Should We Really Be Allowing Sharon to Set American Policy?





Mr. Thompson is an Adjunct Professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and Visiting Professor, Asian Institute of Management, Manila.

Just over twenty years ago, as a representative of our government at a United Nations conference, I was invited to a 'briefing' by a very senior U.S. official on the recently concluded Israeli military operations in Lebanon. 'It is a stunning success,' this well-known man told us, according to my notes of the day. 'Far beyond our wildest dreams…the army has hacked its way through cell after cell of terror. It has cleaned out honeycombs of barbarous enemy…Ariel Sharon is one of the greatest military geniuses of the twentieth century!' he exclaimed. When I asked him about reports that Sharon had authorized the barbarous killing of civilians, including women and children, in a refugee camp, this great man assured us that 'they were all terrorists, and good riddance.'

We were then offered the additional benefit of a briefing by the Israeli permanent representative on his country's 'triumph'. Already nervous about the appropriateness of the first briefing, I suggested this second would cross a line of suitability, and the Foreign Service officer assigned to me seconded my apprehension. 'We are all appalled by this,' he said. 'And anyway, we have found no answers to the question of what the purpose of this Israeli operation is,' he went on. 'It may well just make things worse…they have crossed a line.'

It seemed to me, however, that the line that we needed to be concerned with was in our own deliberations-of the extent to which we as Americans should allow ourselves to identify with the strategies, interests, or tomfoolery of other countries. There has never been a case where two countries, however closely allied, have identical interests; the question is how much their interests are shared. In the 1982 case, we were being asked to identify a foreign 'triumph' as our own and to see its costs to us-through our association with Israel-as a benefit. In this case, most analysts would see the 1982 Israeli moves as disastrous for their interests-and causing us an enormous dish of guilt by association.

Fast-forward nineteen years to 11 September. The most moving tribute I saw was in that great French paper, Le Monde, which usually can contain its enthusiasm for things American. Now it was proudly proclaiming 'We are all Americans now.' I liked that. It was shocking then to read in an American weekly that the shoe was on the other foot. 'We are all Israelis now,' Martin Peretz of the New Republic proclaimed. I surmised that we were meant to see ourselves as victims of terrorism in the manner of Israelis during these past decades. But surely this is the greatest converse argument of recent history-mixing symptoms with cause. For the simple fact is-and you only have to live in the third world, as I do, to know how overwhelmingly true this is-11 September was made possible, perhaps inevitable, by Israel. Arabs have their quarrels and Osama bin Laden takes advantage of this. But one thing shared from Nigeria to Indonesia is an overwhelming identification with the Palestinian cause and a distaste ranging from aversion to horror with American policy to the region. Osama may have himself been more motivated by hate for the Saudi monarchy, but he could never have marshaled his army without the shared passion of Arabs for the Palestinian cause. That is what they had universally in common.

Why don't we get it?

So the question is, why doesn't America get it-and see it-as virtually the entire rest of the world sees it? One pithy answer, supplied by a mid-West truck-driver cousin of mine, is that 'Jews have a dagger at the throats of our politicians.' He told me he had long been a liberal, but was so appalled at this American policy vulnerability that he 'switched sides.' 'Israel and Washington scream about one shipload of weapons into Palestine, while convoys of American weapons pour into Israel. Every Palestinian down is known to be killed by a weapon"made in America."' Perhaps there are many other reasons why Washington makes its policies for the Middle East on the basis of domestic American politics, rather than the realities in the field. The question is, as a French analyst with an American PhD put it on 11 September, 'Is there no limit to the number of Americans the U.S. is prepared to see killed on behalf of Israeli interests?'

