Rich, fair enough. We just are not going to agree on this. But a few points are worth making.
First, as a general matter, I am far less interested in promoting good government in the Middle East than you are. It is nothing but a theory that good government in the Middle East will make the U.S. safer, or even that good government can be had in the Middle East unless its culture radically alters – which ain’t our job.
I think the heart of what, I concur, is our deeper disagreement is that while you accept the premise that we are in an ideological war, you avoid the logic of that fact. An ideological war can’t be won unless it is engaged. That means there are some basic things you’ve got to get in their face about. On that score, Israel is not just an airy matter of principle; it is a very practical proxy for basic things we have to prevail on in order to win.
Refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist – particularly when it is coupled with financial and other support for Palestinians who will not back down from a pledge to destroy Israel – is not an “imperfection.” Refusing to permit Christian missionary work is an imperfection. Refusing to acknowledge Israel is tantamount to supporting terrorists.
When you say, as the AG implicitly said in the interview with Sean, that a country can be considered a good ally that “plays by the rules” in this posture, that betrays one of the core purposes of fighting the war in the first place. It exhibits that the “you’re with us or with the terrorists” rhetoric of the Bush Doctrine – the credibility of which is essential to victory – is just that, rhetoric. It encourages Hamas, for example, to think there’s no reason to change because, when it gets down to brass tacks, there are plenty of things that the U.S. values more than eliminating the practice of mass homicide to achieve political objectives. It tells bin Laden and Zarqawi that we’re not really that serious – which helps them recruit.
I agree that this is another facet of our prior discussion about the Iraqi Constitution. The point of disagreement then was about whether the role of Islam in the state was something worth making a stand about. I’ve thought about that a lot this week as Iraq sinks further into sectarian violence, and as Amb. Khalilzad finger-wags about how the U.S. is now suddenly not going to tolerate exactly the kind of stuff we’ve been tolerating throughout the good-government project, including sectarian infiltration of government institutions. I wonder how you can have any credibility telling people their government institutions shouldn’t be sectarian when you’ve actually helped the sectarian factions – over the objections of the secular ones – ensure that Iraq is officially sectarian as a matter of its fundamental law.
In any event, I don’t have to extend the Israel principle to all facets of the US/UAE relationship. There are some things we need the UAE to do which the UAE will do because it is in its interest to do them. There are other things we may have to squeeze them to do. There are still other things that we may want them to do but that they won’t do because of our defense of Israel. But participation in our ports – which is something we don’t need them to do and that the UAE merely views as an economic opportunity – is something we should not be ashamed to place a very basic condition on in the middle of a war on terror.