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Seattle Catholic is not affiliated with the Archdiocese of Seattle
Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
25 Apr 2003
Patriotism and Criticism: Allies, not Enemies
   by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.


In recent months, a number of people — a few traditionalists included, sad to say — have accused right-wing critics of American foreign policy of "anti-Americanism" or of "blaming America" for the attacks of September 11. I cannot really believe that an intelligent person could make such an inane remark in all sincerity, so I have to think that this is simply a clever rhetorical trick intended to win some cheap debating points.

I count myself among these conservative critics of American foreign policy. That does not mean that I believe "America" is evil; most Americans know next to nothing about the history of their leaders' foreign policies. It means that the regime under which they live has followed foolishly risky policies that have put the American people into a great deal of unnecessary danger. Why is this simple point so difficult for some people to grasp? How could anyone in his right mind describe it as "unpatriotic"?

Once again, explaining an event is something altogether distinct from excusing an event. Historians explain events all the time without thereby justifying them. Does pointing out that Franklin Roosevelt had put Japan into an economic vise by 1941 excuse the attack on Pearl Harbor, and make the killing of American servicemen and civilians somehow just?

The point that our critics are trying to evade is that our own government's policies have indeed squandered a great deal of previously existing international good will toward America and have thereby contributed to the terrorist problem. Think all the way back to the early twentieth century. After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, the various states of the Middle East were temporarily transferred to Britain (Iraq and Palestine) and France (Syria and Lebanon) under the auspices of the League of Nations. They were to be governed as League of Nations mandates until they were deemed to be ready for full independence. What is frequently overlooked is that these Arab nations had overwhelmingly favored being governed as League of Nations mandates by the United States! Anyone arguing that Arab hatred of the United States is simply inevitable has to explain how such overwhelming good will could at one time have existed in the Arab world toward the U.S., and what happened to that good will.

There can be no denying that the U.S. forfeited a great deal of its international prestige by its role in the creation of the state of Israel, which I described in detail last year in a series of four articles in The Remnant. In 1945, Loy Henderson, director of the State Department's Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs, advised the new Secretary of State, James F. Byrnes (a man with relatively little experience in foreign affairs) that the situation in Palestine was a very sensitive one, and that

"in our considered opinion the active support by the Government of the United States of a policy favoring the setting up of a Jewish State in Palestine would be contrary to the policy which the United States has always followed of respecting the wishes of a large majority of the local inhabitants with respect to their form of government. Furthermore, it would have a strongly adverse effect upon American interests throughout the Near and Middle East... At the present time the United States has a moral prestige in the Near and Middle East unequaled by that of any other great power. We would lose that prestige and would be likely for many years to be considered as a betrayer of the high principles which we ourselves have enunciated during the period of the war." [emphasis added]

Mark Ethridge, an American who served on the UN's Conciliation Commission for Palestine, cabled President Harry Truman in early 1949 to warn that the United States' international image would suffer a terrible blow as a result of its inevitable association with Israeli brutalities. "Since we gave Israel birth," he wrote, "we are blamed for her belligerence and her arrogance and for [the] cold-bloodedness of her attitude toward refugees." Truman replied that he, too, was "disgusted" by the way the Jews were handling the Arab refugee problem.

Evan Wilson, who worked in the State Department at the time, later observed in his 1979 book Decision on Palestine: "It is no exaggeration to say that our relations with the entire Arab world have never recovered from the events of 1947-48, when we sided with the Jews against the Arabs and advocated a solution in Palestine which went contrary to self-determination as far as the majority population of the country was concerned."

The Christian Science Monitor, whose Middle East coverage is among the best, spoke to a large group of ordinary Saudi Arabian citizens last year about terrorism and anti-Americanism. According to the Monitor, the people they interviewed "say that anti-U.S. attacks since the mid-1990s — from bombings in this desert kingdom in the mid-1990s to the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen — were a deliberate chain of events leading up to Sept. 11. They had one message for America: these sources say: Stop your blind support of Israel, and withdraw your forces from Saudi Arabia." As a Saudi veteran of the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s put it, "These attacks are going to continue against the U.S. again and again, until America wakes up to the problem of siding with Israel."

As Scott McConnell points out in The American Conservative, "[S]upport for Israel's suppression of the Palestinians, whose lands the Israeli Right covets, does nothing but generate hatred for the United States. In the aftermath of 9/11, some neoconservatives (and others who are simply gullible) have touted the line that the United States is hated 'because of its freedom.' This slogan fit for small children contradicts what virtually any American with business, diplomatic, or military experience in the Middle East will say."

Again, I am going to assume that my readers do not need me to explain that U.S. policy can never justify terrorist activity against innocent people. But the 1993 World Trade Center bomber claimed that his attack was intended as retribution for the U.S.-led sanctions on Iraq. (Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would later say that the resulting deaths of half a million Iraqi children were "worth it.") It defies the purpose of terrorism for the perpetrators to lie about their motivations. That bombing does not in itself mean that the United States should have abandoned the sanctions, of course, but it does remind us that policies like that are going to have consequences. A genuinely conservative statesman, unlike the juvenile jingoists of neoconservatism, takes such factors into account.

My point is simply that, when possible, it is probably wise to avoid giving gratuitous offense to crazy people.

What, then, about our great ally in the Middle East? What shall become of her without American support? I shall leave aside the question of what kind of "ally" bombs a major American ship (the USS Liberty), spies on us, gives our military secrets to Communist China, and steadfastly ignores American demands that they cease illegal settlement activity in the West Bank.

