An recent op-ed in the Washington Post offers an instructive example of elite opinion towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the kind of logic, or lack thereof, which guides U.S. policy.
Richard Cohen, in an article entitled, "They Honor Us With Their Hate", begins by reminding his readers of news that on September 11, 2001, "the Palestinians were cheering the deaths of about 3,000 innocent people in America".
He then proceeds to explain that this was "before America's retaliatory invasion of Afghanistan or the war in Iraq", before "Guantanamo became shorthand for abuse of the president's constitutional authority and before the outrage of Abu Ghraib"; "In other words, the demonstration by Palestinians (in the Lebanese refugee camp of Shatila) preceded most of the usual reasons given for why America today is held in contempt by much of the world."
Cohen informs his readers that he's been to Shatila and mentions Israel "allegedly abetting the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Lebanese Christian forces." He notes that "The Palestinians have been mistreated by just about everybody, including, of course, their own inept and often corrupt leadership."
"Still," he continues, "the chief reason for the cheering on Sept. 11 was U.S. support for Israel. Sometimes that support has been mindless and sometimes it has been over the top, but fundamentally it is based on certain truths." Among these "truths", is that "Israel is a legally sanctioned state, created by the United Nations in 1948", Iran and "a host of militant organizations—Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and, of course, al-Qaeda—fervently wish for Israel's destruction." Cohen then adds that "There is no way the United States could appease these groups and not, in the process, trample on its own moral values. Israel on occasion is wrong—and the settlements are an abomination—but its existence is right."
Although the Bush administration has "made matters worse", "in a way, America has little choice about being hated in some parts of the world. The United States is never going to be truly popular as long as it insists on adhering to certain principles."
In conclusion, Cohen writes, "It's always nice to have friends. Sometimes, though, it's more honorable to have enemies."
In short, while Israel is sometimes in the wrong, we must support that country out of principle and should hence feel a sense of honor for adhering resolutely to our "principles" rather than seeking to "appease" Israel's enemies, even when doing so causes them to hate us as well.
It's an interesting argument the examination which provides some useful insights. Cohen begins by invoking an image of "the Palestinians" rejoicing the attacks of September 11. In fact, Palestine officially condemned the terrorist attacks and the images of Palestinians celebrating represented only a small group. It is certainly condemnable for people to praise such a horrible tragedy. But how many Americans cheered on the attack against Afghanistan, resulting, after just the first few months of conflict, in more civilian deaths than caused by the terrorist attacks of September 11? How many Americans cheered on the attack against Iraq? According to the most scientific study to date of mortality rates in Iraq as a result of the war, published in the Lancet medical journal, there have been 655,000 excess Iraqi deaths. How many Americans have glorified violence such as this? Cohen himself once wrote, "In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic." Perhaps it was also "therapeutic" for those Palestinians to celebrate the use of violence.
The relevance of the incidents of Palestinians celebrating the attacks, for Cohen's purpose, is to show that the U.S. was hated by them even before "most of the usual reasons given" for why America is hated today. The intended implication as that, prior to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Palestinians had no reason to hate the U.S. The corollary, reiterated again later in his article, is that the U.S. will be hated no matter what it does, even for no good reason, so we must stay the course with present policies.
Of course, Cohen acknowledges that the Palestinians weren't completely without reason for disliking the U.S. and recognizes that "U.S. support for Israel" was a cause for hatred of U.S. policy even before "the usual reasons" came to be. Other than U.S. support for Israel, however, the U.S. apparently never gave cause for contempt from people in the Middle East before the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.
Never mind that we created the situation that led to the rise of the Taliban and the al-Qaeda organization by funding, arming, and training the most radical Islamists—whom President Reagan later regarded as "freedom fighters"—in an effort to overthrow the Afghani government; funding which began in part, according to then National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, in order to "induce a Soviet military intervention"—a policy carried out with no inconsiderable success. Brzezinski even bragged about having had "the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam war", despite the overthrow of a progressive government which sought to improve rights for women and its replacement with warlords intent upon establishing their repressive versions of Sharia, or Islamic law. In fact, when the Taliban rose to power they were initially greeted as liberators for ridding the people of the warlords, some of whom have since regained power as allies of the U.S. in the war to overthrow the Taliban. The Soviet-Afghan war left more than a million dead Afghans and five million refugees; but this is of little concern to Brzezinksi and other U.S. government policy-makers. And for Cohen and his ilk, such policies and their devastating results are easily enough wiped from memory.
And never mind that the bombing of Iraq didn't begin in March 2003. Bombings had continued intermittently since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, escalating sharply in 1998 and continuing regularly since then until 2003, when the bombing once again escalated in the "shock and awe" campaign and subsequent invasion. The U.S. also bears primary responsibility for the U.N. sanctions that resulted in the deaths of over a million Iraqis, most of whom were children. According to the U.N., by 1999 the sanctions had resulted in the deaths of over half a million children.
Denis Halliday, then Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and coordinator of humanitarian relief to Iraq, resigned in 1998 in protest of the sanctions. "We are in the process of destroying an entire society," he said at the time. "It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral." As he later put it, "I had been instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults."
Halliday's successor, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned in protest in 2000. As a result of sanctions, he said, putting it mildly, "We can expect people entering adult life much less well prepared than their parents were in facing civic responsibility, in having an ethical and moral grounding when they were taught mainly how to survive under sanctions. The chances are pretty good that we will see a generation that will not be so favorably inclined towards countries in Europe and North America."
But never mind all that. Before Bush went and screwed things up, we'd never given anyone in the Middle East cause to hate us.