Is It Worth It?

Joe Sobran

One thing is clear: the recent horrible events in New York and Washington had nothing whatsoever, in any way, shape, or form, to do with U.S. support for Israel. Many Arabs and Muslims hate this country and would hate it just as bitterly if there were no such thing as Israel.

At least this is what we are hearing from Israel's apologists. The European press seems to assume that America's policy toward Israel helped provoke the 9/11 attack. To the naive eye this would seem rather obvious. Yet we are assured otherwise.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Norman Podhoretz asserts that “if Israel had never come into existence, or if it were magically to disappear, the U.S. would still stand as an embodiment of everything that most of these Arabs consider evil. Indeed,” he goes on, “the hatred of Israel is in large part a surrogate for anti-Americanism.”

According to this argument, the terrible violence we have suffered has no connection to our alliance with Israel; that alliance not only has no cost for us, but is a positive blessing. We are lucky to have such an ally.

In fact, by this logic, the cost of the alliance falls on Israel. It would seem to follow that Israel, in its own interest, should break its special ties to the United States and reject any further American military and financial aid. Why should the Israelis, who have their own problems, take on all our enemies in addition?

Podhoretz's argument is an insult to his readers' intelligence. Of course American support for Israel has cost this country dearly. Any fool can see that, though in some quarters only a fool would say it out loud.

A personal note is relevant here. Fifteen years ago, Podhoretz and his circle tried to get me fired from my job at National Review for saying as much. That experience taught me a lot about the limits of free speech.

When it comes to Israel, an American journalist speaks his mind at his own risk. That helps explain why so few voices in the U.S. press are saying what European journalists may say without fear.

In the early 1980s it became clear to me that the pro-Israel lobby was trying to steer the United States into conflict with the Arab world. I saw nothing in the American interest in that; and my own two sons were approaching the draft age. Until then, I had been strongly pro-Israel myself; but sacrificing my boys for Israel was a higher price than I wanted to pay. Nor did I want other Americans to pay it.

But as soon as I began arguing publicly that the U.S.-Israel alliance was not only costly but dangerous to the United States, I became the target of Zionist vituperation and worse. Some, like Podhoretz, tried to ruin my career. And I've seen others get the same treatment.

Yet it should be clear even to those who see nothing to criticize in Israel that America pays a price for supporting it — and the price just got much heavier. No doubt there are other things that make this country hated and despised in the Arab-Muslim world, but to deny that Israel is a chief irritant is dishonest. And we must be free to say so.

My point here is not that Israel, or for that matter America itself, is to blame. It's simply in the nature of things that, for all sorts of reasons, the interests of nations conflict; and when a nation projects force abroad, sooner or later it is going to provoke a strong reaction. What happened to us last week was only to be expected; I don't feel like a psychic for having predicted it for many years.

Now we have to ask ourselves a simple question: Is it worth it? It's a question we should have asked much earlier. Of course we have to weigh the rights and wrongs of the Middle East, but there comes a time when even taking the right side may bring unbearable costs.

It's not encouraging that the U.S. military response to the 9/11 attack has been gauchely dubbed “Operation Infinite Justice.” Mercy may be infinite, but justice is always a matter of measure. And a sense of measure is just what has been missing in American foreign policy for lo, these many years.

About the Author

Joe Sobran is an author, lecturer and syndicated columnist. For 21 years he wrote for National Review magazine, including 18 years as a senior editor. He is editor of the monthly newsletter, Sobran's (P.O. Box 1383, Vienna, VA 22183, or see www.sobran.com) “Killing Gentiles,” March 12, 2002, and “Is It Worth It?,” Sept. 20, 2001, are reprinted by arrangement with Griffin Internet Syndicate. All rights reserved.