For well over a decade now the U.S. has been “a nation at war”, explains Andrew Bacevich in a May 28 essay at ‘Comment is Free’, before asking: “Does that war have a name”?
When it comes to war, a name attached to a date can shape our understanding of what the conflict was all about. To specify when a war began and when it ended is to privilege certain explanations of its significance while discrediting others
After providing a bit of background on the imperfect names given to other wars – such as the Civil War, World War I, and World War II – Bacevich considers some possible monikers for the current military enterprise “we’ve been waging…in Iraq and Afghanistan [and] other countries…across the Islamic world”. He proposes names such as “The Long War”, “The War against al-Qaida”, “The War for the Greater Middle East”, and even “The War Against Islam” or “The War for/against/about Israel“.
Bacevich devotes a bit of space making the case for each possibility, and writes the following as a possible justification for the latter Israeli-centric title:
It began in 1948. For many Jews, the founding of the state of Israel signified an ancient hope fulfilled. For many Christians, conscious of the sin of anti-Semitism that had culminated in the Holocaust, it offered a way to ease guilty consciences, albeit mostly at others’ expense. For many Muslims, especially Arabs, and most acutely Arabs who had been living in Palestine, the founding of the Jewish state represented a grave injustice. It was yet another unwelcome intrusion engineered by the west – colonialism by another name.
Recounting the ensuing struggle without appearing to take sides is almost impossible. Yet one thing seems clear: in terms of military involvement, the United States attempted in the late 1940s and 50s to keep its distance. Over the course of the 60s, this changed. The US became Israel’s principal patron, committed to maintaining its military superiority over its neighbors.
In the decades that followed, the two countries forged a multifaceted “strategic relationship”. A compliant Congress provided Israel with weapons and assistance worth billions of dollars, testifying to what has become an unambiguous and irrevocable US commitment to the safety and wellbeing of the Jewish state. Meanwhile, just as Israel had disregarded US concerns when it came to developing nuclear weapons, it ignored persistent US requests that it refrain from colonizing territory that it has conquered.
When it comes to identifying the minimal essential requirements of Israeli security and the terms that will define any Palestinian-Israeli peace deal, the US defers to Israel. That may qualify as an overstatement, but only slightly. Given the Israeli perspective on those requirements and those terms – permanent military supremacy and a permanently demilitarized Palestine allowed limited sovereignty the War for/against/about Israel is unlikely to end anytime soon either. Whether the US benefits from the perpetuation of this war is difficult to say, but we are in it for the long haul.
This remarkably ahistorical account of the Israeli-Palestinian (and Israeli-Islamist) Conflict – which erases over six decades of Arab wars, terrorism and belligerence – is provided to buttress the argument that the ‘Global War’ against Islamist extremism is arguably rooted in an understandable grievance against Israeli policy.
Bacevich’s facile analysis of course ignores Islamism’s expansionist and reactionary political pedigree (the Muslim Brotherhood movement which gave birth to modern Islamism seeks the universal imposition of Sharia law, and proclaims that violent jihad and martyrdom is their path), as well as the obvious timeline (the Brotherhood was founded twenty years before Israel’s birth, and by the 1930s was already calling for boycotts against Jewish owned businesses in the Middle East).
However, even if we were to give credence to such specious ‘Zionist root cause’ arguments for modern terror (which ignore both chronology and ideology), proponents of such arguments often go further than merely asserting causation, suggesting that there’s in fact something reasonable, or even just, about such ‘grievances’ about Israel’s very existence.
No, the ‘War on Terror’ – or whatever Bacevich prefers to call the West’s battle with global jihadism – isn’t about Israel. However, even if a malign obsession with Israel did indeed represent the root cause of their violence, its difficult to understand how any truly liberal commentator could implicitly assign blame to the Jewish target of such antipathy.
Indeed, Bacevich – quite interestingly in light of his gig at ‘Comment is Free’ – has also contributed to Pat Buchanan’s paleo-conservative magazine, the American Conservative’, and penned a piece there in 2012 titled ‘How we became Israel‘. His essay includes a characterization of the US ‘War on Terror’ – and America’s willingness since 9/11 to use force around the globe – as a dangerous sign that “U.S. national-security policy increasingly conforms to patterns of behavior pioneered by the Jewish state”, what he terms the ”Israelification of U.S. policy”.
The Zionist footprint on the war on terror, for Andrew Bacevich, is simply undeniable, and arguably global.