Already Ariel Sharon's war has had the following consequences: we have had to shelve our war against Iraq-unless we are prepared to go it alone, with only Britain at our side; our options in the larger war against Al Quaida terror are dramatically circumscribed by the diminished willingness of moderate governments throughout the Middle East to cooperate with us; anti-American sentiment has hardened against us from Jakarta to Dakar; and so on. All this for a war by 'a far worst terrorist than Osama,' as a distinguished Indonesian analyst put it, of what the Economist calls 'Ariel Sharon's war': a war without apparent objective but imposing unlimited costs on us and, in the not far distant future, threatening the survival of Israel. All because we simply refuse to look at a distant quarrel in terms of overall American interests and the realities, demographic, political, economic and strategic, in the field. It is time for an agonizing reappraisal of our relations with Israel, in the interest of our relations with all the rest of the world. If the exclusive supplier of Israeli weaponry can't budge Ariel Sharon with words, then the next step must be far more persuasive.


comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Rev. James Sansom - 1/12/2003

God is in charge of all that has happened through history, which includes the Amalekites(Palesinians)that remain today.We do not know what is plan is for them, but we do know that they did not recieve total destruction or their flocks as God commanded.It is not for us to Judge, but to Pray for all Gods childern.If we are a God fearing nation, as a whole, then we know that the Jewish people are a people chosen by God. He has the say in how had who will recive his judgment.It is right to stand up for good and not evil on any side.I do not believe that Sharon is setting American policy.I think the bible is clear on what God will do.


Rev. James Sansom - 1/12/2003

God is in charge of all that has happened through history, which includes the Amalekites(Palesinians)that remain today.We do not know what is plan is for them, but we do know that they did not recieve total destruction or their flocks as God commanded.It is not for us to Judge, but to Pray for all Gods childern.If we are a God fearing nation, as a whole, then we know that the Jewish people are a people chosen by God. He has the say in how had who will recive his judgment.It is right to stand up for good and not evil on any side.I do not believe that Sharon is setting American policy.I think the bible is clear on what God will do.


J. Madison Davis - 4/17/2002

As easily one might say Sharon is following our lead in the "war on terrorism," just as India did soon after the attacks on Afghanistan. By couching our actions in those terms, we invited all nations to attack their terrorists.

Which is not to say we (and they) should not be doing so.

My main question is: Exactly what should we be doing about the Palestinians? Israel is hated by the Muslim world, it is true. Should we abandon Israel? Should we move the Israelis to reservations in North Dakota? We have been conciliatory to the Palestinians in extraordinary ways, despite extraordinary provocations. Remember when Arafat wore a gun to the United Nations? What if Sharon had done this? And what do we expect Sharon and Israel to do in the face of these mad bombings? I think he's doing exactly what we would do.


The Rt. Rev. Jack E. Holman - 4/17/2002

Some Christians believe that the words of the prophet (dervish) Samuel to King Saul now apply to Sharon:

I Samuel 15 v 2 ff:

'Now listen to the voice of the Lord. This is the very word of the Lord of Hosts: "I am resolved to punish the Amalekites (Palestinians?) for what they did to Israel....." Go now and fall upon the Amalekites and destroy them, and put their property under ban. Spare no one; put them all to death, men and women, children and babes in arms, herds and flocks,camels and asses.'

These words represent what is called "l'hachrim". This mitzvah - "l'hachrim" -
is usually understood as 'total destruction.' In fact, in regard to the law of
"ir ha'nidachat" [an entire city that follows idol worship -, the Torah details specifically that it required "l'hachrim" - to gather all of its booty together and burn it!

Right-wing Christians claim that the Amalekites earned God's hatred because they sacrificed their children as part of their worship of their gods. They view sucide bombers and abortion in the same light as sins of sacrificing the young. America condones abortion and the Palestinians teach their children to blow themselves up, which earns God's condemnation.


David Salmanson - 4/16/2002

"Jews have a dagger at the throats of our politicians" - so says the author's cousin. If I am not misreading the article, the author seems to tacitly agree. This despite the fact that many U.S. Jews have opposed the current policies of Israel and many more have worked hard over the past decade to try to promote peace. In the United States, the most vocal supporters of the most reactionary elements in Israel have been Conservative Christians who believe the existence of Israel as a Jewish state is a pre-condition for the second coming.

There is also the question of whether or not the Arab world's discontent with - and the most radical elements attacks on - the U.S. would continue if all aid to Israel were halted tomorrow. The U.S. as the wealthiest nation in the world and the largest exporter of cultural products will continue to provide an easy target for demagogues of all stripes not just unhinged Wahabi fundamentalists. The Palestinian issue is a justification but not a cause.
David Salmanson

History News Network