Putting US Security First?

President Obama’s Super Bowl interview included the curious equal billing for U.S. security and that of Israel. And his Republican rivals sometimes act as if Israel’s security should be priority number one. Ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar asks, shouldn’t U.S. security stand alone for U.S. presidents?

By Paul R. Pillar

In an interview broadcast during NBC’s Super Bowl pregame show on Sunday, President Obama made a couple of statements that were disturbing, even if politically unsurprising.

In a portion of the interview about the danger of Israel touching off a war with Iran, the president said, “My number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel.”

President Obama speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the White House on May 20, 2011 (White House photo by Pete Souza)

Wait a minute, shouldn’t the security of the United States be the number one priority of the president of the United States? Rather than merely sharing the top spot on the priority list with some foreign country’s security?

This comment was part of an unscripted interview, and perhaps the language of a prepared speech would have come out differently. But the president said what he said.

Elsewhere in the same interview, Mr. Obama said that in dealing with Israel regarding the issue of Iran, “We are going to make sure that we work in lockstep.” If working in lockstep means that Israel defers to U.S. interests and preferences, that would be fine for the United States. But of course the deference nearly always works the other way around.

For a glaring recent example involving President Obama, recall how he caved to Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the continued Israeli construction of settlements in occupied territories. So this statement is disturbing as well.

Any national political leader in the United States should be expected to give clear, consistent, overwhelming priority to U.S. interests, never equating, much less subordinating, them to the interests of any foreign state. Relationships with foreign governments can be useful in advancing U.S. interests, but they are always means, not ends.

I have discussed this principle before. Suffice it to note that the policies of the current government of the foreign state in question are not only not to be equated with U.S. interests but are seriously damaging those interests, whether through risking war with Iran, undermining efforts short of war to resolve differences with Iran, or associating the United States with a highly salient and unjust occupation.

Even with an alternative government that was less destructive (to Israel’s own interests, let alone to those of the United States), the interests of the United States should not be equated with the interests of this foreign state any more than to those of Denmark, Thailand, Argentina or any other foreign country, no matter what fondness individual citizens may feel toward those or other places.

The president’s statements before the Super Bowl are mild compared to the efforts of most of his Republican opponents to outdo each other in subordinating themselves to the wishes of the Israeli government. One of the best indications of what is shaping the environment in which these candidates operate comes from the lips of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate who is Newt Gingrich’s biggest bankroller and is likely to open his wallet to Mitt Romney’s campaign once Romney nails down the nomination.

Speaking to an Israeli group in 2010, Adelson said that when he did military service as a young man it was “unfortunately” in a U.S. uniform rather than an Israeli one. He said he hoped his son would become a sniper for the Israel Defense Forces.

Adelson concluded, “All we [meaning Adelson and his Israeli wife, who did serve in the IDF] care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel, because even though I am not Israeli born, Israel is in my heart.”

Speaking as someone who feels fortunate and proud to have worn a U.S. uniform when performing military service, I find it deeply distressing that such sentiments are playing such a large role in determining U.S. policies and perhaps the U.S. presidency.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared in The National Interest.)


8 comments for “Putting US Security First?

