photo by James Emery
It would be easy, but incorrect, to describe the Obama administration’s foreign policy as unprincipled. It is, in fact, governed by a commitment to one principle above all: Do whatever is politically expedient.
And so we have the impending release of the Israeli spy, and all-American turncoat, Jonathan Pollard. His parole, announced earlier this week, sets a dangerous precedent that American citizens entrusted with vital national secrets can understandably, at least in some circumstances, confuse ethnicity with loyalty. Such a precedent might conceivably lead to an anti-Semitic - or anti-Arab, or anti-Chinese - backlash at some future time of international tension. And it sells out the interests of the American national security community.
But that’s OK. Having made a bad deal with Iran that preserves Tehran’s nuclear program despite its existential threat to Israel, the administration figures that if it allows the release of Israel’s most-desired American spy without objection, all will be forgiven. At least if Pollard’s release is ultimately combined with a generous dollop of cash and military hardware furnished by the American taxpayer.
Like so much else the administration convinces itself, this is nonsense. The Israelis will be pleased and relieved at Pollard’s release; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel was “looking forward” to it in a statement after the news broke. But Israelis also consider Pollard’s release to be no more than his due, since federal life sentences typically carry the possibility of parole after 30 years. That’s a possibility, not an assurance.
And regardless, Israel is not in the mood to accept American largesse. At least not yet. First, its government wants to do all it can to sink the Iran deal in Congress. Only after that battle is decided will Jerusalem extend the hand of friendship, palm upturned.
The White House has adamantly denied that diplomatic considerations played any role in the U.S. Parole Commission’s decision. This, too, is nonsense.
The Israelis and Pollard’s domestic supporters have always argued that his was an essentially victimless crime, since he surrendered American secrets to a friendly government rather than to an enemy. Again, nonsense, though not the administration’s. Pollard was arrested in 1985 and pleaded guilty to passing secret documents to Israeli intelligence while working as a civilian analyst for the Navy. His motivations, he has said, were “loyalty” to Israel (though Israel also paid more than $50,000 for his help, as the government admitted in 1998).
Despite the protests of Pollard’s allies, Israel’s interests and objectives have never been congruent with America’s. Otherwise, the West Bank lands it captured in 1967 would not be strewn with Israeli settlements today. Israel is not in the business of protecting American security, except to the extent this is in its own interests. And American Jews - like Pollard - owe their undivided loyalty to the country whose passport they carry, especially when they are employed by its government.
Pollard’s apologists essentially argue, “He is Jewish, so what did you expect him to do?” The simple answer is that we expected him to honor his security obligations, just like any other American.
How does the same administration that demands Edward Snowden’s return to face its version of justice drop all objections to Pollard’s parole? And how can that administration, subsequent to Pollard’s parole, consider making special provision to let him move to Israel, which granted him citizenship nearly a decade after he was incarcerated for serving that country’s interests above those of his own?
Snowden, unlike Pollard, did not act in service of a foreign power. Snowden, unlike Pollard, did not take cash for his betrayal. Snowden, unlike Pollard, does not have a strategic U.S. ally advocating for his pardon.
Every single thing about the Pollard affair is repulsive. He received exactly what his conduct warranted. And the timing of his grant of parole, amid the Capitol Hill uproar over the Iran deal and its implications for Israel and the rest of the Middle East, simply makes the administration look pathetic and, apart from its commitment to expediency, unprincipled.