If I had my druthers, the never ending conflict between Israel and Palestine would be but a small news brief in American newspapers. But since we police the world we must always monitor our global police scanner, where not only Israel’s conflicts, but those of Korea, the nation of Georgia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, now Turkey and pretty much everywhere else becomes the United States’ business because we insist on making it such. What many Americans bizarrely consider national “defense,” is actually an aggressive and enduring offense—and yet we are always surprised when other nations get offended.
This week, Israeli soldiers raided a Turkish “flotilla” seeking to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza—or from Israel’s perspective, illegally broke a blockade. When the Israeli soldiers boarded the flotilla, they were attacked by those on board—something the flotilla passengers called self-defense and Israel deemed reason enough to open fire. The end result: Nine passengers dead, many soldiers wounded, 700 activists arrested or “kidnapped” (depending on your perspective), an irate Turkey and an indignant Israel. Many nations have condemned Israel for these actions—and have condemned the United States for not sufficiently condemning Israel. Washington, DC is over 5,000 miles from Tel Aviv, and yet somehow Israel’s controversies always automatically become ours. Why?
This basic question is not simply, so-called “isolationist” naiveté, something critics would no doubt charge. Quite the opposite—it is human nature to have a blindness toward the big questions because we get so caught up in the little ones. The average idiot couple arguing on the Maury Povich Show get so caught up in their own “he said, she said” white trash narrative they never stop to consider whether there’s any real value to their obviously, irreparably damaged relationship. The same goes for America’s relationship with not only Israel, but much of the globe, where our foreign policy is eternally bogged down by the same sort of well-meaning, but ultimately idealistic minutia. Writes foreign affairs analyst Andrew J. Bacevich: “The bedrock assumption to which all of official Washington adheres, liberal Democrats no less than conservative Republicans, is that the United States itself constitutes the axis around which history turns. We define the future. Our actions determine its course. The world needs, expects, and yearns for America to lead, thereby ensuring the ultimate triumph of liberty.”
Bacevich gives a fairly accurate description of America’s view of itself and its place on the world stage, and also how the US insists only it can play the lead role. Continues Bacevich, “For the United States to shrink from its responsibility to lead is, at the very least, to put at risk the precarious stability to which humanity clings and in all likelihood would open the door to unspeakable catastrophe. Alternatives to American leadership simply do not exist.”
When there was a skirmish between Russia and Georgia in 2008, then presidential candidate John McCain exclaimed “we are all Georgians now.” No we’re not. I don’t know any Americans who think that. The Korean War ended a half century ago and yet we still have nearly 40,000 troops stationed there, something that takes on a special significance given the recent actions by North Korea. Defenders of the foreign policy status quo maintain the North Korea’s aggression only underscores the need for a US presence there. Really? For how much longer? Another 50 years? Afghanistan is now the longest shooting war in American history. When the shooting finally stops—a highly improbable scenario—how long will American troops remain? 50 years? How long will they be in Iraq? McCain famously said troops could be in Iraq for up to “a hundred years” during the election.
Consider this—Israel’s recent attack or interception was on a Turkish ship in international waters. Turkey is part of NATO, Israel isn’t. According to that charter, the US must now go to war with Israel. No one is suggesting any such insanity, but it is worth noting in the sense that anyone who suggests NATO is a Cold War relic that should be scrapped, is typically ridiculed or marginalized for making such a suggestion. America simply has to be everywhere and at all times because, as Bacevich sarcastically describes, it could “put at risk the precarious stability to which humanity clings.” Some call such idealistic claptrap “strength.” It’s stupid.
To question any of this is to be called an “isolationist,” to question our special relationship with Israel is to be called “anti-Semitic,” and to ask questions, period, about one of the most expensive, damaging and irrational foreign policies in history is politically taboo. The seemingly hopeless conflict between Israel and the Palestinians should have never been our fight, but we’ve made it ours, a point driven home by the events of this week. How many more such lessons must we be taught and will we ever learn them?