The View From Olympus: Selling America’s Foreign Policy

On September 17, 2015, Chief Umbongo of the Jujuba tribe addressed  a Joint Session of Congress. The invitation to do so had been issued by Congressional Republicans, over the objections of the president. The chief’s message, spoken clearly if indirectly, was that the United States must start a war with Nigeria in order to advance his tribe’s interests. Congressional Republicans, and some Democrats, greeted this message with storms of applause and standing ovations. They subsequently pledged to do everything in their power to bring such a war about.

Sound ridiculous? It happened last week. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a Joint Session of Congress at the Republicans’ invitation. In a diplomatic insult of major proportions, the president was not consulted or informed. The purpose of Netanyahu’s speech was to scuttle any nuclear deal with Iran. If there is no deal, war with Iran will become almost unavoidable. Mr. Netanyahu wants the United States to fight such a war on Israel’s behalf. Congressional Republicans wildly applauded that prospect.

Republicans have long been known to conservatives as “the stupid party”. Are they so stupid as to not understand that absent an agreement with Iran, Iran’s nuclear program will shift into even higher gear, steadily reducing the “breakout interval”, the time it would take Iran to build a bomb? As an Iranian bomb grows closer, the demands–especially from Republicans–to stop Iran’s progress will grow louder. With no agreement, the only way to do that will be to attack Iran, starting yet another American war in the Middle East. In case Republicans have not noticed, we have just lost two such wars. The prosepects against Iran look no beter.

If Mr. Netanyahu gets his wish, Israel will no doubt cheer us on from the sidelines. But the price, in money and in lives, will be paid by America.

It is no mystery why Israel would want this. It’s always handy when you can get someone else to fight your wars for you. But why would almost all Congressional Republicans, and many Democrats, cheer a policy that, from America’s standpoint, is all costs and few if any benefits? An Iranian bomb might threaten Israel–assuming Iran wants to commit suicide and see 3000 years of Persian civilization wiped off the map–but poses little danger to the United States.

The answer is the same as for almost all actions by Congress: most Senators and Representatives are for sale. That in turn means America’s governmental policies are for sale, including its foreign policy.

We have legalized bribery, so long as the bribes are called “campaign contributions”. Other forms of legalized bribery include implicitly promising hefty contracts and paid board of director memberships to Members who serve monied interests and having relatives work for lobbying firms through which anyone wanting to approach the Member must go. Paul Weyrich agreed with me that at most 10% of Members of Congress now think at all about governing the country. The remaining 90% want only to have successful careers as professional politicians and leave Washington very, very rich. Most succeed.

The Israeli lobby is a major political donor. Most of that lobby supports not just Israel, but Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Pary, despite the misgivings of many American Jews (some newer Jewish lobbying groups such as J Street are more discriminating). Virtually all Members of Congress who have dared defy the Israeli lobby have lost their seats, because the lobby pours vast resources into the campaigns of their opponents.

When all you care about is your career, you are not going to defy a lobby that can end it. If that means cheering Mr. Netanyahu and another American war in the Middle East, so what? The lives and dollars lost in that war won’t come from your family or your pocket.

So long as all policy is for sale in Washington, there is no hope for the future of this country. Conservatives have long opposed public funding of campaigns, but it is our only hope to end the sale of government policy. It must be coupled with very strict penalties for Members of Congress found accepting any money from interests, including after they leave office. It is time for conservatives to favor public funding, and remember Edmund Burke’s warning about the worst of all kinds of political factions, factions under the control of a foreign power. favicon