No time to go wobbly
by Jonathan Rosenblum
October 20, 2004
The results of a survey conducted by the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) and published in Hamodia last week, should be of great concern to Israel. According to the survey, 74% of Americans believe America should take no side between Israel and the Palestinians and only 17% believe America should take the Israeli side. Given that without American support, both military and moral, Israel would stand totally isolated in the world, those numbers are truly frightening.
Truth be told, I take the CFR results with a large grain of salt. They dovetail a little too neatly with the familiar policy prescriptions of such CFR stalwarts as former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. Their standard policy prescriptions for the Mideast from their days advising presidents Carter and Bush ’41, respectively, call for shoring up the stability of our Arab allies by showing more even-handedness in the Arab-Israeli conflict. That even-handedness is shorthand for pressure on Israel to return to the 1949 armistice lines and the creation of a Palestinian state on territory seized in the 1967 war. In the Brzezinski/Scowcroft view, advanced in a widely discussed New York Times op-ed, all the pathologies of the Middle East can be traced directly to the Arab- Israel conflict.
Moreover those numbers contrast with almost every other poll I have ever seen on the subject. A Gallup poll conducted two years ago found 67% of Republicans and 45% of Democrats more sympathetic to Israel. And 95% of Christian evangelicals, who constitute over 40% of the United States population, place support for Israel at the top of their political agenda, according to a recent poll by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Certain quintessentially American attitudes cause Americans to be far more supportive of Israel than their European counterparts. The first is religiosity. All polls show America to be by far the most religious nation in the Western world. And the most religious tend to be most supportive of Israel, which they view as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecies. Few European Christians, by contrast, have any religious ties. More Moslems than Christians, for instance, attend religious services in the average week in England.
Secondly, Americans are much more jealous of their national sovereignty than Europeans, who have willingly granted much of the control over their lives to multinational bureaucracies centered in Brussels. Even the most multi-nationally inclined of American politicians, on the other hand, would have to insist in order to be elected that he would never turn over to any multinational body a veto over American foreign policy. That doughty American insistence on national independence and defending oneself tends to make Americans much more sympathetic to Israel, which is seen as embodying many of the same values, than are the Europeans, for whom nation-states like Israel are increasingly viewed as historical atavisms.
At the same time, there are two currents running through American history that are potentially problematic for Israel and which may be reflected in the CFR poll (even if not to the extent found). The first is isolationism; the second an American can-do optimism that assumes most problems can be solved with sufficient good will. When Americans weary of the world – and the daily casualty figures from Iraq have certainly given cause for weary – they have a tendency to seek to draw up the bridges and hide behind ocean expanses. In that frame of mind, many Americans will have little desire to examine the rights and wrongs of the fifty-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict.
And when in that mood, it is not uncommon for Americans to revert to a naïve optimism as the default option. Why, they will ask, can’t the Israelis and the Palestinians just be friends? Forget the past and look to the future. Once the past actions of either side are no longer deemed relevant, "even-handedness" is the result.
No doubt there are many Israeli Jews as well who would be only too eager to forget the past and move on. Unfortunately, however, that approach would only be possible if reciprocated on the Arab side, and that is not going to happen any time soon. Islamic fanatics still seek to reverse their expulsion from the Iberian peninsula seven hundred years ago, how much more so their defeat by Israel in 1948. One of the most deeply engrained aspects of Islamic thought is the idea that any land over which Moslems ever exercised control remains forever Islamic. There can be no forgetting the past.
To ignore the lessons of the past would be to reverse two of the major insights that have guided the Bush administration’s approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The first is that signed agreements without compliance are worse than worthless. The Oslo process was doomed by the failure of the Palestinians to fulfill their undertakings with respect to combating terrorism and ending incitement against Jews and Israel in the PA media and textbooks. When considering the value of future agreements, it is impossible to overlook the past behavior and compliance of the signatories. The second insight is that Israeli good will and concessions can never create a peace so long as the Palestinian Authority remains a corrupt dictatorship that requires Israel as an external enemy in order to distract Palestinians from their rulers’ failures.
A SECOND FINDING OF THE CFR POLL also points to the American public growing tired with foreign adventures. Only 35% of Americans profess to support efforts by the Bush administration at encouraging democracy in such places as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Like candidate Bush in 2000, Americans evince little enthusiasm for international nation-building. (Again, the CFR poll results jibe well with its longstanding "realist" approach, with its focus on shoring up the stability of allegedly pro-American allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.)
This result too should be of long-range concern to Israel to the extent that it hints at an American desire to withdraw from the world. Should John Kerry be elected, the election will be widely interpreted as a rejection of President Bush’s intervention in Iraq rather than as a vote of confidence that Kerry has a better plan for securing the peace (even if the latter were the case). The lesson for all future presidents would be to avoid, at all costs, any foreign involvement that comes with a high price tag, either in terms of the lives of American soldiers or national treasure.
Already electoral politics has adversely affected the conduct of American military action in the Middle East. President Bush, for instance, is today criticized for not having committed more American troops to the capture of Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora. But in the first weeks of the Afghanistan campaign, the New York Times was already warning darkly of another Vietnam and would have only revved up the doomsday machine if many American troops had been killed.
Similarly, it is now clear that the decision to abandon the siege of Fallujah in April and send in former Baathist units (who quickly went over to the other side) was a major mistake that only breathed new life to the Sunni resistance. Yet that decision was no doubt affected in part both by the warnings of critics that a large-scale American-led attack would rile the proverbial Moslem street around the world, as well as the desire to minimize American casualties.
There are too many threats today that require an active American involvement in the Middle East for America to enter an isolationist mode. The American public must understand that bringing some level of democracy to the Middle East is not an exercise in Wilsonian idealism, but rather a matter of enlightened self-interest. The realist approach propping up Middle East autocracies, in the name of ensuring stability, has produced neither stability nor security. Those failed Islamic states have become mass production lines for the world’s most lethal men, and they will continue to be unless Moslem civil society undergoes a dramatic transformation.
Islamic fanatics, like Abu Musad al-Zarqawi recognize the threat posed by a democratic Iraq, and have thrown everything into preventing that from happening. If they succeed, the message will be clear: the United States lacks the will to defeat determined terrorists, even where it possesses far superior firepower. Islamic terrorists around the globe will be emboldened.
The threat posed to the entire world by a nuclear Iran requires active American engagement. The threat will not go away by ignoring it.
The sooner the American public understands that there is no place to hide given the number of Islamic terrorists bent on sowing death and destruction and the weapons at their disposal, the safer we will all be.
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity, Peace Process
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