Sunday, May 25, 2008

No threat, yet we go to war

by Ross Nelson
Fargo Forum 05/25/2008

This is a tale of two American presidents, and the complete reversal of foreign policy between their tenures. It is a comparison of wisdom and witlessness. We can see today the results of the less intelligent president’s policy.

On May 15, President Bush addressed the Israeli parliament in a laudatory, even obsequious, speech celebrating Israel’s 60th year of existence. Now, it should surprise no one to hear that American politicians have been increasingly cowed by pro-Israel lobbying and sentiments, a process that seemed to take wing after Israel’s Six Day War in 1967. Previously, America took a much more neutral stance between Israel and the Arab nations. In contrast, nearly all of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in the current contest fawned over Israel, pledging undying love to it and destruction to its enemies, in perpetuity and unconditionally.

But Bush’s proclamations to Israel were so fervent as to be shameless. One exultant parliamentary lawmaker exclaimed that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could “learn from the president of the Unites States what Zionism is.”

Dropping our traditional role as an honest broker and taking sides in the Mideast has done no one any favors. No doubt it’s sheer coincidence, some say, that our troubles in the Mideast and with terrorism started after we shed our neutrality. Scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt demonstrate that our bias has compromised both America’s and Israel’s security, as possible compromises have been skewered in the Mideast by our favoritism while despair thrives.

It should be undeniable that America and Israel are two discrete countries whose interests are not wholly synonymous. Yet all too often, America’s interests in the Mideast have been made subservient to Israel’s.

George Washington saw the problem clearly in his farewell address, although France was his concern of the day: “A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation … in cases where no real common interest exists … betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter. …

“Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil … the arts of influence on the other.”

All of this seems terribly obvious. And yet to assert as Americans that our interests come first is to unleash all the Furies and their cousins. Ironically, those who accuse peace mongers and constitutionalists of blaming America first are generally the same ones who criticize these two groups for putting America first.

Having learned nothing from our aggressor war with Iraq, Bush and his gang appear to be gearing up for war with Iran. Once again there’s no visible threat to us, so leaders such as Bush and Hillary Clinton insist we would be defending Israel. But it’s pure farce to assume Israel is existentially threatened by any Arab nation or coalition. As possessor of a couple of hundred nuclear weapons and a top-notch military, Israel needs our protection like a lion needs shelter from tsetse flies. Nonetheless, Israel will keep its No. 1 ranking on America’s foreign aid list, which for it consists mostly of military spending.

There are shared values between us and Israel, but Americans shouldn’t have to fear for their reputations or jobs by speaking out on our priorities as a country. Washington knew what might become of those who put America first, however: “Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people.” So it has come to pass.

Nelson is a Fargo postal worker and regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary pages.

He can be reached at

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