United States policy towards Israel : the politics, sociology, economics & strategy of commitment
The rationale for Washington's enduring and often forbearing commitment to Israel has long been a puzzle. During the Cold War it was argued that Israel, a "bastion of democracy" amidst a world of semi-authoritarian and often pro-Soviet states, was a natural ally. But the Cold War is over, and the Arab world awash with oil, a resource that is always in short supply in the US. Yet the American commitment to Israel, a small state that is largely oil free, and of little tangible economic benefit, remains. An alternative view is that the US commitment is underwritten by the Jewish lobby which exercises a disproportionate influence on American policy. Yet the Jews comprise little more than six million out of a total of nearly 300 million people. Even when combined with the influence of Protestant fundamentalists who for largely religious reasons, increasingly support Israel, it is still questionable whether interest group politics could determine American foreign policy to such an extent. Yet irrespective of transitions between Republican and Democratic presidents, bureaucratic support for Israel remains relatively constant indicating that support for Israel is not a product of partisan politics but a given firmly ingrained in the political agenda and discourse. This thesis examines some of the commonplace theories of explanation and finds them wanting. Instead it proposes to explain the American commitment to Israel in terms of a somewhat imprecise and yet still serviceable concept - that of political culture. For reasons that are elaborated in this thesis, the concept best solves the puzzle of an American commitment that is often costly in both economic and diplomatic terms. This thesis does not seek to argue that political culture is the sole explanatory factor in the development of US policy toward Israel, but that it has played a key role in serving to shape and define the American approach to foreign affairs, thus contributing to decisions and operations that cannot easily be explained solely in geopolitical, economic or military terms. It is argued that in perceiving their society to be a beacon of what they like to call 'freedom' and 'democracy', in a world in which these values are largely absent, Americans have been encouraged to believe that they share a political kinship with societies similarly imbued and that they have an obligation to assist where such values are under threat. It is this belief that sets Israel apart from other nations and forms the bedrock of the US-Israeli 'special relationship.' The relevance of the concept of political culture in accounting for US policy toward Israel is examined in a series of case studies. These focus on crisis decision-making during the presidencies of Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and Bush Sr., when domestic and organisational constraints were somewhat relaxed and decision-makers tended to act on pre-existing values and beliefs. In comparing and contrasting US decision-making both during and following the Cold War, the thesis attempts to provide an explanation for the relative continuity in US policy toward Israel in times of significant international and domestic change.