Politics and morality

Moral righteousness has been the presented face of the foreign policy of the United States of America since time immemorial.

Politics and morality


Moral righteousness has been the presented face of the foreign policy of the United States of America since time immemorial. But beyond this thin and untenable veneer lurks the dark reality of realpolitik, power play, and even naked ambition at work. Such practicality driving sovereign behaviour is not unusual to any other country, except that the postured pretense of altruism driving American actions, when it isn’t, annoys other countries. Americans often don’t practice what they preach, or posture.

However political correctness couched with deft wordsmithing hides the real impulses and instincts that have legitimised America’s dalliances with dictators, illiberal monarchs, or other unsavoury alliances. The relationship of Washington DC with the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign aid i.e., Israel, is one such glaring contradiction, even though Israel remains the most sanctioned country in the world, by the United Nations. Beyond the stakes and understandable impact of roughly 8-9 million Jews in the United States (with imagined emotions attached to Israel) and their accompanying heft of economic value in terms of ‘controlling’ Wall Street, media houses and the US economy is general, the state of Israel affords incalculable strategic leverage to the US in global affairs.

Put simply, many of the most powerful and decisive positions in the US administration and the larger socio-economic realm are populated by Jews, who bear their own impulses. Israel has been called ‘America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East’ for its ability to flex itself militarily and act as a bulwark against traditional foes such as Russia. The Americans have used the Israelis to keep many enemies like Iran or terror groups (even so-called ‘allies’ in the Arab Sheikhdoms) in check, with Tel Aviv’s overbearing and lurking presence in the region. Israelis have managed to extract a price for their relationship with the US, which has routinely exposed the hollowness of American morality in foreign policy. The most obvious mismatch has been the unprecedented invocation of the ‘veto’ power in the United Nations Security Council (often, as the lone supportive voice) to rescue Israel from formal condemnations and sanctions.


Over half of the ‘veto’ votes used by the US in its history have involved Israel. Additionally, Washington DC has been the only permanent member of the UNSC to recognise Golan Heights (taken from Syria in the Six-Day War in 1967) as legitimate Israeli territory, recognised the provocative move of recognising Jerusalem as the official capital and shifted its embassy there (thus diluting Palestinian claims), amongst many other symbolic moves that embolden the unilateral approach of the Israelis. Such underlying equations and compulsions have defined the foreign policy of the US towards Israeli reprisals to the terror attack by the Hamas from Gaza. While the world had rightly condemned the Hamas terror attack, it had differentiated between the Hamas and the larger comity of Gazans or Palestinians.

Israel didn’t, and it lumped the Hamas identity onto the entirety of Gazans/Palestinians and conducted its revenge accordingly. If only the Israelis had conducted ‘targeted’ attacks against the Hamas ~ as Israel had historically conducted against militias like the PLO, Hezbollah or even the Hamas earlier, there would not have been a global uproar. But the Israelis opted for the brutal ‘scorched earth’ approach. Today, there are over 35,000 Palestinians (not necessarily Hamas operatives) who have been killed in the disproportionate revenge, besides the complete flattening of the Gaza Strip.

Whatever be the mealymouthed and flipflopping statements by the Joe Biden administration since 7 October 2023, when the Hamas attack took place, the US has had a direct hand in the massacre of the hapless Gazans. So, what guided the invaluable and questionable US support to Israeli revenge? A potent combination of history, realpolitik, invariable pressures from the ‘Jewish lobby’, and above all, electoral considerations in an election year! Initially, the reaction was wrapped in ‘justness’ and noble outrage.

But the fact is that President Biden would have seen the benefit in tilting towards Israel (beyond reasonableness) to arrest the recent drift of Jews towards Republicans, especially towards Trump personally, who had pivoted completely in favour of Netanyahu’s Israel during his term with the Abrahamic Accords, scraping the Iran Nuclear Deal, ‘Muslim-Ban’ et al. Biden may have punted on the moment to assert his own positives with the ‘Jewish Lobby’, who are also sizeable contributors to political funding.

But over time as the Israeli onslaught in Gaza continued with no restraint or heed, Biden was seen as a willful accomplice to the disproportionate retaliation and bloodshed. The excessiveness of Israeli actions has pricked the conscience of the youth and the recent uproars, protests, and disruptions on Western university campuses are a testimony to a contra-reaction after the genuine condemnation of the Hamas attack. Even many of the younger Jewish voters don’t see unequivocal or blind support for Israel as a litmus test for their personal identity, anymore.

Many Jews recognise the direct contribution of Israeli actions on the sudden rise of anti-Semitic incidents and many are concerned about the economic consequences to their livelihoods ~ suddenly supporting Israel blindly does not make sense, even to them. Secondly the youth, ethnic diversities, and other progressive communities who make the bulk of the Democrat ranks are equally alarmed at Biden’s blank cheque to Israel. These tectonic undercurrents in Democrat constituencies and the Jewish lobby have forced a rethink on Biden’s approach towards Israel. It is sheer electoral politics and not morality that is driving Biden’s U-turn, after a painfully long time. The optics of ‘encouraging’ Israel are detrimental to Biden’s campaign.

The irrelevance of morality also numbs the American electorate in another way, when they see American ‘support’ to Israel or Ukraine as prohibitively unnecessary, especially as the US economy itself is struggling. After two ‘vetoes’ to support Israel, the US finally supported a resolution condemning Israeli overdrive.

The narrative and discourse will now further change beyond stopping arms supplies and investigations into Israeli excesses and an ostensible ‘blockade’ to humanitarian supplies. But again, it validates the age-old truism that it is electoral stakes and not morality that drives US foreign policy, whatever be the purported diplomatic line or posturing.

(The writer is Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), and former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry)