Tuesday, August 22, 2006

America and the Middle East: Part 3 - Birth of a Nation

So here were were in 1948.

Locked in one of those wrestling matches with the Soviets where you can't let go because you're afraid the other guy is gonna pound your head into Wheatina as you break.

Needing ever more petroleum, which we're finding is gushing like a TV tabloid/Jessica Simpson nonsense riff from the Arab countries of the Middle East.

And rushing into former European (read: British and French) colonies in order to keep those damn Commies out, trying to scrounge up locals and form "organizations" to help us like NATO and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO).

At this point we need the support (or at least the complacence) of the new post-colonial Arab countries as much as we ever have. So what do we do?

We help plunk down nearly a million European Jews on the coast of the Levant in the middle of an Arab land (part of the former Ottoman Empire).

In the exact location of the former crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.

What the hell would make us do something like that..?

One huge reason was Harry Truman. I'm not sure if Truman felt exceptionally guilty about his former boss FDR's unwillingness to do anything to save Europe's Jews during WW2, whether he just thought that Jewish Israelis would be better allies than Muslim Arabs, or he just thought that Omar Sharif was a smarmy little schwarma-licker and had it in for camel-beaters. In the words of the Truman Library:

"When President Harry S. Truman took office, he made clear that his sympathies were with the Jews and accepted the Balfour Declaration, explaining that it was in keeping with former President Woodrow Wilson's principle of "self determination." Truman initiated several studies of the Palestine situation that supported his belief that, as a result of the Holocaust, Jews were oppressed and also in need of a homeland."

Why Truman felt that this homeland needed to be on the east side of the Mediterranean as opposed to, say, Bayonne, New Jersey is not recorded. Maybe he thought that he might lose Raritan County to the Republicans or something.

It's worth noting that both the U.S. War Department and State Department were somewhere between violently opposed and "Have you been smoking CRACK!??" about this. They felt - who'da thunk! - that backing a Jewish state in the Middle East would set this country against the Arab states until further notice. The U.S. Middle East "hands" also worried that our backing of Israel would drive the Arab states to look to our enemies - the Soviets - as their friends. They worried about the strategic and economic consequences of reestablishing a Western-supported European ministate in the Levant. They worried that they might not be able to get invitations to Damascus and score those cool Lawrence-of-Arabia headscarf things anymore.

May 14, 1948, the new state of Israel was founded. Truman issued an immediate statement recognizing the new government. The Arab states mobilized, and the First Arab-Israeli War was on...

It's interesting to note that not everything was sweetness and light between the U.S. and Israel early on. Eisenhower kicked the Israelis out of Egypt in 1956 for their part in "Operation Musketeer", the Anglo-French attempt to undo Nasser's takeover of the Suez Canal. But then the Arabs attacked in '67, and since then we've been pals forever...

Now I'll be the first to admit that the Israelis seem to be good people and that Israel, as a functioning democracy is a pleasant anomaly in the Middle East. But our position as Israel's Pimp Daddy has put us a difficult position in the Niddle East.

In fact, I'm going to claim that it has put s in a paradox we cannot solve.

But that's for tomorrow.

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