- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Two distinguished men of political letters, Bill Bennett and Pat Buchanan, have forcefully exchanged op-eds in the last fortnight that should become the subject of the serious debate: What ought the nature of the Israeli-American relations be? Mr. Bennett went first with a criticism of President Bush for chastising Israel as being "unhelpful" when it temporarily occupied some Palestinian communities that harbored terrorists along with refugees.
Mr. Bennett accused the president of "rewarding [Palestinian] terrorists" and "ceding lands to dictators" as the British gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler at Munich. The strategic thrust of Mr. Bennett's article is that "America's fate and Israel's fate are one and the same" because "we are both democracies."
To which Mr. Buchanan pointed out, in essence, that merely being fellow democracies hardly binds us at the hip through all eternity. While agreeing that Israel and the U.S. are "indeed allies in the war on terror," Mr. Buchanan delivered his peroration: "[Israels] annexation of Arab land, its dispossession of the Palestinian people, and its denial of their right to a homeland and state of their own on land their fathers farmed for a thousand years are a principal cause of this war (the U.S. war on terrorism) and a primary reason why America's reputation has been ravaged in the Arab world."
And so the issue is almost joined. I write almost because, to the extent that those comments are meant to be merely factual assertions, they beg the question. Many reasonable people would differ. The fates of Israel and the United States are, as a factual matter, not indivisible. And Mr. Buchanan's reciting of history oversimplifies. Moreover, I and many others would contest that Israel's behavior is the principal cause and primary reason for our war on terror and Arab hostility: Contributory, certainly; primary, no.
But just below the surface of these exchanges is the flammable issue of whether America is obliged to defend Israel's interests or, should they differ, only America's interest. While I agree with Mr. Bennett's criticism of the president's words as mistaken, I agree with Mr. Buchanan's implication that the standard by which we should judge our actions ought to be exclusively America's national interest. Thus, the issue properly is joined, but not resolved.
The American-Israeli relationship is, as perhaps no other, a result of waxing and waning strategic and material (oil) interests intertwined with ethnic sensibilities and fundamental principles of universal justice. Following on the Holocaust, president Harry Truman gave legal and moral sanction to Israel by promptly establishing diplomatic relations with her upon her birth under U.N. auspices.
Even that first American act was controversial. Then-Secretary of State George Marshall argued in the Cabinet that President Truman was compromising our interest in Arab oil in favor of the Jewish vote. But Truman made the case that, after 2000 years of the Jewish diaspora and the killing of six million Jews by Hitler, justice demanded the state of Israel come into being. However, we were hardly then strategic allies. In 1956, President Eisenhower undercut Israel, Britain and France in the Suez crisis.
Our serious strategic engagement began under the Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy of detente with the Soviet Union. As the Soviets were funding and arming the Arabs, so Nixon's America backed Israel. As Mr. Kissinger has put it: "In the end, America was drawn into the Middle East by the containment theory, which required opposition to Soviet expansion in every region, and by the doctrine of collective security, which encouraged the creation of NATO-like organizations to resist actual or potential military threats."
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, that strategic purpose evanesced. What is left, a decade on, is a combination of military alliance, cultural, religious and ethnic bond, mutual democracy and a powerful American commitment the walking away from which would adversely reflect on our reliability as either a friend or international player.
While those connections between Israel and the United States should weigh heavily on the formation of our policy, they are not standing alone necessarily sufficient reasons for policy. At a time when our government believes that we are in danger of nuclear, chemical or biological attack from fanatical Muslim terrorists, the price of miscalculation is unthinkable.
The lodestar of our policy must be American national survival and interests. But, as a factual matter, I don't believe we advance that policy by abandoning Israel. We are most likely to prevail in this war on terrorism by intelligently applying power (including military power) and strength against the terrorist enemy and the nations and forces that give them support. We also advance our policy by aiding those countries that fight terrorism such as Israel and the Philippines, among others.
Abandoning Israel (and the values it represents) would be seen as weakness and likely would only embolden the enemy to further outrages. But it is the most profound error to believe our fate and Israel's "are one and the same." Our fate is our own and so it must remain.

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