“America in the dock”: myths and truth

October 25, 2002

I attach the first and last of a five part-series from this week's (London) Daily Telegraph, titled "America in the dock" by David Frum, who until last year served as a speechwriter for President Bush. (Frum is also a subscriber to this email list.)

There are brief summaries first.

-- Tom Gross


1. "Myth I: America is totally in hock to the Jewish lobby" (October 21, 2002). Frum explores some of the reasons why a myth persists in the UK (and much of the world) that U.S. government policy is controlled by some type of organized "Jewish lobby". He notes that to the extent that Jews do contribute to political causes in the U.S., "most of this money seems to come from people motivated by their liberalism rather than their ancestral Judaism: Hollywood gives generously to pro-abortion and pro-environmental Democrats." He notes that the U.S. presidents who have personally been most friendly to Jews have often forced through policies which led to some of Israel's greatest disasters.

2. "The truth: America is indeed subverting the Middle East" (October 25, 2002). Frum gives historical perspective to today's changing U.S. policies in the Middle East. "Britain fought one war to defend the Ottoman empire in the 1850s, and nearly fought another in 1878. And yet in 1914, the Turkish government chose Britain for an enemy and Britain was left with no choice but to destroy the empire it had protected for so long," he notes. (Of course today Turkey, for all its faults, shines as an example of how democracy can work if given a chance in the Moslem Middle East - TG.) "[Today] Americans have begun, for the first time, to promote democratisation and liberalisation [in the Arab world]," adds Frum.



America in the dock
By David Frum
The Daily Telegraph
October 21, 2002

Myth I: America is totally in hock to the Jewish lobby

Three weeks ago, I was standing in Piccadilly, watching the big anti-war march pass by. Two girls in Islamic headdress glanced my way, nudged each other, and then approached me.

"Have we seen you on television?" one of them asked.

I had appeared on a British television programme about Iraq shortly before, so I answered that yes, very possibly they had.

"We knew it!" they exclaimed. Then they hissed: "You're part of the Jewish lobby, aren't you?"

"Oh yes," I said, with maybe more bitterness than I should have. "I'm the man responsible for putting up your interest rates."

I wish I could say that those two girls had learnt their politics from some ranting mullah in a north London mosque. In fact, the certainty that American policy is controlled by what one British magazine called a "kosher conspiracy" was the single most widely held opinion I heard in the course of an eight-day visit to Britain.

When The Daily Telegraph invited me to report on British attitudes about America, I had braced myself for the worst. Only a week after September 11, the Guardian had published a column with the charming headline, "A Bully With a Bloody Nose is Still a Bully", and, in the year since then, my "ugly file", as I called my collection of anti-American clippings from the British press, had grown fatter and fatter.

So it was a very pleasant surprise to spend a week here in person and discover just how faint and marginal true anti-Americanism is. It exists, of course, but even when it does, it often seems motivated by envy rather than hatred. "You have to understand," one Left-wing journalist told me over a boozy lunch, "that everybody in our business here wonders whether he didn't make the mistake of a lifetime by not moving to the United States when he was 22."

What I encountered more often than animosity was a strange unawareness of the realities of American society and politics. So I thought it might be useful to address directly the perceptions and misperceptions - about America that I encountered most often. Think of it as one Anglophile's reply to Four Weddings and a Funeral: Four Myths and One Truth.

Like many myths, the myth of the Jewish lobby is founded on observed facts. Once upon a time, Jewish votes though few in number did play a strategic part in national politics. Back in 1948, New York was the largest state in the country. Harry Truman may have hoped that recognition of Israel would help him snatch New York's electoral votes from his Republican opponent, New York Governor Thomas Dewey.

Today, Jewish votes matter much less, not only because the Jewish population is relatively smaller (5.2 million in a country of almost 300 million), but because only one of the states with a large Jewish population Florida is still a key marginal state in a presidential election.

It is true that American Jews are important sources of political funds. Some experts estimate that up to one third of the money given to Democratic candidates comes from Jewish donors.

But most of this money seems to come from people motivated by their liberalism rather than their ancestral Judaism: Hollywood gives generously to pro-abortion and pro-environmental Democrats, but in this year's United Jewish Appeal campaign, Greater Los Angeles lagged well behind Toronto, a city with half LA's population and much less than half its wealth.

Here is where the myth is false. The force that sways American politicians' positions on Israel is not their hope for Jewish money or votes: it is ideology, conservative or liberal.

Of all American presidents, Bill Clinton was far and away the most personally friendly to America's Jews. No president had ever before named so many people of Jewish background or faith to so many important positions: Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, William Cohen, Alan Greenspan, Bernie Nussbaum, Robert Reich, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers and on and on. Even Clinton's most famous mistress was Jewish.