The United States played a key role in the creation of Israel in 1947-48, and since the 1960s has supplied that country with military and economic aid. To the Israel Firsters out there, I ask: is this how the creation of Israel was supposed to work? Jews would create a state through intimidation and force at the expense of the original inhabitants, who were never allowed to return. Then the United States would be expected to aid Israel against the inevitable blowback from such aggression, inevitably acquiring all of Israel's enemies in the process. Is this supposed to go on forever? When did we agree to this? Israel possesses overwhelming military capability as well as a nuclear arsenal. What on earth else does she still need, 55 years after her creation? Shouldn't someone have thought of this problem 55 years ago?

It is usually at about this point that I am reminded of what Hilaire Belloc said about Islam and its resurgence. I am further told that "these people" will "hate us anyway." That statement is doubtless true in some cases. But it simply defies recent history to claim that no connection exists between U.S. Middle East policy and Arab anger. They are over here because we are over there, as Pat Buchanan (no softie, he) has put it.

People who take the position that nothing America does has any effect on encouraging terrorism — most of them neoconservatives, though they have managed to persuade even a few traditionalists — expect us to believe that terrorism is in no way connected to Israeli policies since their displacement of Arabs in 1948-49 and their defiance of the world over the occupied territories since 1967. American aid to Israel (used to terrorize and humiliate residents of the occupied territories), the stationing of American troops in Saudi Arabia, the sanctions against Iraq, Bill Clinton's bombing of the "chemical weapons factory" in Sudan that turned out to be an ordinary pharmaceutical plant — none of this has any real consequences that we need worry about, the neocons tell us.

This line of argument neglects an exceedingly obvious point: if it were true that terrorist activity had no connection to current events and was simply a manifestation of Islamic hatred for Christendom, then why does al Qaeda make recruitment tapes? Why does it attempt to recruit men by showing them Israeli atrocities funded by American aid? Obviously, therefore, there is a connection, and the more reckless and provocative our position in the Middle East, the more such recruits Osama bin Laden can expect to attract. If there is anyone within Catholic traditionalism who welcomes such a confrontation and the potentially catastrophic outcome it could well have — in short, if any traditionalists out there are yearning for Armageddon — all I can say is that there are plenty of evangelical rapturists ready to welcome you with open arms.

The President apparently believes that once Saddam Hussein is gone, the U.S. will be able to put pressure on the Israelis to come to a final peace settlement with their neighbors and with the Palestinians. He believes that Israel will at that point feel secure enough to restart negotiation. Let us hope he is right. The historical record, however, is not promising. Following the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the American administration believed that giving Israel an overwhelming military advantage would make the Israelis feel secure enough to reach a final settlement. But as even Henry Kissinger observed, the more secure Israel felt, the less her leaders felt any compulsion to reach such a settlement. Such an outcome could easily be repeated today.

Furthermore, the Israeli government knows very well that the United States, despite holding all the cards in this relationship, will make no serious effort to pressure them to do anything. The first George Bush attempted to make $10 billion in loan guarantees conditional upon the cessation of Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories. Within weeks, he had capitulated. This is how it has worked since 1949, when the U.S. government complained about Israeli treatment of Arab refugees. In that year, the U.S. consul in Jerusalem observed: "Israel is convinced of its ability to 'induce' the United States abandon its present insistence on repatriation of refugees and territorial changes... [O]fficials state confidently, 'you will change your mind.'" Things sure don't change, do they?

Terrorism and Iraq

I cannot close without making reference to a disturbing development on the traditionalist right. One prominent traditionalist, who should be ashamed of himself, has posted two photographs on his website: one of the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and one of Baghdad burning, taken in March of this year. His caption indicates that the latter photograph depicts America's just retribution for the World Trade Center attack.

In the months leading up to the present war, one American intelligence official after another described the Iraq-al Qaeda connection as non-existent, and said the same about any alleged Iraqi role in the events of September 11. Some even suggested that the administration was pressuring them to "cook the books" (to quote one anonymous intelligence agent) to come up with a connection that simply wasn't there.

Yet this point seems to matter not at all to this person and his followers. The argument appears to be: Islam attacked us, so we have a right to retaliate against any Muslims anywhere, regardless of their involvement or lack thereof. Where does our religion permit us to act like this? I confess myself unable to find anything in Catholicism that allows Catholics to behave like Islamic extremists. And even if such a policy were not obscenely immoral, it would inevitably be self-defeating, since a long string of military adventures, of the kind the neocons desperately want, will almost certainly lead to unimaginable catastrophe in the Middle East, and a growth in terrorist activity beyond our present ability to imagine.

This is not conservatism — neither the above traditionalist's policy of indiscriminate retaliation nor the policy of endless warfare advocated by Norman Podhoretz and the neoconservatives (and demolished by Pat Buchanan's outstanding article in The American Conservative, "Whose War?"). This is inexcusably juvenile thinking and behavior, with no consideration of consequences or even simple morality, and which has no relation whatever to conservative thought and practice as it has developed since Edmund Burke.

It is not in spite of my conservatism but because of it that I speak out against the current regime's Middle East policy. And it is not because I hate America but because I love it that I speak out when I believe the recklessness and hubris of her rulers are placing her people in danger.

***

Thomas E. Woods, Jr., holds a bachelor's degree in history from Harvard and his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He is associate editor of The Latin Mass magazine and co-author of The Great Fašade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church. His next book, Ever Ancient, Ever New: Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era, will be published later this year by Columbia University Press.

© Copyright 2003 Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

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