Washington, DC - March 7, 2014 8AM-5PM at the National Press Club

"..a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils."

-George Washington, Farewell Address


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  Key findings from the book "Quicksand"
(Video YouTube, Audio MP3)

by Geoffrey Wawro is Professor of History and Director of the Military History Center at the University of North Texas in the Dallas Metroplex. From 2000-2005 he was Professor of Strategic Studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. A Modern European historian by training, Dr. Wawro’s Ph.D is from Yale University, his B.A. Magna Cum Laude from Brown University. Dr. Wawro is the author of four highly regarded books: Quicksand: America’s Pursuit of Power in the Middle East (Penguin Press, 2010), The Franco-Prussian War (Cambridge, 2003), Warfare and Society in Europe, 1792-1914 (Routledge, 2000), and The Austro-Prussian War (Cambridge, 1996). He is the co-editor (with Oxford’s Hew Strachan) of The Cambridge Military Histories — published by Cambridge University Press — and is a member of the History Book Club Review Board. Wawro has published articles in The Journal of Military History, War in History, The International History Review, The Naval War College Review, American Scholar, and European History Quarterly, and op-eds in the Los Angeles Times, New York Post, Miami Herald, Hartford Courant and Providence Journal.

Well, the book Quicksand, it treats a lot of themes: imperialism, wars, terrorism, oil. But in regards to the U.S. - Israeli relationship, I charted the process using U.S. and British archives through which we became engaged and allied with Israel from the Balfour Declaration until the Obama presidency. The book was published in 2010.

Well, in the beginning, there was Woodrow Wilson. He assented to the Balfour Declaration under political pressure from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who was the American-born son of Czech Jews and President of the American Committee for Zionist Affairs. Now, Wilson initially opposed the Balfour Declaration because it contravened his own 14 points, particularly his emphasis on national self-determination. And Wilson, of course, had sent a commission roving around the Middle East in 1919, the King-Crane Commission, which surveyed 260 communities in Palestine, none of which wanted Jewish settlers or European powers defining their affairs. They wanted to become an American mandate because they, rather naively, said the U.S. would never let anybody else run our affairs, they would insist on majority rule.

But Louis Brandeis showed Wilson that he'd gain politically by supporting a Jewish state. Between 1900 and 1914, 100,000 European Jewish immigrants had entered the U.S. every year and settled in compact pockets in crucial cities, like New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati. And anyone who wanted to dominate the electoral college needed these places.

Well, as the Second World War wound down, FDR struggled with the question of Palestine. The depression of the 1930s and then the war and its aftermath had unleashed a flood of, first, Jewish settlers, then refugees and displaced persons, increasing the Jewish population of Palestine from a very small amount to 30 percent of the total by 1945.

Now, FDR didn't worry about Palestine all that much because he had much bigger things to worry about at the time. But he worried about Palestine because the king of Saudi Arabia worried about Palestine. And FDR was planning to make the kingdom America's strategic oil reserve after the war. And he met with King Ibn Saud on the USS Quincy in Great Bitter Lake in the Suez Canal as he was returning for Yalta, and one of the things that FDR said afterwards, "I can't understand why he keeps going back to the subject of Palestine."

At the same time, FDR was reminded by The Zionist Review, a New York paper in 1945, that tilting toward the Palestinians to appease the Saudis would be political suicide in America. The Zionist Review wrote, "New York is entitled to 47 electoral votes, while only 266 electoral votes are necessary to elect a president. Whether the state of New York goes to one party or the other by relatively few votes in a tightly-contested race will make a difference of 94 votes in the electoral college."

The same dynamic prevailed in the other key battleground states at the time, which were New York, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. The paper continued, "They may swing to one party or the other by only a few thousand votes, and 90 percent of the Jewish population of the United States is concentrated in these doubtful states." Truman got the message loud and clear. His Secretary of State, Burns and then Marshall, and the secretary of defense, Forrestal, were monitored and channeled by Eddie Jacobson, David Niles, and Max Lowenthal, whom they called the backroom boys in the White House. George Marshall, trying to build a big Cold War coalition around the world and convinced that strong support for Israel would only weaken the coalition rued, as he put it, the squalid political purposes of these backroom boys.

For their part, Niles and Lowenthal scorned the stripe pants boys in the State Department and the Defense Department and showed Truman the math. There are five million Jews in America, a 20-fold increase since the 1880s. They're organized in pressure groups, like the Federation of American Zionists and the American Jewish Committee, and they vote. The backroom boys demanded a housecleaning at State, an appointment of somebody who's really trustworthy on Palestine matters. “People at State are really bitching things up,” Niles wrote Lowenthal.

