This week President Obama was interviewed on Charlie Rose. He justified us getting involved in Syria with this logic. “We’ve got serious interests there. And not only humanitarian interests; we can’t have the situation of ongoing chaos in a major country that borders a country like Jordan which in turn borders Israel.”
Ignore for a moment the sheer stupidity of this argument. Really, by that token we should protect Alaska by nuking Helsinki, since Finland borders Russia which in turn borders Alaska. I voted for this guy twice–the first time because I thought he was principled and smart and the second time because I thought he was at least smart. Looks like I was wrong about that one, too.
The point is that much of the mess we have made of the Middle East comes from our support of Israel.
Each year we give Israel $3 BB in direct military aid. All told, since the end of WWII, we have given Israel at least $118 billion dollars of support.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. We also fund military programs whose utility is solely based on their value to Israel. That is, why would a large country protected by two oceans need to protect itself against short range missiles (Arrow program) or radar to identify short range missiles (X-band program)? Well, it wouldn’t. We also fund loan guarantees and various humanitarian programs. We have a special deal where Israel gets their military aid in a lump sum at the first of the year, while everyone else gets it in installments throughout the year. And of course, there’s the enormous (and deliberately undocumented) costs of fighting multiple wars intended at least in part to keep Israel safe.
There’s a cheaper way to accomplish the same thing. What if we just moved Israel to North Dakota? Or California? Or Alaska? Israel is tiny, tiny, tiny – 8500 square miles. There are 17 COUNTIES in the U.S. bigger than that. And it only has a population of eight million, about the size of one of our major cities and its suburbs. Israel would hardly be noticed if you dropped it into North Dakota–filling up only aroung a tenth of the state, and with only 700,000 residents, one third of which live in five cities, North Dakotans might not even know they’re there.
The biggest problem to that plan wouldn’t be Democrats or Republicans, both of whom love Israel for different reasons, but Israelis themselves. Sure, they’d get a safe environment and greater opportunities for their children, but they’d have to give up beaches. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from all those dopes who retire to Hurricane Alley, proximity to beaches is a highly prized good. OK, then, move them to Imyo County in California. They can still get to the beach and Imyo County has Death Valley, which isn’t so different from the Dead Sea.
Admittedly, fifty years of war has created a unique Israeli culture, and one that is more easily admired from a distance than from up close. Israelis can be intense and sometimes a little more practical that we’re comfortable with. I once interviewed an Israeli MBA for a job who said his greatest career accomplishment was being part of a secret team who “took care of” problem Muslims around the world, “including Toronto,” he boasted. And then there are the ultras – just what we need in this country, more religious wingnuts. (Still, the sheer entertainment value of having armed Israel settlers moving into Alabama and Arizona might be worth the heartburn).
Of course, this still would not end all the problems in the Middle East. We still have oil interests to protect there. And no doubt tinpot politicians would continue to use the U.S. as an excuse for their own incompetence, Israel or no Israel. But it would sure make it harder.
The alternative is to continue pouring money and effort into a tiny country in an unsustainable situation. Sooner or later, the large countries around Israel are going to wipe it out. It will be a lot better for the Israelis, and for us, if we face up to this and start thinking about Plan B.