Why not defend decision to move embassy?

By Lee Keeling - Guest Column
Jan. 1, 2018 at 3:48 p.m.
Updated Jan. 2, 2018 at 6 a.m.

Lee Keeling

Lee Keeling   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

Last week, the United Nations voted to condemn the United States' decision to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Trump administration's response to the vote was to threaten to pull funding for the UN, which is kind of a silly, but nevertheless sometimes employed, diplomatic expression of grievance.

Instead, why not defend the decision on its merits?

Well, they are pretty one-sided. Jerusalem is Israel's capital city; it's our embassy, dammit; and outside of the host nation, nobody has any business telling us where it ought to go.

Also, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital has been U.S. policy for 30-plus years; it's just that all preceding presidents have been spineless and weak and willing to demur when it came to actually moving the embassy, but now we got somebody with gumption to quit playing these silly games, and so now we're just gonna win, win, win. MAGA.

In fact, that 30-year-old arrangement was a compromise between politicians and diplomats made in order to scratch the backs of a Congress eager to please an important political constituency without lighting the entire Middle East on fire. Was the arrangement insincere, untidy and hypocritical?

You could probably say all that. But for a generation or more, it was effective, and it kept in check two incompatible forces on terms that each probably disliked equally.

Given that, how is it right or smart or heroic (or whichever of the three or so other adjectives in the administration's quiver you may choose to employ) to knock it down now? The arrangement may have been fragile, inefficient and ineffective to accomplish too much of what either of the competing factions wanted.

Past administrations have appreciated the underlying nuance and utility of the deal and, after weighing that against the relatively low cost of its untidiness, continued to waive the congressional requirement to actually move the embassy.

This administration, of course, doesn't do nuance. That's for losers.

In the early years of the last century, it didn't take an infantile Kaiser Wilhelm too terribly long to blunder through and undermine German diplomat Otto von Bismarck's intricately spun web of diplomatic contrivances, concessions, connections, treaties and understandings, leaving the entire world vulnerable in 1913 to, as Bismarck termed it, "some damn fool thing in the Balkans." The result then was earth-shattering.

The U.S. occupies a special leadership position in the world, and it need not be so insecure that it should prefer avoiding an imagined appearance of weakness over support for a proven compromise that helps it fulfill its global leadership role.

Lee Keeling is not originally from Victoria, but got here as quick as he could. He practices law, reads a lot, writes a little here and there, and rides a bike to excess. You can contact him at lee.keeling@gmail.com.


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