  1. flat 5
    February 13, 2012 at 21:03

    • Warning Iran Against Hitting ‘Soft’ American Targets
    The Obama administration should deem an attack on a synagogue or embassy as tantamount to a military attack on the U.S.
    The Iranian government has now made crystal clear that it is at war not only with Israel and Zionism but with Jewish communities throughout the world. As Iran’s Rafah news website—identified with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—threatened last month, Iran plans to “take the war beyond the borders of Iran, and beyond the borders of the region.” And last week an Iranian News Agency headline declared that “Israeli people must be annihilated.”
    These and other recent threats have, according to news reports, led Israeli and American authorities to believe that Iran is preparing attacks against Israeli embassies and consulates world-wide, as well as against Jewish houses of prayer, schools, community centers, restaurants and other soft targets.
    If this were to happen, it would not be the first time that Iranian agents have bombed or attacked Israeli and Jewish targets in distant countries. Back in 1992, Iranian agents blew up the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing and injuring hundreds of civilians, many of whom were children. The Argentine government conducted a thorough criminal investigation and indicted several Iranian officials, but those officials were well beyond the reach of Argentine legal authorities and remain at liberty.
    The U.S. government should deem any Iranian attack against Israeli or Jewish soft targets in America to be an armed military attack on the U.S.—to which the U.S. will retaliate militarily at a time and place of its choosing. Washington should not treat such an attack as the Argentine authorities did, merely as a criminal act.
    Under international law, an attack on an embassy is an attack both on the embassy’s country and on the country in which the embassy is located. And under the charter of the United Nations, an attack against a nation’s citizens on its territory is an act of armed aggression that justifies retaliatory military action.
    An attack on an American synagogue is no different than an attack on the World Trade Center or on American aviation. We correctly regarded those attacks as acts of war committed by al Qaeda and facilitated by the government of Afghanistan, and we responded militarily. All American citizens, regardless of their religious affiliation, are equally entitled to the protection of the American military.
    U.S. retaliation could take the form of military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Though such action might be pre-emptive in its intention, it would be reactive as a
    matter of international law, since it would be in response to an armed attack by Iran. It wouldn’t require Security Council approval, since Article 51 of the U.N. Charter explicitly preserves the right of member nations to respond to any armed attack.
    This is not to argue against such an attack if Iran decides not to go after soft American targets. It may become necessary for our military to target Iranian nuclear facilities if economic sanctions and diplomatic efforts do not succeed and if the Iranian government decides to cross red lines by militarizing its nuclear program and placing it in deep underground bunkers. But the legal justification for such an attack would be somewhat different. It would be predominantly pre-emptive or preventive, though it would have reactive elements as well, since Iran has armed our enemies in Iraq and caused the death of many American soldiers.
    If Israel were compelled to act alone against Iran’s nuclear program, it too would be reacting as well as pre-empting, since Iran has effectively declared war against the Jewish state and its people. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah recently confirmed Iran’s role as Hezbollah’s active partner in its war against Israel, claiming that it “could not have been victorious” in its 2006 war without the military support of Tehran. Iran’s ongoing support of
    Hezbollah and Hamas, coupled with its direct participation in the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, constitute sufficient casus belli to justify a reactive Israeli military strike against the Iranian nuclear program.
    The best outcome, of course, would be to deter Iran from both foreign aggression and domestic nuclearization by making the costs too high, even for the most zealous or adventurous Iranian leaders. But for deterrence to succeed, where sanctions and other tactics appear to be failing, the threat of military action must be credible. Right now it is not, because Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other administration officials are sending mixed signals, not only with regard to the U.S. but also with regard to Israel.
    The administration must speak with an unambiguous and credible voice that leaves no doubt in the minds of Iranian leaders that America won’t tolerate attacks on our citizens or a nuclear-armed Iran. As George Washington wisely counseled in his second inaugural address, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”
    Mr. Dershowitz is a law professor at Harvard. His latest book is “Trials of Zion” (Grand Central Publishing, 2010).

  2. rosemerry
    February 10, 2012 at 15:09

    flat5 again with his rants “If the enemy should invade Muslim lands and spill Muslim blood,” ONLY THEN WILL IRAN RETALIATE. Can you not understand what self defence is???
    This does NOT say jews have no place in the ME. If only they did not try to take over and destroy other lands and people, they are part of the scene now.