And America's Jewish community loved Clinton right back. He raised tens of millions in soft money from Jews in Hollywood and New York, culminating in an $8 million gift from entertainment mogul Chaim Saban to build a new HQ for the Democratic Party and more than $500,000 from Denise Rich for his own library.

And which American president was it who pushed Israel hardest and furthest to evacuate from the West Bank and Gaza for a Palestinian state? Who received Yasser Arafat more often than he received any other world leader, including even the Prime Minister of Britain and the President of Russia? Who responded to the September 2000 al-Aqsa intifada by pressing Israel for even more radical unilateral concessions? That same Bill Clinton.

Conversely: of all American presidents since the Second World War, only one was infected with antisemitism Richard Nixon. "The Jews are irreligious, atheistic, immoral bunch of bastards," Nixon observed in a conversation he recorded in 1972.

Nixon kept lists of Jews in the media and in his own administration, and never quite forgave even his closest adviser, Henry Kissinger, for his religion. Yet it was Nixon who rearmed Israel in its darkest hour, October 1973, turning catastrophic defeat in the early hours of the Yom Kippur war into triumph by the end.

If Jewish influence explains America's Middle East policy, how do we account for Clinton's conduct and Nixon's? For that matter, how do we account for George W Bush's? Few presidential candidates of modern times received less support from Jews than did Bush in November 2000 about 19 per cent.

The answer to the conundrum can be found in the opinion polls. In America, Israel is not an issue that divides Jews and non-Jews. It divides liberals and conservatives. A Gallup poll taken in April found that Republicans secular as well as religious support Israel over the Palestinians by a margin of 67 per cent to eight per cent, while Democrats do so by a margin of 45 to 21. (The most liberal Democrats are even more evenly divided: 41 for Israel against 40 for the Palestinians.)

When the European political Left looks at the Middle East, it sees a page out of a shameful past: arrogant white people conquering and colonialising oppressed non-whites. They think the Israeli cause is wrong, but, right or wrong, they believe it is hopeless after all, did their own countries not fight very similar wars themselves during the retreat from empire? And did they not lose?

Nor is the political Left immune to older prejudices: a Labour minister complained to me about the Israelis "rampaging through the Holy Land at Easter" an unconscious hint that, while dechristianised Britain may have lost its faith that Christ ever lived, it has not quite forgotten who killed Him.

But post-colonial guilt has a weaker purchase on the American conscience. When Americans look at the Middle East, they see a democratic society inspired by the Bible and committed to human freedom, surrounded by murderous and tyrannical enemies.

And when they look at the Palestinians, what do they see? Not the victims that Europeans perceive but the people who danced with glee as New York and Washington burned. Americans see the inventors of the airplane hijacking and the exponents of suicide-murder. In short, they see people who inspired and sympathise with America's newest and deadliest enemies.

There's a joke from the 1960s about the social worker who witnesses a brutal mugging. The victim crumples to the ground, the mugger administers a final kick and then runs away with the victim's wallet. The social worker rushes over, checks the victim's pulse, and murmurs: "That poor man! Imagine how much he must have suffered to want to beat you like that!"

Americans had little sympathy with that social worker; they have less sympathy for her foreign policy equivalents today. And it is for that reason, and not because of some kosher conspiracy, that America stands by Israel and confronts Iraq.



America in the dock
By David Frum
The Daily Telegraph
October 25, 2002

The truth: America is indeed subverting the Middle East

It sometimes seems that the three groups of people in the British Isles most bitterly hostile to American foreign policy are Muslim extremists, Trotskyists and former Tory foreign secretaries. Of the three, it is the former foreign secretaries who have the closest grip on reality. What they understand is the Truth with which we end this series: since September 11, America has ceased to be a "status quo" power in the Middle East and has become, or anyway is becoming, a revolutionary one.

The modern Middle East was, of course, a British and French invention, but America long ago took responsibility for policing and protecting it. Over the years, that job has become more and more demanding. In 1961, it took only 6,000 British troops to save Kuwait from Iraq. Thirty years later, America and its coalition partners sent more than 500,000.

The full cost of maintaining the old order in the Middle East did not, however, become apparent until September 11. The Middle East is now a region of overpopulation and underemployment, where tens of millions of young men waste their lives in economic and sexual frustration.

The region's oppressive regimes stifle their people's complaints about every local grievance, and direct their rage outward instead: to Israel, to America, to the infidel West, until one day that rage devoured 3,000 lives in New York in a single morning.

And on that morning, the old order became unsustainable.

What has happened to America's Middle East policy at the beginning of the 21st century is a lot like what happened to Britain's Near East policy at the beginning of the 20th.

Britain fought one war to defend the Ottoman empire in the 1850s, and nearly fought another in 1878. And yet in 1914, the Turkish government chose Britain for an enemy and Britain was left with no choice but to destroy the empire it had protected for so long.

