In the first in the series of articles analyzing US foreign aid to Israel, the present writer posed five questions:
1.) Why is there an Israel-USA “special relationship,” an alliance which includes generous American aid and political support at the UN and other international venues?
2.) What is the real number of US dollars in US aid to Israel?
3.) How do we know that the critics offer galactic exaggerations of the dollar amount and spurious claims regarding its political valence and liabilities?
4.) What is the value to the USA of its generous financial support to Israel, compared to the value of similar aid to those countries which are Israel’s avowed enemies?
5.) What is the real impact of the USA’s “special relationship” with Israel upon America’s position in the Middle East and in the broader Muslim world?
The first article addressed question #1 and the first half of question #4 (Israel’s value to the USA). The second article addressed the second half of question #4 (USA aid to Israel’s enemies hurts the USA). The third article addressed questions #2 and #3.
This article, last in the series, will address question #5.
In order to assess accurately and objectively the real impact of the US-Israel “special relationship” upon America’s position in the Middle East and in the broader Muslim world, one must consider three principles which may be alien to the thinking of some western analysts and commentators regarding Israel and the Middle East.
The first involves adherence to the belief system that requires utmost fidelity to the data.
In his ground-breaking book Thinking Fast and Slow, reviewed recently in the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Kahneman examines why otherwise clear minded and intelligent people sometimes make drastically wrong decisions. He shows that even when analysts have all the information needed to arrive at correct decisions, and even when the logic is simple, they still all too often arrive at incorrect or even disastrously erroneous conclusions. The problem, according to Kahneman, seems to be related to “belief systems.” It seems that humans tend to be of two minds—one deliberative and rational, the other quick and intuitive. The quick and intuitive one, influenced by emotion and ideology, is all too often too willing to abandon, disregard, or even manipulate data in order to achieve conclusions that are consistent with the emotion or the ideology. Such conclusions, inconsistent with, or contradictory to, the data, may be erroneous at best and mendaciously misleading at worst. Kahneman warns that
“All scientists, not least social scientists, should be wary of adhering to any belief system in their professional lives other than the one that requires fidelity to their data.”
If the analyst or commentator has a cause, then there could be a conflict of interest between the cause and the data. Analysts who, due to an ideological pre-disposition, belief system, or emotional commitment to a cause, fall prey to such a conflict of interest, may offer conclusions about whatever issue is under discussion that are grossly divergent from the data, and hence from reality.
In light of Kahneman’s insights, and given the enormous divergence between the reality of the amounts of US foreign aid to Israel and the astronomically exaggerated numbers proffered by those using the “kitchen sink” methodology, it seems logical to conclude that the latter are possessed of a predisposition motivated by some belief system, some emotional commitment to a cause, which drives them to inflate, distort, decontextualize, cherry pick, misrepresent and even falsify data in order to arrive at conclusions that are congruent with the predisposition. This being the case, with fidelity to the data utterly abandoned, their conclusions are worthless at best.
The second is the principle of the “strong horse.”
Osama bin Laden stated this principle several times in his public speeches: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” The role of this “strong horse” principle in Arab society and politics has been explored and analyzed by author Lee Smith in his book The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations (Anchor Books, January 2011). Smith concludes that in Arab politics from at least the onset of the era of the Caliphs following Mohammed’s death, political transfer of power has always been either through violence or dynasty. Thus violence and the struggle between “strong horses” (the dynastic inheritor vs. his competitors for the throne) has predominated. Mohammed himself and the Caliphs after him all ruled by violence and coercion, and most were assassinated. In short, “…the strong horse is the person, tribe, country, or nation that is best able to impose its will upon others, the weaker horses, through the use of force.” This rather dark view of Arab political history was promulgated first by none other than the famous Arab historian and philosopher, ibn-Khaldun in the 14th century.
This “strong horse” principle, active for more than a millennium in Arab politics, plays out today in the international arena as well. The strong horse on the international scene is a deterrent to aggression; and, conversely, a weak horse invites attack: hence the stronger the horse, the greater the deterrence.
The significance of this principle for the US-Israel “special relationship” is immediately obvious. As long as America is perceived as a global “strong horse” by the leaders in the Arab world, and the American strong horse is closely aligned with its proxy strong horse in the Middle East, Israel, then there is a strong deterrent to Arab leadership initiating war. If a strong America abdicates its role as the strong horse, then its proxy, Israel, is weakened; and this weakness is likely to invite aggression. Conversely, a strong Israel is a stabilizing force in the Middle East, and a strong relationship with the global strong horse, America, strengthens Israel. Moreover, American leadership that abandons Israel is likely to be seen as an untrustworthy ally, or a weak horse unable to uphold its side of the alliance.
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