Magazine article The Christian Century

Toward a National Interest: The Fragmenting of Foreign Policy

Magazine article The Christian Century

Toward a National Interest: The Fragmenting of Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

Are Ethnic groups shaping U.S. foreign policy? Harvard scholar Samuel P. Huntington and James Schlesinger, a cabinet member in both the Nixon and Carter administrations, both say they are. In an article in Foreign Affairs, "The Erosion of American National Interests," Huntington argues that without communism as a tangible ideological opponent, U.S. foreign policy has been defined not by a sense of national interest but by the political influence and vocal passions of various commercial and ethnic interest groups.

Schlesinger, writing in the National Interest, blames the "fragmentation and hubris" in American foreign policy on the "excessive influence" of ethnic groups. He maintains that the U.S. has "less of a foreign policy in a traditional sense of a great power than we have the stapling together of a series of goals put forth by domestic constituency groups.... The result is that American foreign policy is incoherent. It is scarcely what one would expect from the leading world power."

The arguments of Huntington and Schlesinger provoked an angry response from Jacob Heilbrunn in the New Republic. The "implication that ethnics are especially susceptible to `dual loyalties,'" notes Heilbrunn, is a sensitive point to American Jews who have a strong connection to Israel.

But Huntington is not singling out any particular ethnic group. He argues that immigrants with emotional ties to their original homelands "have had a major impact on American policy towards Greece and Turkey, the Caucasus, the recognition of Macedonia, support for Croatia, sanctions against South Africa, aid for black Africa, interventions in Haiti, NATO expansion, sanctions against Cuba, the controversy in Northern Ireland, and the relations between Israel and its neighbors."

Schlesinger does target the issue of American Jewish support for Israel: "It is scarcely possible to overstate the influence of Israel's supporters on our policies in the Middle East." Schlesinger ascribes the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act to "Jewish pressure," and points out that when President Clinton announced that he was increasing sanctions against Iran he did so in an address to the World Jewish Congress in New York.

Heilbrunn responds to that criticism: "Since when is it `unusual' for a president to talk about Middle East policy in front of a Jewish audience?" Heilbrunn acknowledges that Jewish concerns have much to do with Clinton's unyielding posture toward Iraq, but he insists that other foreign-policy concerns are also involved in developing the current strategy.

Israel is the state in the Middle East that considers itself most in danger of attack by Iraq. Certainly this is the stated fear of the citizens of Israel and of Israel's supporters in the U.S. But how justified is this fear? Saddam Hussein's rhetoric is, indeed, aimed at Israel as well as the U. S., but any use of biological weapons against Israel by Iraq would affect Arabs in Palestine and in Israel. And history suggests that Iraq is more combative in the matter of oil supplies--of which Israel is woefully lacking--than on behalf of ideological zealotry.

Even a casual reading of the newspapers and magazines indicates that the security of Israel remains the major, if not the only, factor in the harsh U.S. posture toward Iraq. The demonization of Saddam Hussein, which began with his invasion of Kuwait, was driven in large measure by supporters of Israel. …

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