With allies like Israel, who needs enemies?

Let us begin from the proposition that United States support for Israel is based on ideology rather than on informed or even elite opinion. A survey of Council on Foreign Relations members taken by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed that “two-thirds (67%) of Council members say that, historically, U.S. policies have favored Israel too much; just 24% believe America’s policies have been balanced.”

Further, support for Israel is repeatedly cited by those the U.S. labels as terrorists who believe the West is anti-Islamic. Indeed, Osama bin Laden used this to attract support, saying in an interview, “The U.S. government will lead the American people and the West in general will enter an unbearable hell and a choking life because the Western leadership acts under the Zionist lobby’s influence for the purpose of serving Israel, which kills our sons unlawfully in order for them to remain in their leadership positions.” According to STRATFOR, a video released by al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula on January 24, 2009, “threatens so-called ‘crusader forces’ supporting the regional Muslim leaders, and promises to carry the jihad from the Arabian Peninsula to Israel so as to liberate Muslim holy sites and brethren in Gaza.”

The salience of this is reinforced by Osama bin Laden’s abjectly failed attempts at insurrections in Egypt and Algeria. Muslim fundamentalism did not work for bin Laden. But, at least partly due to neoconservatives’ manipulations, attacks on powers blamed for supporting Israel have had a different outcome.

Whatever we may think of al Qaeda‘s motives, there can be little question that the war “on terror” which began in the wake of the 9/11 attacks could be perceived as a crusade. The war has expanded from Afghanistan to Iraq to Pakistan to Somalia and to Sudan to Yemen, all countries with substantial Muslim populations. Indeed, in The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, Naomi Wolf cites many actions in the name of this war which targeted Muslims among the evidence for her thesis that the U.S. is shifting towards fascism. As David Cole observed in 2006, “the administration subjected 80,000 Arab and Muslim immigrants to fingerprinting and registration, sought out 8,000 Arab and Muslim men for FBI interviews, and imprisoned over 5,000 foreign nationals in antiterrorism preventive detention initiatives.” And as I wrote in January,

In Cairo, Barack Obama said of relations between the U.S. and Islam that “this cycle of suspicion and discord must end,” that he had “come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition.” But one of my former professors, Agha Saeed, chairman of the American Muslim Alliance, had his briefcase “stolen” and quickly recovered but returned only after an inspection of its contents which lasted several days–because he is Muslim; his video studio was apparently subjected to a sneak-and-peak search (a burglary committed by law enforcement and sanctioned under the Patriot Act); and partly as a result, his organization joined in a nationwide call for Muslims to limit their cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As many Muslims around the world now understand, the al Qaeda casting of the so-called “War on Terror” as a war on Islam in fact bears at least some truth. And what many of the rest of us need to understand is that this war is in fact a revival of the Crusades, that NATO soldiers in Afghanistan and remaining “coalition of the willing” soldiers in Iraq die not just for empire and not just for oil, but for Christianity and for Zionism.

U.S. foreign policy towards Muslims is often associated with a need to control oil resources; the fact that so much oil lies in Muslim countries contributes to a cynicism about U.S. motives which the U.S. appeared to confirm with its support for an oil law in Iraq that favored multinational corporations. But the U.S. has also formed alliances with wealthy oil producing countries along the Persian Gulf which undermine the notion that the addiction to oil which even then-President George W. Bush criticized in 2006 must always lead to colonial relationships. The fact of these alliances raises questions about the potential nature of relationships with the broader Muslim oil-producing world in the absence of Israeli provocation.

In this light, the apparent cost of U.S. policy towards Israel rises considerably. It includes the post-9/11 war. And it does not include progress towards peace. As a Congressional report noted,

The use of foreign aid to help accelerate the Middle East peace process has had mixed results.
The promise of U.S. assistance to Israel and Egypt during peace negotiations in the late 1970s enabled both countries to take the risks needed for peace, and may have helped convince them that the United States was committed to supporting their peace efforts. Promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace has proven to be a far greater challenge for U.S. policy makers, as most analysts consider foreign aid to be tangential to solving complex territorial issues and overcoming deeply rooted mistrust sown over decades.

Critics of U.S. aid policy, particularly some in the Middle East, argue that U.S. foreign aid exacerbates tensions in the region. Many Arab commentators insist that U.S. assistance to Israel indirectly causes suffering to Palestinians by supporting Israeli arms purchases.

Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s incursion into the Gaza Strip, to which the Goldstone report attributed massive human rights violations, lent considerable support to the claims of those Arab commentators. And that Cast Lead is far from the only source of complaints about the Israeli occupation completes the connection between U.S. aid for Israel and the war on so-called terror.

U.S. military aid to Israel was to amount to $2.7 billion in fiscal year 2010 and $2.85 billion in fiscal year 2011. A considerable portion of the justification for the outsized U.S. military budget of $680 billion in fiscal year 2010 must be attributed to the only tangible external threat: so-called terrorism. By way of comparison, China, according the the State Department, the next largest military spender in the world after the U.S., spends a mere $65 per capita on its armed forces. According to the same report, the U.S. spends $1,700.

China, a regional superpower, faces potential conflicts over Taiwan and its boundary with India. It invaded Vietnam in the wake of the latter’s invasion of Cambodia. It was North Korea’s ally in the Korean War. In the absence of U.S. involvement, particularly with Taiwan and South Korea, it might need to spend even less.

But the U.S. should consider how much of the difference between that $1,700 per capita and that $65 per capita is due to its support for Israel and to an ideology that emphasizes military spending. In light of a brutal recession creating long-term unemployment and a so-called recovery that at the least leaves considerable “slack” in the economy and in fact raises questions about the veracity of GDP measurements, and in light of continued economic growth in China, it is more than fair to question U.S. national priorities.

If the U.S. were spending on defense at the rate China is, its military budget for 2010 would have been $26 billion rather than $680 billion. If we were to divide the $654 billion difference among the over 20 million people who would be employed if we sustained the rate at the peak of the dot-com boom, it would allow each over $32,000. That would be a decent start towards a guaranteed minimum income in a country where jobs aren’t coming back. It would be a far more effective allocation of money than the bank bailout.

But I guess Israel is worth it.

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