Remember Sarajevo!

     Things certainly happen fast. Issues that were being 
furiously debated only a few days ago -- the endless Iraq 
war, the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, 
containing Iran's nuclear program, dealing with North 
Korean missile tests -- have suddenly been eclipsed by 
the latest war in the Mideast. For a generation 
journalists have formulaically referred to the region as 
"the war-torn Mideast," and it's certainly living up to 
the cliché.

     As I write, the Bush administration is reportedly 
giving the Israelis its approval for a week of military 
strikes against Hezbollah in Lebanon, after which the 
United States will join most of the world's governments 
in calling for a ceasefire. And given the U.S. commitment 
to Israel's defense, not to mention Congress's 
subservience to the Israel lobby, this came as no 
surprise to anyone.

     But of course it raises an obvious question, which 
has now become practical and urgent: How far does that 
U.S. commitment go? Will America risk war, possibly even 
nuclear war, to protect the Jewish state?

     This is no longer an idle, academic, or theoretical 
matter. Our politicians have set no limit whatsoever to 
that commitment. Their rhetoric implies that it is total 
and absolute. Few of them even acknowledge the obvious: 
that there are differences between American and Israeli 
interests, differences no American president since 
Eisenhower and Kennedy, least of all George W. Bush, has 
faced up to. Now we are paying the price for decades of 
loose talk.

     Some pundits are finally raising disturbing but 
necessary issues. Richard Cohen of THE WASHINGTON POST, 
for example, writes that the creation of Israel was "a 
mistake ... an honest mistake, a well-intentioned 
mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the 
idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of 
Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century 
of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now." 
He goes on: "It is why Israel is now fighting an 
organization, Hezbollah, that did not exist 30 years ago 
and why Hezbollah is being supported by a nation, Iran, 
that was once a tacit ally of Israel's."

     It's only fair to Israel to note that no other 
state's right to exist at all is so relentlessly 
challenged. Most are accepted by mere convention; some 
were created by old colonial powers. If you go back far 
enough, nearly all of them have rather dubious 

     And unfortunately, the Bush administration seems to 
take the problematic and reckless (indeed, 
hyper-Wilsonian) view that only a democracy can be truly 
legitimate -- and that only the United States, favoring a 
"global democratic revolution," can decide what is truly 
democratic. This is the real Bush doctrine and, as surely 
as Marxism, it's a formula for endless war and revolution 
(not to mention hypocrisy).

     The next day, on the same page, two other liberal 
columnists, David Ignatius and Harold Meyerson, writing 
separate essays, both abandoned the usual analogies to 
World War II and drew the more pertinent lessons of World 
War I. The problem in 1914 was not that the great powers 
refused to intervene; it was that they were all committed 
to alliances that led to horrors none had foreseen. A 
single assassination in Sarajevo caused all Europe to 
explode; one death led to 17 million more.

A Great Miscalculation

     All these points were well taken. Cohen's is one 
that I have often argued myself. Could the original 
Zionists have chosen a less congenial place on earth for 
a Jewish state than the Muslim world?

     We may certainly sympathize with the desire for a 
homeland, a safe haven from persecution, as well as the 
long-deferred dream of returning to the Holy Land, and 
possibly even a separate state (though these are all 
distinct matters), but what do these entail?

     When the United States immediately recognized the 
new Jewish state in 1948 (soon followed by the Soviet 
Union), it seemed a simple business. European colonialism 
was coming to an end, and new states were being carved 
out of old territories around the world. Few outside the 
Mideast foresaw that this new state might embroil the 
great powers in new wars. The United Nations (at that 
time the instrument of those powers) had approved it, and 
that, it was assumed, was that. Two world wars had 
finally brought a new world order, the possibility of 
lasting peace.

     In one of its great miscalculations, the modern West 
dismissed the Islamic world as hopelessly backward and 
destined to remain so for the foreseeable future. Hilaire 
Belloc was a rare exception, a European who perceived 
that a Muslim revival -- a violent and menacing one -- 
was a distinct possibility. Unlike his friend G.K. 
Chesterton, Belloc also had deep misgivings about 

     Since 1948, of course, everything has changed. The 
United States alliance with Israel has grown much 
stronger. Not only have American politicians pandered to 
Israel's "Amen Corner"; real affection between the two 
countries has deepened, especially since the 1967 
Arab-Israeli war. It is hardly an exaggeration now to 
call Israel "the 51st state." Israeli politics, more than 
those of any other foreign country, make front-page news 
in America.

     In addition, Israel has acquired nuclear weapons, 
making it the Mideast's superpower. Inevitably, this has 
caused the hostile Muslim states to covet those weapons, 
either for deterrence or for the eventual purpose of 
"wiping Israel off the map." A nuclear arms race in the 
Mideast is another development nobody foresaw in 1948, 
when the U.S. still held a nuclear monopoly. Even the 
Soviets didn't get the Bomb until the following year.

The Present Problem

     Zionism has even spawned an influential new ideology 
in America: neoconservatism. The "neocons," despite their 
meager numbers, have done much to promote American 
intervention in the Mideast; the current Bush 
administration (unlike the first one) has been guided by 
them in its foreign policy. Their enthusiasm for war on 
Iraq has done much to discredit them, but they are far 
from finished. They argue indefatigably that -- though 
they don't quite put it this way -- what's good for 
Israel is good for America, even if it turns out to be 
"World War IV."

     Whether or not Israel was a good idea in the first 
place, whether or not it has established its right to 
exist, even whether or not that right derives from 
Scripture (as more Protestants than Jews seem to 
believe), the present problem is how the U.S. government 
is to deal with the immediate crisis.

     Let's hope Bush is mindful of Sarajevo.

                 +          +          +                  

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