Alex Massie

The Limits of American Power: Israel and Iran Editions

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I agree with Melanie Phillips that the principle reason there's no middle-east preace prcess worth the name is the Palestinian's reluctance to recognise and guarantee Israel's security. I believe there are other reasons too, mind you, that help to obstruct any path towards a proper and just settlement. Still, since Melanie doesn't believe there should be a Palestinian state, what does she think should be done? However much some people might wish it, the Palestinians cannot be wished away. They're not going anywhere. Right? And if this is so, then at some point some kind of a deal will have to be reached. Perhaps not for many years, but sometime for sure.

Meanwhile, I'm somewhat perplexed by her estimation of American power. She writes:

And why, once again, is a final solution being imposed by America upon democratic and beseiged Israel, while the administration of which Biden is such an ornament refuses to take any effective measures against the genocidal Iranian regime which is already responsible for countless American deaths and of which Israel is the present and potentially future victim, and which threatens the safety of the western world against which it has long declared war?

First she suggests that the United States has the power to impose an unwanted solution upon Israel; then Melanie suggests that it could also, if only it would choose to, halt Iran's nuclear programme and, who knows, perhaps topple the regime itself. In each case, may I suggest, Melanie exaggerrates Washington's ability to control events.

In the first instance, Washington has no intention of "imposing" anything on Israel.  A disagreement about settlements hardly constitutes a betrayal. In any case, even if Washington were so minded it is hard to see how this could actually happen, given Israel's own vigorous defence of its prerogatives and interests. Despite what (some of) the British left thinks, Israel is not America's plaything and I'm surprised to see Melanie suggest, perhaps obliquely, that it could be.

Meanwhile, on the Iranian question it really cannot be stated too often that the present American administration's policy differs from its predecessors' in terms of means, not ends. Obama and his colleagues have repeatedly declared an Iranian bomb "unacceptable" and the President has never once ruled out military action against Iran. In other words, there's a considerable measure of continuity between the Bush and Obama administrations.

Here too, however, I wonder if Melanie makes a common mistake: the United States may still be the world's most powerful nation but that does not make it omnipotent and there are times when even massive amounts of extra willpower are not enough for Washington to achieve its objectives. The notion that all that's missing is the necessary measure of grit and guts and seriousness does not persuade me, though clearly it does satisfy many others. It might be better if this were actually the case but it isn't and so it seems silly to insist that it must be.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleInternationaliranisrael