"Moral Clarity" or "Morally Reprehensible"? Cheney's New Rationale for the Iraq War

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Bart Stupak Town Meeting

Petoskey, Michigan, March 16, 2007

"Moral Clarity" or "Morally Reprehensible"?

Cheney's New Rationale for the Iraq War
Remarks of Ellis Boal

Amplified and Annotated March 24, 2007

Thank you Congressman Stupak for coming to Petoskey today. I also appreciate that you have never crossed a union picket line, a remarkable achievement in this day and age.

The New War Rationale

On March 12 Vice-President Dick Cheney provided a new rationale for continuing US involvement in the war in Iraq. In a speech to the pro-Israel lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) he said:
Progress and the cause of security and long-term peace never comes easily -- if the United States and Israel persevere in that cause, we understand, as Ariel Sharon put it, the right and responsibility of every democracy if it wishes to survive, to protect itself and its values. Doing so requires moral clarity, the courage of our convictions, a willingness to act when action is necessary and a refusal to submit to any form of intimidation ever.
These qualities are a credit to the American and Israeli people and these qualities are tested everyday as we wage the War on Terror.... We are the prime targets of the terror movement that is global in nature, and yes global in its ambitions.
Friends owe it to friends to be as candid as possible; so let me say that a precipitous American withdrawal from Iraq would be a disaster for the United States and the entire Middle East.... If Iran’s allies prevailed the regime in Tehran’s own designs for the Middle East would be advanced and the threat to our friends in the region would only be magnified.
My friends is it simply not consistent for anyone to demand aggressive action against the menace posed by the Iranian regime while at the same time acquiescing in a retreat from Iraq that would leave our worst enemies dramatically emboldened and Israel’s best friend, the United States dangerously weakened.
(Emphasis added)
In other words, one of the reasons for the US to stay in Iraq is to protect Israel from Iran.
AIPAC has taken no position on the Iraq war or on the supplemental war funding bill about to come before the House. But according to The Hill last Tuesday, an AIPAC crowd of over 5000 at the same meeting stood and applauded House Minority Leader John Boehner loudly when he said "the US had no choice but to win in Iraq."
The mood at the AIPAC conference does not reflect the thinking of American Jews. According to a Gallup poll, of all religious groups including those with no religious affiliation, Jewish Americans most strongly oppose the war.
Nevertheless, even assertedly antiwar Democrats acquiesce in tipping their hats to Israel. Worrying about the possible effect on that country, last week they stripped from a war spending bill the requirement that President Bush gain approval from Congress before moving against Iran.

Reprehensible Clarity

Vice-President Cheney premised his reasoning on an appeal to "moral clarity," said to be a credit to the American and Israeli people. That makes an evaluation of Israel's morality, and that of the US, appropriate for discussion of the war. So much has been said and written on our own country that there is little to add about that. I will focus my remarks on Israel.
Last week I sent you general background in two articles I wrote in 2004. (On request I will send annotated versions of both.) Here are some figures from the one that appeared in the Petoskey News-Review. I don't think anyone disputes that:
Israel's history includes the initial conquest of 38 percent more land than the UN allotted to it in 1947, the expulsion of 700,000 Arab refugees in 1948, creation of 350,000 more refugees in 1967, the 1982 killings of 1000-2000 unarmed civilians in the Israeli-controlled refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, the 1985 Israeli attack on [PLO leader Yasser] Arafat's compound in Tunisia, the movement of 430,000 settlers into conquered Palestinian land, and the ongoing housing and other discrimination against the 1.2 million Israeli Arabs countenanced by Israeli law.
The other article appeared in Guild Notes, the organ of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) which sponsored my two trips to the West Bank. Discussing Israel's war of independence I wrote:
In November 1947 the United Nations recommended a partition plan, dividing Palestine non-contiguously into Jewish and Arab states. The plan gave the Jewish state a majority of the land, though Jews were only 30% of Palestine's people. Arab leaders decided to oppose it, and irregular forces entered the country in January 1948.
But in the following twelve months, over 700,000 Arabs fled or were ejected from the country. At first the refugees tended to be well-to-do. Terrorist tactics of extreme Zionist groups were a major factor but not the only factor in their departures. That changed with the massacre at Deir Yassin.
David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, said in an April 1948 speech:
We will not be able to win the war if we do not, during the war, populate [the] Galilee, the Negev and Jerusalem area, even if only in an artificial way, in a military way.... I believe that war will also bring in its wake a great change in the distribution of [Palestinian] Arab population.
Three days later 254 villagers were killed at Deir Yassin near Jerusalem according to the killers' body count. Menachem Begin, later a prime minister of Israel, explained in his book what happened next:
The legend in Deir Yassin helped in particular in the saving of Tiberias and the conquest of Haifa.... All the Jewish forces proceeded to advance through Haifa like a knife through butter. The Arabs began fleeing in panic, shouting Deir Yassin.... Arabs throughout the country ... were seized by limitless panic and started to flee for their lives.
In May, Britain formally pulled out. Israel declared itself a state. Several Arab governments sent in regular forces. In June the Israeli cabinet barred return of the refugees.
The Arab armies were poorly armed. By the end of the year Israel defeated them, and expanded its share of the land allotted under the partition plan by 38%.
Jewish settlers moved in to work most of the formerly-Arab land. In 1949 the olive produce from these lands was Israel's third largest export.
Palestinians call the war al-Nakba -- the catastrophe.
Initially in 1948 the US favored the Palestinian refugees. Again from my Guild Notes piece:
Speaking for the US, Dean Rusk advocated immediate repatriation and implored that displaced Palestinians not be made pawns in negotiations for a final settlement. The UN passed resolution 194 in December 1948.
As part of the same resolution the General Assembly created a UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine. Israel continued to stonewall repatriation. Mark Ethridge, the US delegate to the UNCPP, characterized Israel's refusal as "morally reprehensible."
Ethridge's quote is from the Quigley article below.
Israel's intransigence continues today. Last Wednesday the New York Times reported that data from the Israeli Civil Administration shows that almost a third of the property held by Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is private Arab-owned land. Seizure of private land for establishing settlements for security purposes is illegal, according to the Israeli Supreme Court. Yet Israel bars Arabs from the settlements, and says it will never give up the three main settlement blocks, Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion, and Ariel. Thus the data will "further complicate the already distant prospect of a negotiated piece," the Times says.

The US Reaction

Israel cannot act with moral clarity and yet at the same time be morally reprehensible. How does the US resolve this dilemma?

In material terms from 1949 on, it has backed Israel. Israel receives $2-3 billion a year in direct aid, most of it military. The total through the end of 2006 sums to $108 billion. No accounting is required as to how the funds are used. A 2001 report of an NLG delegation to Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel (one in which I did not participate) said:
Virtually all Israel's weapons are provided or financed by the United States.... [Our delegation] spent considerable time in Beit Jala, Hebron, Nablus, and Gaza looking at shell debris and weaponry fragments that were found primarily in destroyed and damaged buildings. Although some of the shells contained Hebrew writing, which indicated Israeli manufactured weapons, the overwhelming majority of the fragments, when there was writing on them, had English descriptions at the least, and many of them identified the places of manufacture as being within the United States.
Israel does not produce its own tanks or planes. The NLG delegation noted the following US-made weapons used by Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories: Apache and Huey Cobra helicopters, Reshef patrol boats, bulldozers, pile drivers, armored personnel carriers, grenade launchers, shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons, rockets, and a wide variety of ammunition.
The US also resolves the dilemma ideologically. In a 2004 policy reversal, President Bush announced his rejection of Palestinian refugees' rights to return to their homes in Israel. Both houses of Congress concurred.

It doesn't have to be this way

For centuries until the 1920s Jews and Muslims in the Middle East had cordial relations, at least compared to Europe. Many European Jews sought refuge from persecution in Muslim-ruled areas.
Cheney's speech also spoke of a "battle of ideas." But in the battle of ideas, traditionally Christian countries have been the worst actors. Professed Christians ruled Germany when it killed millions of Jews in the 1940s. Professed Christians expelled Jews from England, France, and Spain in the 13th-15th centuries. Professed Christians ran the Crusades. In the siege of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, Muslims and Jews defended the city side by side, and in the end were massacred together.
The first military struggle between Jews and Muslims was not until al-Nakba in 1948.
I believe that under democratic norms the land of Canaan can be shared again, as Mazin Qumsiyeh argues in his book noted below. The nature of such a resolution is beyond the scope of my remarks, and at the moment there is conflict. I do agree the conflict bears on what is happening in Iraq, though not in the way the vice-president looks at it.
But a prerequisite to resolving both conflicts is for the US to get out. It must stop funding the Iraq war, and stop funding Israel.
ABC News: Dems Abandon War Authority Provision, Democrats Back Off Requiring Bush to Gain Congressional Approval for Move Against Iran, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=2945281
Ellis Boal, Arafat: A Critical Appreciation, guest commentary, Petoskey News-Review, 11/19/04
Ellis Boal, Palestinians' Right to Return, Guild Notes, Volume XXVIII # 2 (Summer 2004)
Dick Cheney, The United States and Israel: Tradition and Transcendence, AIPAC Policy Conference 2007, March 11, 2007, http://www.aipac.org/Publications/SpeechesByPolicymakers/PC2007_DickCheney.pdf
Steven Erlanger, West Bank Sites on Private Land, Data Shows, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/14/world/middleeast/14israel.html
Frank James, American Jews and the Iraq War, 2/23/07, http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/news_theswamp/2007/02/american_jews_a.html
Ron Kampeas, In a show of bipartisan support, House backs Bush pledge to Israel, http://www.majorityleader.gov/in_the_news/articles/index.cfm?pressReleaseID=757
Shirl McArthur, A Conservative Estimate of Total Direct U.S. Aid to Israel: $108 Billion, http://www.wrmea.com/archives/July_2006/0607016.html
National Lawyers Guild: The Al Aqsa Intifada and Israel's Apartheid: The U.S. Military and Economic Role in the Violation of Palestinian Human Rights, http://www.nlg.org/programs/mideast/al_aqsa_intifada.pdf
John Quigley, Repatriation of Displaced Palestinians as a Legal Right, http://www.nexusjournal.org/separate%20pdf/johnquigley.pdf
Mazin Qumsiyeh, Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle, http://qumsiyeh.org/sharingthelandofcanaan/
Ian Swanson, Pelosi hears boos at AIPAC, http://thehill.com/leading-the-news/pelosi-hears-boos-at-aipac-2007-03-13.html
Wikipedia, History of the jews in muslim lands, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_Muslim_Lands
Wikipedia, Palestinian exodus, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Nakba
Wikipedia, Positive christianity, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_Christianity
Wikipedia, Siege of Jerusalem, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_%281099%29

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