    • flat 5
      February 12, 2012 at 10:04

      queen of the medievalist lovers whose bullshit would enable the Arabs to finish Hitler’s plan

  3. fauxxbatt
    February 10, 2012 at 10:33

    appeariently the other country (metropolis, city/state, whatever) haire to referred just across the xeonibic “forbidden zone” is of paramount importance being how its whare the holy radiatation is silo’d to which they, beneath the planet of the apes (seen it ?) prey, right up till the mascusesz come off

  4. flat 5
    February 9, 2012 at 17:36

    Iran: Genocide of Jews is a Moral Obligation
    Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed a new doctrine explaining why it would be ‘legally and morally justified’ to commit genocide and wipe Israel off the map.
    The article was written by Khameini’s close adviser Alireza Forghani and endorsed by the Supreme Leader whose writings played a critical role in its drafting.
    The article has since appeared on numerous Iranian government and military websites.
    “Israel is a cancerous tumor in the Middle East,” the article in the ultraconservative Farsi-language Alef news site said. “Israel is a satanic media outlet with bombers. Every Muslim is required to arm themselves against Israel.”
    “I have already noted the usurper state of Israel poses a grave threat to Islam and Muslim countries. Islam and Muslim states must not lose this opportunity to remove the corruption from out midst. All of our problems are because of Israel – Israel of America.”
    “The first step should be the absolute destruction of Israel. To this end, Iran could make use of long-range missiles. The distance between us is only 2,600 KM. It can be done in minutes.”
    The crux of the piece says Iran would be justified in launching a pre-emptive strike against Israel because of the threat the Jewish state’s leaders are posing against its own nuclear facilities.
    However, during a lengthy discussion of the ‘jurisprudence of Jihad,’ the article makes it clear that an Israeli strike ‘isn’t required’ and would ultimately serve as a pretext for genocide.
    Instead, he says ‘defensive Jihad’ justifies annihilating Israel and targeting its civilian population because Israel has “spilled Muslim blood” and “oppresses” its Muslim neighbors.
    “With regard to the fake state of Israel in Palestine, which is included in the first Qibla of Muslims, we must defend the sacred blood of Muslims in Islamic Palestine using any means necessary,” it goes on to explain.
    “If the enemy should invade Muslim lands and spill Muslim blood, it is obligatory upon the Muslim masses to use every means possible to defend the lives and property of their brothers. It does not require a judge’s permission.
    “But regardless of the Israeli aggression against Palestine and the Muslims, it is clear the heads of this fake regime seek to dominate other Islamic lands on its borders and to develop hegemony over the region,” it reads.

    The article makes it clear Iran sees no place in the Middle East for the Jews.

    “Political subdivisions of states and political boundaries between units are not relevant and what is important is to divide the nations and territories based on beliefs and religions groups, blood and blood. Muslim blood must be separate from Infidel blood,” it says, citing Khameini’s writings.
    The document then cites statistics saying 5.7 million of Israel’s 7.5 million citizens are Jewish – as a justification for attack. It then proceeds to break down Israel by region and demographic concentrations in order that the most Jews possible would be killed.
    It specifically states that Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa ,contain more than 60 per cent of the Jewish population, which could be hit by Shahab 3 ballistic missiles to “easily kill everyone.”
    The publication of the doctrine comes after Khamenei announced that Iran would support any nation or group that attacks the ‘cancerous tumor’ of Israel.
    Since its publications several Iranian officials have called for a strike on Israel “within the year.”
    Source: IsraelNationalNews

  5. Hillary
    February 9, 2012 at 10:15

    Why are posts on this article not posted ?

  6. Kenny Fowler
    February 8, 2012 at 20:35

    “compared to the efforts of most of his Republican opponents to outdo each other in subordinating themselves to the wishes of the Israeli government”.

    Actually the Republican candidates couldn’t care less what the Israeli’s want. The prospect of some kind of war or low level military conflict is what really excites them. Gives them something to campaign on.

  7. charles sereno
    February 8, 2012 at 13:20

    “My number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel.” (President Obama)

    Sometimes it’s useful to explore statements of politicians. On the surface, it seems to me that Obama used the term “but also” instead of “and” as a ploy to satisfy a larger audience. Either term conveys the same meaning. However, “but also” hints that the United States retains a “greater” priority. Of course it does. From a historical perspective, the unprecedented level to which politicians degrade themselves to remain players in power is remarkable.

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