Is It Worth It?
September 20, 2001
One thing is
clear: the recent horrible events in New York and Washington had nothing
whatsoever, in any way, shape, or form, to do with U.S. support for Israel. Many
Arabs and Muslims hate this country and would hate it just as bitterly if there
were no such thing as Israel.
At least this is what we are hearing from
Israels apologists. The European press seems to assume that
Americas policy toward Israel helped provoke the 9/11 attack. To the naive
eye this would seem rather obvious. Yet we are assured otherwise.
Writing in the Wall Street
Journal, Norman Podhoretz asserts that if Israel had never come
into existence, or if it were magically to disappear, the U.S. would still stand as
an embodiment of everything that most of these Arabs consider evil.
Indeed, he goes on, the hatred of Israel is in large part a surrogate
According to this argument, the terrible
violence we have suffered has no connection to our alliance with Israel; that
alliance not only has no cost for us, but is a positive blessing. We are lucky to have
such an ally.
In fact, by this logic, the cost of the alliance
falls on Israel. It would seem to follow that Israel, in its own interest, should
break its special ties to the United States and reject any further American
military and financial aid. Why should the Israelis, who have their own problems,
take on all our enemies in addition?
Podhoretzs argument is an insult to his
readers intelligence. Of course American support for Israel has cost this
country dearly. Any fool can see that, though in some quarters only a fool would
say it out loud.
A personal note is
relevant here. Fifteen years ago, Podhoretz and his circle tried to get me fired
from my job at National Review for saying as much. That experience
taught me a lot about the limits of free speech.
When it comes to Israel, an American
journalist speaks his mind at his own risk. That helps explain why so few voices in
the U.S. press are saying what European journalists may say without fear.
In the early 1980s it became clear to me that
the pro-Israel lobby was trying to steer the United States into conflict with the
Arab world. I saw nothing in the American interest in that; and my own two sons
were approaching the draft age. Until then, I had been strongly pro-Israel myself;
but sacrificing my boys for Israel was a higher price than I wanted to pay. Nor did
I want other Americans to pay it.
But as soon as I began arguing publicly that
the U.S.-Israel alliance was not only costly but dangerous to the United States, I
became the target of Zionist vituperation and worse. Some, like Podhoretz, tried to
ruin my career. And Ive seen others get the same treatment.
Yet it should be clear even to those who see
nothing to criticize in Israel that America pays a price for supporting it
and the price just got much heavier. No doubt there are other things that make this
country hated and despised in the Arab-Muslim world, but to deny that Israel is a
chief irritant is dishonest. And we must be free to say so.
My point here is not that Israel, or for that
matter America itself, is to blame. Its simply in the nature of things that,
for all sorts of reasons, the interests of nations conflict; and when a nation
projects force abroad, sooner or later it is going to provoke a strong reaction.
What happened to us last week was only to be expected; I dont feel like a
psychic for having predicted it for many years.
Now we have to ask ourselves a simple
question: Is it worth it? Its a question we should have asked much earlier.
Of course we have to weigh the rights and wrongs of the Middle East, but there
comes a time when even taking the right side may bring unbearable costs.
Its not encouraging that the U.S.
military response to the 9/11 attack has been gauchely dubbed Operation
Infinite Justice. Mercy may be infinite, but justice is always a matter of
measure. And a sense of measure is just what has been missing in American
foreign policy for lo, these many years.