voted 407-9 to support President Bush’s position that it was "unrealistic" for Israel to return completely to its pre-June 1967 borders.
On no other foreign policy issue does the U.S. Congress collectively stick its head in its back pocket, turn off its power of independent judgment, and disregard the impact of its decisions on how the United States is perceived around the world. Nowhere else in the world does the U.S. Congress vote according to the interests of a foreign country, rather than according to the U.S. national interest. This kind of blind, whole-hearted plunge into a maelstrom of pro-Israeli fanaticism and zealotry reflects precisely how strong the pro-Israeli lobby is in the United States, and how weak are the voices of reason, balance and justice as drivers of American foreign policy.
This is the distorted reality that Obama will inherit in a week’s time, and what an ugly thing it is. It captures the worst of all worlds all rolled into one -- the vicious, hysterical force of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States that buys and terrorizes politicians as easily as buying bags of peanuts at a circus; the anemic, mindless and spineless Arab governments who stand naked before Israel and the United States, and shameless before their own people; and the American political establishment that behaves on this issue, with a handful of brave and decent exceptions, in a most un-American manner in the face of the omniscient pro-Israeli forces that decide if they live or die politically.
None of this is surprising or new. It only amazes me that Americans expect us to take them seriously and not to laugh -- or throw up -- when they preach to us about promoting democracy.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.
Copyright © 2009 Rami G. Khouri
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