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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Does supporting terrorism make America safer?

Thaddeus Russell, writing in The Daily Beast, asks what he considers a provocative and uncomfortable question: Does Israel make America safer?

It is another article in the mold of Walt and Mearsheimer, arguing for a "realist" foreign policy where all decisions are made by actuaries rather than morality.

The premise, while seductive on the surface, is ridiculous. Russell tries to draw a causal relationship between political Muslim terror against Americans and US support for Israel. He declares, as really his main evidence for his thesis,
[N]ot one American died at the hands of a politically motivated Arab or Muslim until June 5, 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy was shot to death by Sirhan Sirhan. The killing came shortly after President Lyndon Johnson declared that the U.S. would become Israel’s major sponsor, and Kennedy announced that if elected president he would supply Israel with whatever weapons it needed so that the Jewish state “can protect itself” against its Arab neighbors.
Here we see both the problem of declaring facts that are not true and the problem of inferring causality where none exists.

First, for the facts. A quick browsing through history finds that 35 Americans were killed in the Barbary Wars in the early 1800s- by Muslims.

Americans were killed in a massacre of Christians in Turkey in 1909:

An American missionary was killed in Persia in 1904:

Americans were among those killed in Hebron in 1929:

Americans (and Canadians) were killed in the 1948 war.

All of those were political killings.

Ah, but perhaps he only includes Americans killed on American territory? In that case, there must have been numerous Arab terrorist attacks against France before 1967, because of the French support for Israel during the 1950s and 1960s, correct? Yet...there weren't any.

Here's where we see that Russell uses the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, the assumption that an event that comes after another was caused by that event.

The fact that Palestinian Arab terrorism became globalized after 1967 - where the victims were throughout the West, not just the US - had nothing to do with sudden US support for Israel and everything to do with a decision made by the Palestinian Arab leadership to gain worldwide attention for their cause. The US was not the only target of the 1970s PLO terror spree - it was the West, and planes were hijacked from the UK, Switzerland and France as well as from Israel and the US.


Russell mentions that the US has given some $100 billion to Israel since 1967 - I don't think the amount is quite that high, but let's go with it. He mentions that this is one-third of all foreign aid given by the US. Now, compare how much American has spent on NATO since the 1950s. Real numbers are hard to come by, but $100 billion is in the ballpark of what America spends annually in Europe to defend an enemy that no longer exists. (It may be much higher.) Since it falls under the gargantuan defense budget and not the foreign aid budget, it is not as easy to see those numbers in context, but in reality, US support for Israel is miniscule compared with the benefit it receives by having a reliable ally on the ground in that region - without risking American troops. Throwing around numbers like "$100 billion" (spread out over 43 years) in an article like this is not meant to illuminate but to damn.

Russell comes dangerously close to a major misrepresentation of truth in this paragraph:

In 1998, the World Islamic Front confirmed the forgotten fears of Forrestal, Marshall, and Kennan by issuing a fatwa “to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military” for grievances including U.S. support of “the Jews' petty state” and “its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there.” Three years later, two leaders of the organization, Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden, followed their own edict.
Although he puts in a small caveat in the following paragraph, he doesn't address the fact that Israel was not close to the top of Bin Laden's concerns in his famous fatwa (written in 1996, not 1998), whose very title was "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places."

If there are more than one duty to be carried out, then the most important one should receive priority. Clearly after Belief (Imaan) there is no more important duty than pushing the American enemy out of the holy land [Saudi Arabia]. No other priority, except Belief, could be considered before it; the people of knowledge, Ibn Taymiyyah, stated: "to fight in defence of religion and Belief is a collective duty; there is no other duty after Belief than fighting the enemy who is corrupting the life and the religion. There is no preconditions for this duty and the enemy should be fought with one best abilities. (ref: supplement of Fatawa). If it is not possible to push back the enemy except by the collective movement of the Muslim people, then there is a duty on the Muslims to ignore the minor differences among themselves; the ill effect of ignoring these differences, at a given period of time, is much less than the ill effect of the occupation of the Muslims' land by the main Kufr. Ibn Taymiyyah had explained this issue and emphasised the importance of dealing with the major threat on the expense of the minor one. He described the situation of the Muslims and the Mujahideen and stated that even the military personnel who are not practising Islam are not exempted from the duty of Jihad against the enemy.

Do these words make it sound that Israel's disappearance from the world stage would have forestalled 9/11, as Russell strongly suggesting?


These are merely a specific criticisms of a flawed article, written by a historian who should know better. The real problem is more fundamental - the thesis that American foreign policy should be based on the fear rather than leadership.

Let us construct a hypothetical but plausible scenario. Let's say that Israel never existed and a pan-Arab, Muslim state existed across northern Africa and Arabia. Now, the Muslims want to avenge the "tragedy of Andalusia" and start a terror attack spree against Spain in order to gain their occupied land back. Since the US is a staunch supporter of Spain, terror attacks also target American interests.

Should America abandon Spain?

According to the realists' logic, the answer is most assuredly in the affirmative. Americans are dying because Spain is a target, therefore withdraw support for Spain and save American lives.

And if the Muslim fanatics target Austria or Italy next, for similar historic reasons, then logic would dictate that they would be the next allies to be abandoned.

This is not realism - this is surrender to an enemy that will be emboldened by a show of such weakness.

The article is not meant to illmuminate but to obscure facts, in order to pressure the US to withdraw support for an ally that shares its values. One gets the impression that the ultimate goal has nothing to do with realism and everything to do with hate - subsumed under a pseudo-scholarly visage.

(h/t Zach, especially the Latin :) )


UPDATE: Sultan Knish goes through many other examples of politically-motivated Muslim murder of Americans before 1969. You will learn a lot.