17 October 2000
On Friday as the frat boys across the street were putting the finishing touches on their homecoming house decorations, they had their PA system cranked and playing music. As I exited the car coming back from lunch, the song was familiar. "She Sang The Red River Valley" by RK. The Live at Stubb's album no less! I laughed thinking it was a small world. I cried knowing that I'm listening to frat boy music. Then celebrated the slow steps you've taken towards world domination through music.
-- My good friend Dave Hamby, in an email earlier
In a nation where opinions are a matter of political right, it is often lost on many people that not all opinions are equal, and that it is a worthy goal for thinking people to attempt to replace opinions with facts. Nevertheless, I'm never quite sure what the proper response is when bright people whom I respect offer egregiously wrong opinions about matters because they are lacking in information. A recent case in point comes from a journal I read fairly regularly. I don't care to call attention to the person (again, I'm never quite sure how to handle these things) by a direct quote or link, but essentially a typically libertarian assertion was made that there is a high price for Western international interventionism, followed by a point that the United States should abandon aid to Israel since: 1) it was created by Western Powers after World War II in an act of arrogance, 2) maybe Jews do deserve a homeland, but what the hell, everybody can make that claim, 3) Israel simply should not be an American protectorate.
I'm not going to join the argument of aid to Israel or alliance (geo)politics more broadly in this journal. People who know me and have read me know that I have strong views in this area. More importantly, however, these are informed and reasoned views. My views have come from careful study of political philosophy, philosophy more broadly, the American founding, history, geopolitics, and comparative/international politics more broadly. Thus, I'm bothered when I see such carelessness in offering opinions about matters that encompass so many subjects. Let me discuss what I mean.
The first point errs in fact and by the omission of context. Israel was "created" by the Jewish people who had settled the geographic entity of Palestine (which, contrary to popular belief today, has had a continuous Jewish presence for a few thousand years, which was first given a geographic definition by the League of Nations mandate for Palestine, and which almost immediately after the Mandate was granted, was partitioned into eastern and western halves, the western half containing much of modern-day Israel and being open to Jewish settlement, the eastern half containing much of modern-day Jordan and being virtually closed to Jewish but not Arab settlement -- your Palestinian Arab state!) when they declared independence after negotiations to partition western Palestine into Arab and Jewish sectors failed. The fledgling state was recognized by the U.S. and the Soviet Union (not a Western Power to be sure) and was immediately attacked by the entire Arab world. Somehow, Israel prevailed. Given that context and background, it's clear that Israel was hardly created by Western Powers following WW II in an act of arrogance.
The second point does have some validity. Entire peoples have been displaced from time immemorial. Indeed, our fine government engaged in such ethnic cleansing when it decided native Americans were on valuable land and needed to be moved to Oklahoma! But the Jewish case is a little different. Although I'm not religious, there is a clear Biblical and historical Jewish tie to that particular part of the world, as well as a continuous Jewish presence there over time. That land has mattered to these people, enough to go make a nation out of essentially a desert wasteland despite overwhelming odds. That's no small matter. But what about the Arab affinity for the same land? I won't deny it exists today, and it's a problem. That topic is a whole other issue -- but I will assert that Yasser Arafat has done a masterful job over the last 30 years of manufacturing a yearning for a "Palestinian Arab" homeland that simply did not exist just 50 years ago. You won't read that in popular media accounts of the problem! But that's what one learns when one attempts to move from opinions about the topic to fact.
The third point again is more complex than it appears. In some ways, I agree -- left to its own devices, Israel would have done a far better job over the past 30 years of managing the peace process. Of course, that approach quite likely would have involved a number of Arab nations suffering quite unpleasant effects from nuclear weapons, but given the advanced Israeli tactical nuclear weapons, even that is not so problematic to me as many of the strings that U.S. foreign policy attaches to its aid to Israel. And surely good libertarians wouldn't mind such working out of problems, especially since tactical nukes really don't pose a fallout or lingering radiation effect. I do think it's wholly inaccurate speaking strategically to call Israel over the past 20 years an American protectorate (strong ally, yes), but Israel itself may feel differently. Recall that Israel captured the Sinai, Golan, West Bank, and Gaza in response to Arab attacks, and yet has ceded back 90% or more of the land in question, largely due to the pressure of the United States in various peace initiatives (in order to get various foreign aid "carrots" that the anonymous author mentions). I find that a bit of a troubling use of American foreign policy, given the fact that I don't think we regard Israel as a military protectorate (as evidence, I would be very surprised to see American troops committed to the defense of Israel should the current situation escalate, something that would happen if a true protectorate were threatened and something that has not happened in the past with Israel). I could talk more about the alliance politics issue and the proper uses of foreign policy, but I would stray off tonight's point -- the point being that even the original author's notion that Israel is, but should no longer be, an American protectorate is not self-evident either descriptively or prescriptively.
Anyway, those are just a few thoughts tonight that illustrate something I've said in the past but don't have time to develop tonight: many libertarians often have a simplistic view of international politics and foreign policy that could probably benefit from more information and perhaps even some formal training. And lest anyone think that's an overly harsh assessment, I would point out that it's much nicer than my favorite undergrad economics prof, who told me several times over beers at Ebbets Field that "I'd be a libertarian, but they're goofy on foreign policy." That's a topic for another day!
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I'll go on record tonight as saying I thought Mr. Bush had a marvelous performance in the debate's tonight. I only go on record saying that because most of the media I saw thought it was either a draw or that Gore was commanding. Perhaps I'm overly biased. I'm recording this here to see how my assessment holds up in a week's time or so.
Copyright (c) 2000, Kevin L. Whited