America has not yet reached the point of deliberately smashing the post-colonial Middle Eastern order. On the contrary, Americans are doing everything they can to preserve it. They speak with a low voice about human rights abuses in Arab countries. They seek military and intelligence co-operation from Arab autocracies they describe as moderate. They are working dutifully to create a Palestinian state.

William Burns, an Assistant Secretary of State, has just returned to the region for another round of negotiations only this week, in the hope of protecting friendly Arab regimes against the putative wrath of the Arab street. Americans endlessly praise the contribution of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to the war on terror you'll find an impressive collection of them on the website of the Saudi embassy in Washington.

And yet, as the elder statesmen of the Foreign Office understand, at the same time as they do all these careful, conservative things, the Americans every day take other actions that subvert and undermine the old order in the Middle East. As the Americans follow the terror trail, they are exposing the intimate connections between the so-called moderate states and terror organisations such as al-Qa'eda and Hizbollah.

As they crack down on fundraising for terrorism, they threaten the legal position of wealthy and powerful individuals throughout the Islamic world who, out of fear or out of conviction, have contributed millions to the terror network. As they apply the "with us or with the terrorists" standard enunciated by George W. Bush, the Americans are systematically depriving Arab regimes of the margin of ambiguity that had once insulated them against both the Americans and the radicals.

Above all, as they come to appreciate how political oppression in the Arab world has turned populations against the West, Americans have begun, for the first time, to promote democratisation and liberalisation.

In the words of Colin Powell last November: "When you don't have a free democratic system, where the street is represented in the halls of the legislature and in the executive branches of those governments, then they have to be more concerned by the passions of the street. And so," Mr Powell told Arab governments, "in addition to sort of criticising us from time to time... you'd better start taking a look in the mirror."

None of these steps was consciously intended to weaken the position of America's supposed friends in the Arab world. But the old Arab hands in London and Washington correctly perceive their subversive tendency.

And most subversive of all is the looming war with Iraq. For 10 years, America has struggled against Saddam Hussein in a way that T E Lawrence would have approved of: a series of covert actions and plots intended to kill him and replace him with another Sunni strong-man who would govern in a way more amenable to Western interests.

That campaign repeatedly and ignominiously failed, leaving America to confront the growing likelihood of a nuclear-armed Saddam, or else to deal with him openly and take responsibility for replacing him. And since America, operating in its own name and under its own flag, cannot replace one dictator with another, the preparations for war in Iraq have forced America for the first time to consider imposing and defending representative government in an Arab state.

This possibility horrifies moderate regimes as much as radical ones, a horror symbolised by the embrace given by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to Iraq's Izzat Ibrahim at the Arab summit in March.

Democratisation and liberalisation mean doom not only for the rulers of the moderate states the Saudi royal family, the Mubarak clan, and so on - but also for a much broader swath of the elite: all those people who have made fortunes out of the closed system of controls and special favours that directs the Arab world's wealth into the hands of a tiny, well-connected elite.

The American determination to root out terror to put a stop to the game where Arab regimes direct their people's anger outward at America and Israel, to eliminate the ambiguity that allows terrorist groups to raise funds more or less openly in states that pretend to deplore them threatens to upend a system of government to which many in the West have become comfortably accustomed.

As Saudi Arabia's veteran ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar, told the Washington Post in a report this February: "If the reputation... builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office, you'd be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office."

It was a shrewd assessment, and, after nearly 20 years, in America, Prince Bandar has acquired some very good friends indeed.

America does not want to destabilise the Middle East. But Islamic extremism, anti-American incitement, and willing and unwilling support for terrorist organisations have fastened themselves deep into the societies and cultures of the Middle East. Osama bin Laden's terrorism is not the work only of a few sociopathic killers: it is the product of a wide and deep complicity throughout the Arab world. Finding, uprooting, discrediting and destroying terror will have equally wide and deep and unpredictable consequences.

And that is why so many Europeans with an interest in the Arab world and its oil have urged America to learn to live with terror: to be realistic, to adjust, to accommodate as they have had to do. And it is America's refusal to be realistic in this way that, more than anything else, has puzzled, vexed and even enraged so many in Europe and in Britain.

America's greatest disappointments and disasters have originated in the national unwillingness to live within realistic limits. So have America's greatest triumphs. Into which category will the war on terror ultimately be assigned? Of course I do not know. But let us hope it is the second because, like it or not, with friends or without them, America is going ahead.

David Frum was President Bush's speechwriter in the first year of his administration. He is now a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is writing a book about the Bush presidency.


Frum's other three articles this week were titled:

Myth II: America wants war with Saddam because of oil
Myth III: Bush wants war with Iraq because of a family vendetta
Myth IV: America couldn't care less what the rest of the world thinks

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.