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Martin Sherman

Reason, Reasonableness & Realpolitik

Under Biden, important foreign policy interests are being sacrificed domestic ones

Foreign policy is really domestic policy with its hat on.= Hubert H. Humphrey

Under the Biden administration, US foreign policy appears afflicted by several perturbing defects. Indeed, it seems to suffer from both a lack of general strategic perspective and of sound theater-specific understanding. Moreover, it appears to be heavily impacted by extraneous factors not having any discernible relevance for the pursuit of American interests across the globe.

Crucial goal for military success

This was starkly illustrated recently by the sharp changes in tone in US attitudes towards Israel during its protracted battle against Hamas. Immediately after the 10/7 massacre, in which innocent Israeli citizens—men, women, senior citizens, and infants—were slaughtered, mutilated, tortured, raped, beheaded, and incinerated—the Biden administration appeared staunchly supportive of Israel’s right of self-defense. But as the fighting dragged on, the US began to adopt a more critical attitude towards IDF actions—particularly regarding a possible assault on Rafah, on Gaza’s southern border, conditioning any support for an operation against the town on plans to ensure the safety of Gazan civilians who fled to the south under Israeli directives.

For Israel, the takeover of Rafah is essential for its success in its battle to eradicate Hamas. Indeed recently, Netanyahu declared that sending ground troops into Rafah is essential to meeting Israel’s war goals while Biden warned him that Israel should not conduct a military operation there without a “credible and executable” plan to protect civilians.

Incubator for terror

Underscoring the problematics of this is the recent daring Israeli Special Force rescue of two elderly hostages, who were kidnapped on 10/7. The hostages were held in Rafah— among civilians– precisely because of US opposition to Israeli military action there.

It is difficult to understand the underlying rationale of this policy twist– particularly regarding Hamas which is, after all, the exact antithesis of the all values the US purports to cherish: It is indisputably a tyrannical, homophobic misogynistic organization that was freely elected by the Gaza public. The approval it won in the polls in the immediate wake of the polls proves that the Gazan public is not so much a victim of its elected leaders but the crucible in which it was formed and the incubator from which it emerged.

What lies behind this perverse and seemingly paradoxical US approach to pressure Israel, the only like-minded ally in the region, into negotiations with an entity, whose very raison d’etre is its destruction? The answer to this lies outside the realm of foreign policy and falls into the sphere of domestic politics and the current fabric of the Democratic Party. Most of the ideological energy in the party comes from the radical, “progressive” (read “regressive”) wing, on the far Left of the party which harbors considerable animosity toward Israel and commensurate sympathy for the Palestinians, and fears that support for Israel could alienate its electorate, thus undermining the party’s fortunes in the elections?

A geopolitical pivot for US

Another case of self-obstructive policy appears to be the approach to Azerbaijan. This central Asian country is not only a strong ally of Israel, being one of its largest energy suppliers and one of the biggest purchasers of Israeli armaments, but it has far-reaching importance for US strategic interests as well. Indeed, as one former US National Security Advisor remarked, Azerbaijan constitutes one of the world’s “geopolitical pivots” and a key to US security interests.

Recently, however, in the wake of the recent fighting resulting in the dissolution of the former Armenian enclave Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh), relations between Washington and Baku have soured. Thus, last November, Washington, reportedly under heavy domestic pressure from the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), initiated hostile legislative and administrative acts, the former prohibiting  US military aid to Baku for the two coming fiscal, the latter by including Azerbaijan in the State Department’s Special Watch List (SWL) for alleged religious intolerance –with the possibility of economic sanctions.

These actions appear somewhat heavy-handed toward a Shi’a Muslim majority country that is not only resolutely secular, pro-Western, and relatively free of religious bias. Indeed, a recent Jerusalem Post article refers to it as a: “model of interfaith harmony, where the nation embraces and protects the Jewish community.”

America’s linchpin

Moreover, in terms of realpolitik self-interest, Washington has several security interests in the region as well– deterring threats from Iran and Russia and limiting Islamic extremism.

Azerbaijan has proved a willing partner in each of these areas. Baku has given US energy companies access to Azerbaijani energy reserves and supported US military campaigns in the Middle East. Likewise, Azerbaijan’s geostrategic position in Central Asia prompted one prominent strategic analyst to describe Azerbaijan as America’s “linchpin” in the area.

Furthermore, for the West, Azerbaijan’s strategic pipelines (see here & here) and considerable energy exports reduce dependency on Russia. Indeed, EC President Ursala von der Leyen praised Azerbaijan as a “reliable, trustworthy partner” as Europe tries to break its reliance on Russian energy.

The history of the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict is complex and blame is not always easy to apportion fairly, However, it would appear that both reason and realpolitik, should perhaps spur a rethink of the current punitive approach toward Baku.

Dr. Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

About the Author
Dr. Martin Sherman is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies a member of the research team of the Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF)-Habithonistim, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project. . He served for seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli Defense establishment, and was a ministerial adviser to Yitzhak Shamir's government. Sherman also lectured for 20 years at Tel Aviv University in Political Science, International Relations and Strategic Studies. He holds several university degrees: a B.Sc. (Physics and Geology), an MBA (Finance), and a PhD in political science and international relations. He was the first academic director of the internationally renowned Herzliya Conference and is the author of two books, as well as numerous articles and policy papers on a wide range of political, diplomatic and security issues. Sherman was born in South Africa and has lived in Israel since 1971.