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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch


(Reprinted from the issue of September 25, 2003)

Capitol BldgI’ve long since lost my old illusions about Israel, acquired during the Six-Day War of 1967, but sometimes that little country still manages to shock me. So does its American “amen corner.”

So it did earlier this month when Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that “killing” Yasser Arafat was “one of the options” being entertained by Ariel Sharon’s cabinet.

The government’s earlier decision to exile Arafat had already caused worldwide consternation and protest, but this was really over the top.

The government quickly said it had no plans to kill Arafat, but Olmert wasn’t fired, renounced, or rebuked. Nor did the government express the slightest abhorrence of Olmert’s “option,” on grounds that murder, without even the procedural nicety of a trial, was against its principles.

If Arafat is really responsible for terrorism in Israel and the occupied territories, it should be possible to prove it in a court of law, and then to sentence him accordingly.

Under Israeli law there is no death penalty, but the regime hasn’t let that fact inhibit it unduly. Its current policy of “targeted assassinations” against suspected terrorists has meant killing not only the suspects (also without trial), but any innocent civilians who happen to be in the vicinity.

This is not to exonerate the Arab regimes, which are mostly brutal tyrannies; but at least they don’t claim to be “democracies” and “reliable allies” of the United States.

Israel merely adds to the savagery and turbulence of the region, making its enemies our enemies too — and doing so with the American taxpayer’s money, American-supplied weaponry, and ample servings of official American hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, The Baltimore Sun reports that Jerusalem is annexing an old Arab village, whose 200 residents will be driven from their longtime family homes on the pretext that they are recent arrivals, which they heatedly deny.

This hardly ranks with the real Israeli atrocities, but it’s the sort of thing that goes on constantly, making life bitter for countless Arabs, Muslim and Christian. The Muslims fight back; the Christians merely resign themselves and, when they can, leave the country, receiving almost no sympathy or support from other Christians, especially fundamentalist Protestants, many of whom are determinedly pro-Israel.

These piecemeal population “transfers” go beyond mere claims of legal jurisdiction; they are claims of Jewish ownership of the land, and therefore violations of the property rights of people who don’t have much to begin with.

No Arab home, however humble, is secure in Israeli-controlled territory. The government may seize it, quite arbitrarily, at any moment, on any pretext.

All Arabs know this, but it never seems to sink in with Americans — certainly not with American politicians, who persist in praising Israel as our democratic ally, bravely resisting terrorism.

And since 9/11, Americans are more disposed than ever to excuse any action taken in the name of fighting terror.

So the U.S. has just fought another war whose chief beneficiary is arguably Israel, and is now holding the bag in an increasingly costly occupation. As usual, the calls for war were led by Israel’s amen corner, while our traditional friends had the deepest reservations about the war and much of the world flatly opposed it.

The urgent reasons given for war have been exposed as hollow, and even the Bush administration is backing away from its pre-war charges and optimistic predictions. Even Donald Rumsfeld is subtly changing his tune — though not, of course, his position.

Once again it’s clear that the U.S. government combines enormous military power with abysmal naivete about the Mideast and adjacent regions. Guerrilla resistance is spreading in Iraq. Afghanistan is out of control. Al-Qaeda and allied Muslim forces, once dispersed, are regrouping and recruiting. Saudi Arabia may soon face a popular Muslim uprising.

Democracy as we know it is nowhere to be seen. The whole region may be in for “transformation,” all right, but not the kind so hoped for only a few months ago.

The administration is already seeking help with the occupation of Iraq from the United Nations and the “old Europe” it spoke of with such disdain last winter. Far from paying for itself with conquered Iraqi oil supplies, the occupation has forced the president to request $89 billion in additional funds for the coming year. (The reconstruction of Iraq was supposed to cost $200 billion over the next decade.)

“Nation-building” is turning out to be the vanity which candidate George W. Bush called it during the 2000 campaign. The sense of American mastery and global leadership has vanished.

The world’s respect for this country is turning to hatred and contempt. The prospect for the years ahead is more chaos. And this is not even taking into account the economic problems the U.S. faces.
The “Best and Brightest”?

This is what the administration is reaping for allowing itself to be guided by the neoconservative geopolitical wizards, who are this generation’s answer to the liberal “best and brightest” who led us into the “limited war” of Vietnam.

Once again, the infallible game plan isn’t quite panning out as expected. Sheer power is not enough. Redoubling your efforts, expenditures, and manpower doesn’t help if the whole conception is flawed to begin with. In the wise words of Richard Whately, “He who is unaware of his ignorance will be only misled by his knowledge.”

In their ambition for global hegemony, the hawks have disregarded all the Founding Fathers’ warnings against “entangling alliances.” In this case the only entangling alliance was with Israel (Britain merely tagged along). Israeli partisans have wanted another war with Iraq since 1991. They quickly harnessed American shock and outrage over the 9/11 attacks to their own hobby-horse.

Israel was the one country on earth where the proposed war on Iraq was truly popular. But it wouldn’t do for the Israelis to participate in a war between America and an Arab state, so our “ally” provided only moral support as the U.S. did the heavy lifting.

The neoconservatives have achieved great power in Washington. But this has also brought them a degree of responsibility, exposure, and criticism they didn’t count on. For the first time, they are being discussed openly in the liberal press as a sinister crowd with enormous influence over the Bush administration.

But even Bush may hesitate to take their advice in the future.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by The Wanderer
Reprinted with permission.

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