January 19, 2009

If I had to live in the Middle East, I would want to live in Israel, a modern, democratic country with a productive economy, including a burgeoning high-tech sector, and a rich cultural and intellectual life.  There is much to admire in Israel, a dynamic and prosperous nation created in part by survivors of the Holocaust. If I were an Israeli, I probably would have supported the recent invasion of Gaza, which was preceded by hundreds of Hamas rockets being shot into Israel.  So why, the estimable Ilana Mercer wonders, don’t more paleoconservatives show enthusiasm for the way the American alliance with Israel has developed, with some even expressing concerns about the Israeli operation in Gaza?

One reason is that, owing to America’s longtime financial and military support for Israel, including providing Israel with the weapons used to subdue Gaza and with more foreign aid than we give to any other country, America is often blamed in the Islamic world for the actions of Israel.  When Islamists inevitably seek to avenge Gaza, they might try to kill Americans as well as Israelis, although Hamas itself has never attacked American targets.  It is therefore reasonable for Americans to be concerned over the fallout from Israeli use of force against Arabs. Indeed, serious arguments have been made both that our attachment to Israel helped fuel the hatred that found murderous expression on 9/11, and that our invasion of Iraq was prompted in part by a belief that destoying Saddam Hussein’s regime would benefit Israel. At the very least, our close ties with Israel complicate our relations with the countries that control the only item of vital importance to the United States in the Middle East, oil.  America pays a high price for our unquestioning support of Israel.

Israel has benefited greatly from the military, economic, and diplomatic support of the United States.  Indeed, Richard Nixon’s airlift to Israel during the 1973 war arguably saved Israel from being overrun by the Arab armies attacking her. Although advocates of our unswerving support for Israel like to say that in return Israel has been America’s closest ally, it is hard to find the evidence for that assertion.  Since the creation of Israel in 1948, America has fought four major wars alongside our allies, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War, and the Second Gulf War, including the invasion of Afghanistan. Great Britain fought at our side in each of these wars except Vietnam, sending 63,000 troops to Korea, 43,000 troops to the Persian Gulf in the First Gulf War, and 45,000 troops to Iraq in the Second Gulf War.  Australia has fought at our side during each of these wars, sending 17,000 troops to Korea, nearly 50,000 troops to Vietnam, 1,800 troops to the Persian Gulf in the First Gulf War, and 2,000 troops to Iraq in the Second Gulf War. Currently, there are 8,745 British and 1,050 Australian troops deployed in Afghanistan, and an Australian serving in Afghanistan just won the Victoria Cross.  The British and Australian politicians who committed their troops to fight at our side have sometimes paid a significant political price:  Tony Blair essentially lost control of his party over Iraq, and opposition to Australian involvement in Vietnam helped propel the Australian Labor Party to its first electoral victory. Other countries, too, have sometimes made surprisingly large contributions to our war efforts:  nearly 5,000 South Korean troops were killed and over 10,000 were wounded fighting at our side in Vietnam. The number of troops Israel sent to Korea, Vietnam, the First Gulf War, and the Second Gulf War is zero. Of course, it is not surprising that Israel was not part of either coalition America assembled in the Gulf, since Israeli involvement in either Gulf War would have been disastrous, undermining our efforts to recruit Arab and Moslem allies and aiding the Islamists in their efforts to recruit new people to kill Americans. 

Even worse, the Israelis have sometimes repaid American support with arrogance and contempt. Recently, Ehud Olmert boasted of how he telephoned George Bush in the middle of a speech and told him to instruct Condoleeza Rice to have the United States abstain from voting on a Security Council resolution we had helped draft.  In the ‘90s and into this decade, Israel sold sensitive military technology to Red China, and in the ‘80s Israel recruited Jonathan Pollard to spy against us, with some of the information Pollard stole from us quite likely ending up in the hands of the Soviet Union. At first, Israel denied any involvement with Pollard, but Israel eventually admitted that Pollard was in fact an Israeli agent, not a rogue operative, even though Israel has ignored our requests to account for everything Pollard took.  In a way, though, it is hard to blame the Israelis for their contempt for American politicians.  In 1967, Israeli airmen and sailors killed 33 American sailors and one civilian during the attack on the USS Liberty, and wounded another 171 American sailors.  Even though the Secretary of State, the CIA Director, and many at the National Security Agency all believed the Israeli attack on the Liberty was deliberate, not a mistake, a view confirmed, according to a 2007 Chicago Tribune article, by several former American military and intelligence personnel who had access to NSA intercepts of communications to the Israeli pilots attacking the Liberty, Israel paid no political price.  Indeed, Washington ordered the recall of planes sent by the USS America to defend the Liberty, and none of the citations awarded the survivors of the Liberty, including the Medal of Honor won by her captain, even mentioned the identity of the nation that attacked the ship.  It is hard not to have contempt for America when we behave like that.

Unfortunately, paleoconservatives are almost the only ones on the right who seem willing to voice concerns about such affronts to American honor from Israel.  During the 2008 campaign, at a forum sponsored by a pro-Israel group, veteran Democratic operative Ann Lewis, who was advising Hillary Clinton, disagreed with an Obama adviser who had suggested that the United States might wish to distance itself from certain policies of Israel’s Likud party:  “The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel.  It is not up to us to pick and choose from among the political parties.”   Lewis was applauded by those in attendance, and the representative of the McCain campaign at the forum did not criticize Lewis for suggesting that the role of the president is to act as a rubber stamp for the Knesset.  Most American conservatives seem incapable of offering anything except the most tepid criticism of Israel or her zealous supporters.  NRO was silent about Olmert’s recent outburst, and I do not recall much criticism of Ann Lewis’ strange interpretation of Article II of the Constitution on the right.  Deroy Murdock criticized the effort to secure the release of Jonathan Pollard because it “foolishly reinforces the anti-Semitic stereotype that American Jews share dual loyalties between the United States and Israel,” and Jonah Goldberg opposed Pollard’s release, which was being demanded by the Israel government, because “Pollard disgraced himself, America, and Israel by spying on the US,” which is rather like saying that the reason Alger Hiss deserved to be imprisoned was because he disgraced the USSR.  Of course, the real reason to oppose releasing Pollard has nothing to do with stereotypes or the disgrace he brought on Israel.  Pollard should not be released because he betrayed America and compromised our national security at the behest of a foreign power, namely Israel.

The refusal to criticize behavior that would be criticized if engaged in by any other country is just one sign that America has formed the type of “passionate attachment” to Israel that our first and greatest president warned against in his Farewell Address.  Indeed, Fred Barnes recently wrote in the Weekly Standard that one of Bush’s greatest achievements was that he surpassed Ronald Reagan as being “Israel’s best friend in the White House.”   I suspect millions of Americans who support Israel and view the Farewell Address as a dead letter would agree with Barnes about that.  And, as Americans, they have every right to that belief.  But Ilana Mercer should not expect paleoconservatives, who tend to take seriously the Founders’ prescriptions for foreign policy, and who are generally wary of foreign influence and foreign entanglements, to be among those praising American politicians for uncritical support of any foreign country, even Israel.


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