Sunday, December 16, 2007

Council Winners

Watchers Council winners for the week of Dec. 14 have been posted.

First place in the council went to Pearl Harbor... And 9/11 by Joshuapundit, which compares the U.S. response to those two events on the occasion of the anniversary of the former. They couldn't be more different.

Most of the rest of the votes went to posts relating to the NIE report on the likelihood that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. Those posts were: A Deeply Flawed NIE Changes Nothing & Everything by Wolf Howling; What the NIE on Iran's Nuclear Weapons Development Doesn't Say by The Glittering Eye; Release of Iran NIE a Remarkable Testament to American Exceptionalism by Right Wing Nut House; and Hoodwinkers and Their Codependents: In Search of Intelligent Intelligence on Iran by Big Lizards. There's a good range of points of view in those four posts.

Another vote went to Explaining American Jews' Love for Israel and America by Bookworm Room. This interesting post centers on the writer's attendance at "a moderated talk concerning Israel. The speakers were Dennis Prager, John Podhoretz and Mona Charen, with Michael Medved moderating."

When she got a chance to ask a question, she asked, “For those people who claim that America’s and Israel’s interests are antithetical to each other, how do we justify or explain our loyalty to both?”

Podhoretz answered by "pointing to the common values shared by both nations" which have resulted in societies that have much in common.

Although I don’t think he quite said it outright, I gather that Mr. Podhoretz believes that American Jews are not disloyal to America when they support Israel because it is the morally correct thing to do: one beacon of light supporting another. I think he’s right.

Charen pointed out that "the most fervent support for Israel comes, not from American Jews, but from Evangelical Christians. In other words, support of Israel is not some shady Jewish conspiracy, but is part of the value system religious conservatives of all stripes, both Christian and Jewish."

Finally, Michael Medved closed with the flip side to these preceding answers. That is, after Mr. Podhoretz and Ms. Charen pointed out that it is not unpatriotic to support Israel, he explained why Jews are — or should be — patriotic. His take, and one with which I strongly agree, is that America is one of the great blessings bestowed on the Jews.

Since she seeks more feedback in her post, I'll offer some. One can basically agree with all those answers, and I do, and still be left with a nagging doubt. I might rephrase the question and eliminate the class of people who "claim that America’s and Israel’s interests are antithetical to each other," which is, I suppose, not a large or important segment of the population.

Instead, I might phrase it with reference to the fact that many of us seem intent on maintaining an appearance of complete identification of Israeli and American interests, while necessarily those will not always be the same. The range of involvement of America in the world is necessarily wider than that of Israel. The sources of domestic challenges, and their expression in foreign relations, are likewise different.

So is there a sufficient capability in modern America to have a diplomatic discussion about that, without igniting uncontrollable passions and devastating accusations?

As for the answers given, they feel incomplete. Certainly we share historical and cultural values with Israel. We do with Britain and France as well. And we've been able to disagree with them -- even to countenance a degree of active hostility toward them in our national discourse -- without forgetting the common heritage.

Charen's point that this is not only about Jewish-Americans is helpful and necessary to bear in mind. But evangelical Christians have had to justify themselves through the generations -- from abolitionists to anti-abortionists -- to other Americans who suspected their politics were answering to a "higher law" than the U.S. Constitution. And to explain how that works in terms of loyalty and legality.

It can be done. It is not necessarily a conflict. But it is not a question that ought to automatically be off the table as too insensitive to be asked.

Medved's point also is well taken. But it hardly distinguishes the Israelis from the Hmong or a great many other peoples who have found America a rock and refuge in their times of persecution. This is a rough place sometimes, and Jews have not always had a happy time of it here, but it's been a lifesaver, literally, for millions.

Armenians, too, found refuge from persecution in America and later established their independence at home. And we recently debated whether American positions on Armenian matters -- terribly important emotionally to Armenians and Armenian-Americans -- could conflict with purely American foreign policy interests. The same debate has been had in the past with regard to Greece and its hostility to our NATO ally, Turkey. Is there a context for having a freewheeling but respectful debate on such things when Israel and America are involved?

I would bring up -- and hesitantly -- the "Liberty" incident as one that is difficult for many people to discuss dispassionately, with an eye simply to establishing the facts of the case, and allowing for all possibilities. Or Israeli espionage in the U.S. government. Espionage weakens national security, it opens cracks and saps foundations; in that sense it doesn't matter if it comes from your allies or your enemies.

A question of divided loyalty, if you care to ask it, can't be answered with a dodge that insists there never is or can be a true conflict that would test loyalty. America is one nation; Israel is another. Of course their pure self-interests will clash from time to time.

Outside the council, the winner was Men of Valor: Part IV by Michael Yon. His stuff here is a gripping read, as always, but I had trouble telling how much of it he was reporting firsthand and how much of it was recounting stories he'd been told by the British soldiers he was writing about.

Votes also went to What Happens After the Surge by Omar Fadhil of Iraq the Model (writing here in Pajamas Media), which I nominated; and to In Politics Values Matter, Not Theology by Dennis Prager at Other than those three, the votes went to NIE-inspired posts: What Iran's "Victory" Means at ShrinkWrapped; Iran NIE and a Prediction at Middle East Strategy at Harvard; and William Katz: New National Intelligence Estimate at Power Line.