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Playing ethnic politics 16 mai 2006

Posted by Acturca in Caucasus / Caucase, Middle East / Moyen Orient, South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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The Boston Globe (USA), May 09, 2006 Tuesday, Op-Ed; Pg. A21

By H. D. S. Greenway

When professors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard wrote their now-famous paper, « The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy », they knew there would be controversy. Accusations of anti-Semitism came hard, fast, and unfairly.

Virtually no one who follows these matters denies that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has considerable influence. Some say AIPAC is Washington’s most powerful foreign policy lobby. Others, such as Marvin Schick, president of New York’s Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva, writing in The Jerusalem Post, call AIPAC an overrated « bunch of shvitzers [showoffs]. »

The irony is, as Schick points out, « AIPAC wants everyone to believe that it is a powerhouse . . . [yet] we kvetch when others get the message that is intentionally sent. »

Some lobbies are resource-driven. Think of the Saudis and oil. But there is also a kin-country syndrome, in which nationals of one country care deeply about the affairs of another because of ties of blood, language, or religion. Consider Russia’s pro-Serbian sentiments when Yugoslavia fell apart, or the early recognition of Catholic Croatia and Slovenia by Germany and Austria.

In America, diaspora politics has long played a role, and it’s not just about Israel. Lawrence Eagleburger, a longtime American diplomat who briefly served as the first President Bush’s secretary of state, once told me that « American foreign policy more often than I think should be the case is affected . . . by ethnic politics. Some of the things we ended up doing or not doing in Cyprus, for example, were purely and simply because of the Greek lobby. »

Eagleburger said that there was no question that we ended up with a Cyprus policy quite different from what Henry Kissinger wanted. Cyprus had been an island divided between hostile Greek and Turkish communities when a Greek faction overthrew the government of Greek patriarch Archbishop Mikarios, setting off a chain of events that led to a Turkish invasion and occupation of the northern part of Cyprus in 1974.

« The Greeks created the mess, not the Turks, » Eagleburger told me, and in Kissinger’s view US policy should have reflected that. But a strong pro-Greek effort led by prominent Greek-Americans, some of them big-time contributors to the Republican Party and Richard Nixon, closed ranks and put up enough resistance to tilt US policy toward the Greeks. « If we were able to have been more neutral, » Eagleburger said, « we might have been able to keep the Turks from being as intransigent as they later became,  » and the island might not have remained divided as it is today. But « the Turks could never believe we
could have a balance position . . . so the whole situation got locked in cement. »

Northern Ireland is another example in which ethnic politics plays a role. « Money and arms were flowing » from Irish-Americans to the Irish Republican Army terrorists, Eagleburger said. « There is no question that for a very long time Irish-Americans were able to keep the US from being effective in stopping weapons, » Eagleburger said. « Legislation could have clamped down on this, but the legislation never came.  »

At the same time, however, once Britain and Ireland brought the factions together to make peace, Irish-Americans were in the forefront of helping to facilitate an agreement. The British government recognizes this, and today having served in the Dublin embassy has become almost a sine qua non for British consuls assigned to Boston, among the most Irish cities in America.

The civil war in Sudan had resonance in the United States both among African-Americans, who saw their kinsmen in the south being oppressed by the Arab north, and among militant Christians who saw their co-religionists being persecuted by Muslims.

According to Eagleburger, Armenian-Americans were very influential in tilting American policy toward the newly independent Armenia in its struggle against Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh in the ’90s. Eagleburger is not alone in ranking AIPAC, however, as the most effective kin-country lobby in America. Some call it the National Rifle Association of foreign policy. « AIPAC works 24 hours a day, all year, » says Eagleburger. He said that sometime he and his colleagues at the State Department would go to AIPAC for help on issues that had nothing to do with Israel, simply because AIPAC had such power in the American Congress. Strong support for Israel is not limited to the Jewish community.

In forming foreign policy, « you ignore ethnic politics at your peril, » according to Eagleburger. And as Professor Mearsheimer says, that’s  » as American as apple pie. »

NOTES: H.D.S. Greenway’s column appears regularly in the Globe.

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