American policy has always been ambivalent on Israel. I’ve written about the tension between the promises of President Bush and the demands of Condoleezza Rice. I’ve mentioned the State Department commitment to a smaller Israel.
Now Richard Holbrooke has pointed out that back in 1948 State Department big shots, particularly Secretary George Marshall, weren’t so happy about the creation of Israel either:
…opposition really came from an even more formidable group: the “wise men” who were simultaneously creating the great Truman foreign policy of the late 1940s — among them Marshall, James V. Forrestal, George F. Kennan, Robert Lovett, John J. McCloy, Paul Nitze and Dean Acheson. To overrule State would mean Truman taking on [Gen. George C.] Marshall, whom he regarded as “the greatest living American,” a daunting task for a very unpopular president.
Beneath the surface lay unspoken but real anti-Semitism on the part of some (but not all) policymakers. The position of those opposing recognition was simple — oil, numbers and history. “There are thirty million Arabs on one side and about 600,000 Jews on the other,” Defense Secretary Forrestal told [Clark] Clifford. “Why don’t you face up to the realities?”
As we know, Truman indeed took on Marshall and others, and the US cast its vote to recognize the Jewish state, although the State Department sandbagged Truman on the earlier vote to partition the former Mandate. Holbrooke writes,
In March, Truman privately promised Chaim Weizmann, the future president of Israel, that he would support partition — only to learn the next day that the American ambassador to the United Nations had voted for U.N. trusteeship. Enraged, Truman wrote a private note on his calendar: “The State Dept. pulled the rug from under me today. The first I know about it is what I read in the newspapers! Isn’t that hell? I’m now in the position of a liar and double-crosser. I’ve never felt so low in my life…”
This may have been the first time that the State Department tried to screw Israel, but it wasn’t to be the last.
In 1967, Egypt had closed the Strait of Tiran, cutting Israel off from its outlet to the Red Sea and much of its oil supply (which at that time came from Iran). Nasser had requested the removal of UN troops from the Sinai and massed troops and tanks there. Although the US had made a commitment to protect Israel’s freedom of navigation in the Strait when she withdrew from the Sinai in 1956, when push came to shove we did not stand behind it, and the State Department tried to convince Israel to make concessions to Egypt instead. Secretary of State Dean Rusk advised President Johnson not to pressure Egypt and to discourage Israel from a preemptive attack.
And now of course, we have Ms. Rice trying to get Israel to sign a peace agreement, any peace agreement, with the Palestinian Authority — regardless of the damage to Israel’s security.
It’s fair to say that while a majority of Americans have always supported Israel, the foreign-policy establishment has been downright hostile. And this is often reflected in tensions between elected officials like the President and Congress who are accountable to the people, and the State Department which is not. And in some — but not by any means all — important cases, the pro-Israel side has won.
Israel’s enemies are presently doing their best to change this, in a multifaceted campaign. Jimmy Carter, Mearsheimer and Walt, the prosecutions of AIPAC’s Rosen and Weissman and now Ben-Ami Kadish, are all doing their parts to promote the position that the interests of Israel and the US are divergent.
Their effort is complicated by the fact those who perpetrated the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor happen to be Israel’s greatest enemies as well. One would think that the question of who is America’s best friend in the Middle East should have been settled conclusively after 9/11.
Unfortunately, the supposedly pro-Israel US government’s sheer incompetence in its response to 9/11 and everything else has given ammunition to those who say that we need a ‘new’ policy, which (surprise) should not be pro-Israel.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.