is guilty. America is always guilty. Even when it's attacked. So it
appears, at least, to a certain type of commentator. When the Towers
fell, when the Pentagon was pierced, when thousands of our countrymen
were slaughtered the America Last pundits were there to explain
how we had brought these calamities on ourselves. We were attacked,
they explained, because we had angered the world. Had we not walked
out of the Durban conference? Had we not spurned the Kyoto Protocol?
Osama bin Laden, environmentalist in a hurry.
What has drawn
the most fire, of course, is America's alliance with Israel. Critics
of that alliance, on both the left and the right, have argued that
but for it we would never have been attacked. The bluntest statements
have appeared in the British press. In an article for the Observer
called "Who Will Dare Damn Israel?" Richard Ingrams wrote
that "the undeniable and central fact behind the disaster [is]
that Israel is now and has been for some time an American colony."
Also in the Observer, Edward Said blamed America's "support
for the 34-year-old Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories."
Similar views, more obliquely expressed, have appeared in the American
from this position that America cannot defend itself from terrorism
without disassociating itself from Israel. The thesis was expounded
at length in Salon, a liberal online magazine, by its executive
editor, Gary Kamiya. "We must pressure Israel to take the concrete
steps necessary to provide justice for the Palestinian people,"
he wrote; we must demonstrate to Islamic states "that it is
a new day, that Israel is not the tail that wags the American dog."
Otherwise, we will never enjoy peace.
A more modest
version of this view has found a home in the Bush administration,
especially in its State Department: We must push Israel toward peace
with Arab countries in order to get those countries to join our
war on terrorism.
All of these
supposed connections between the September 11 attacks and American
policy toward Israel are extremely dubious. It is almost certainly
not the case that we could have subdued our attackers' wrath by
forsaking Israel; we will probably not win friends by doing so now;
and it is very unlikely the case that we must make "progress"
on the Arab-Israeli conflict to fight terrorism.
with bin Laden's motives, about which we need not speculate. He
had his declaration of jihad against America published in February
1998. (This is the document in which he declared, "To kill
Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an individual
duty of every Muslim who is able.") His bill of particulars
against America mentions, first, the U.S. "occupation"
of Saudi Arabia. On his deathbed, the Prophet Mohammed is said to
have demanded that only Muslims dwell in the holy land of Arabia;
the American presence a presence that we do not maintain,
please note, for the purpose of protecting Israel is therefore
a desecration. (The idea of killing random people to protect the
holy land is, however, a modern innovation rather than orthodox
Islamic doctrine.) Bin Laden's second complaint concerns our policies
against Iraq. Only then does the declaration turn to "the petty
state of the Jews" and "their occupation of Jerusalem
and their killing of Muslims in it."
Islamists' broader quarrel is with American power: not with the
uses of that power, but with the fact of it. We are infidels. And
we are liberal, capitalist, modern, powerful, and rich; therefore
hated. Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the
point well when he wrote in the aftermath of the September massacres
that the Islamists do not hate the West because of Israel; they
hate Israel because of the West. They call us, not Israel, "the
our friendship with Israel increases the hostility of Arabs and
Muslims toward us. But short of abandoning Israel altogether, what
are we to do about that? It is not as though American policy has
been simply and unequivocally pro-Israel. Soviet arms protected
the infant state in 1948, while America imposed an embargo. America
stopped Israel (along with Britain and France) from toppling the
Egyptian regime in 1956, and stopped Israel from pushing for further
military victories at the end of the 1973 war. Camp David was, in
part, an American bribe to get Israel to return the Sinai to Egypt;
and a deal between Egypt and Israel would probably have been easier
to conclude had Jimmy Carter not insisted on addressing Palestinian
grievances too. The Reagan administration joined the rest of the
world in condemning Israel for bombing Iraq's Osiraq nuclear plant
in 1981; a year later, it helped rescue Yasser Arafat from the Israelis
Gulf War, Washington vetoed Israel's plans to protect itself from
Iraqi missiles. In the early 1990s, the first Bush administration
worked to bring down Yitzhak Shamir's government because it was
deemed too intransigent toward the Palestinians; in the late 1990s,
the Clinton administration worked against Netanyahu's government
for the same reason. There is good reason to think that it was American
pressure that brought Israel in 1993 to Oslo and thereafter kept
it participating in the "peace process" inaugurated there.
The point is
not that America has been anti-Israel, which would be an absurd
contention. It is that Kamiya's counsel that it is "time for
America to start throwing its weight around . . . with Israel"
comes much too late. Israel does not wag the American dog. A policy
of pressure on Israel would not be a bold departure from past policy.
It would be more of the same. And it is worth noting that none of
these calibrations of American policy have bought us any credit
among those who hate us (nor, for that matter, have our military
interventions to save Muslims' lives in Bosnia and Kosovo).
many of us have preferred to pretend that Arabs' demands of Israel
were moderate and reasonable, and that we could appease them with
moderate and reasonable policies of our own. But it should now be
clear for all with eyes to see that their hostility to Israel is
not primarily about settlements on the West Bank or even the occupation
(what's left of it). They oppose the Jewish state's existence. Their
solution to the "Arab-Israeli problem" is the final solution:
Israel's destruction. As long as Americans are an obstacle to that
dream, it will be held against us.
Yet the fundamental
problem in the Mideast is not the existence of the Israeli state.
It is the despotism of the Arab states. There is not a market democracy
in the bunch. These states are corrupt and brutal. They are theocracies,
or precarious autocracies, or secular totalitarian states: tyrannies
all, deniers of freedom, republics of fear, enemies of civility
and human flourishing. (The outlines of another such state can be
seen in the Palestinian Authority.) They are governments that make
constant war on their own peoples. They cannot make peace because
they are not at peace themselves.
There may be
occasions when America can ally with some of those states, as we
did during the Gulf War. On these occasions, there is no need to
mollify public opinion in the Arab world whatever "public
opinion" would mean in this unfree context by pressuring
Israel. A decade ago, a lot of people suggested that there had to
be "linkage" between the Israeli-Palestinian and American-Iraqi
conflicts: We would have to address the former to win the latter.
The U.S. largely resisted the demand for linkage, with the significant
exception of barring Israel from participating in the coalition
against Iraq. As it turned out, the linkage worked the other way:
Having won the war, America was in a better position to force the
PLO to the table. (That we made a mess of things once this occurred
does not invalidate the point.)
The Arab states
responded to power used with resolve. Later, they responded to American
weakness. America's position in the Mideast slipped as it became
clear that we were not serious about ending the Iraqi threat
and that Israel was tiring of its permanent war footing. To turn
away from our ally now would be regarded, too, as weakness.
so. It is one thing to make a case on the merits that our foreign
policies should be changed. Perhaps we should end our alliance with
Israel. Perhaps we should remove our troops from Saudi Arabia, or
lift the sanctions on Iraq. But not under duress. A policy designed
to keep from offending people who might be inclined to attack us
is a policy of preemptive capitulation to terrorists. In his address
to Congress, President Bush explained why the terrorists kill: "With
every atrocity they hope that America grows fearful, retreating
from the world and forsaking our friends." The terrorists'
hope is the frank advice of those who would have us back away from
Israel because of the September 11 attacks.
in principle, such a policy would also fail in practice. There would
be no obvious stopping-point to it. Having seen terrorism accomplish
its objectives in the Mideast, why should North Korea not use it
to make us withdraw our protection from South Korea? Beijing could
sponsor terrorism until we let it swallow Taiwan. In the past, Puerto
Rican independistas have resorted to terror. Etc. Shall we
capitulate to them all?
is the true strategy being recommended to America: Curl up and die.