Well, President Truman agreed, saying to critics, like Marshall and Forrestal, "I'm sorry, gentleman, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I don't have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents." He took the Palestine portfolio away from Loy Henderson's Near Eastern desk and gave it to Clark Clifford, Niles, and Lowenthal. It would henceforth be managed for its domestic political dividends, strategy be damned.

Loy Henderson, dismissed as too Arabist by the Zionist lobby, was then sent off to be ambassador to India. Marshall rebelled, telling the president that he was weakening the U.S. globally by his uncritical support for the Zionists. Marshall and Henderson were for an Arab state in Palestine with guarantees for a Jewish minority. Truman and the backroom boys wanted partition with the very best areas, 55 percent of the total land mass, to the Jews, which would, of course, inflame the Arabs and imperil any Cold War coalition against the Soviets.

"U.S. policy, Marshall scolded the president, “has to be based on U.S. national interests and not on your domestic political considerations." Three days before the British scuttle from Palestine in '48, Marshall spoke the sharpest rebuke ever delivered to a president in the Oval Office when he told Truman that he was putting the great office of the president at risk by so tamely supporting the Zionists against the Arab majority of Palestine. The president, Marshall said, “was subordinating an international crisis to a transparent dodge to win a few votes.” Marshall's deputy called the emerging state of Israel “a pig in a poke, a state with high strategic costs and few apparent benefits.”

Well, in the 1948 presidential election, Tom Dewey, projected to be the winner right up until Election Day, had a stout pro-Israel plank in his platform, and Truman felt he could do no less. He pledged full recognition and development aid to a Jewish state, despite its relatively small numbers, half as many Jews in Palestine at the time as Arabs, and tolerated Israel's brutal expulsion of 75 percent of Palestine's Arab inhabitants in the 1948 war, creating the 844,000 Palestinian refugees, whose number has grown to five million today.

The 1948 war, Israel's expulsion or liquidation of the Palestinians, and the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte, internationalized the Palestinian question, to America's great disadvantage. Now all Arab governments in the region took this Palestinian question as their touchstone and made it sort of the focus of all their relations with America.

President Eisenhower, who vowed to downgrade Israel to improve America's total situation in the Middle East, also keeled over under the lobbying pressure at home. "There are five million Jewish voters in the U.S.," he sighed, "and very few Arabs."

Before the 1956 Suez war, Secretary of State Dulles had warned the Israelis that they must make substantial concessions on borders and refugees to improve the security and continued existence of the free world. After the war, when Ike forced Israel to disgorge Sinai and Gaza, the Israelis used that concession to foreclose, forever apparently, all talk of whittling down the 1949 borders or compensating refugees, which is the situation that prevails to this day.

Senators of both parties, Johnson, Humphrey, Noland, piled on for short-term political advantage in 1956, decrying the "Dulles-Eisenhower policy of squeezing Israel and appeasing the Arabs," the same senseless rhetoric that prevails today. The British ambassador in Washington was astonished by this. "The Americans," he wrote, "crave oil and strategic space in the Cold War, but they refuse to coax the concessions from the Israelis that would lodge them more securely in that space. Tel Aviv, meanwhile, demands and gets an American security guarantee of their borders without any sacrifice at all."

Well, that ambassador, Harold Caccia, advised Dulles to sell the security guarantee to Israel for a usable price, land or refugees. But Dulles replied that he couldn't, saying, "With Israeli pressure and elections coming on, I can't any longer refrain from offering Israel guarantees, arms, and even a defense pact." Dulles cited political factors, as well as "the terrific control the Jews have over the U.S. media." To his disbelieving government in London, Caccia reported the Americans are going to guarantee Israeli frontiers without any sacrifice at all on Israel's part, as we still do today. It made and makes no strategic sense whatsoever.

In 1962, JFK had his own stab at a peace process. He tried to pressure Israel into accepting the Carnegie endowments Johnson plan, which would resettle in Israel or cash compensate Palestine's Arab refugees, whose number had now grown to 1.3 million. Kennedy was dissuaded by his White House desk officer for Israel, a man named Meyer Feldman whose new position reflected the immense growing power of Israel in U.S. decision making.

Feldman said, "Disengage from this plan, Mr. President, or there's going to be a violent eruption domestically and in our relations with Israel." JFK not only disengaged, he rewarded Israel with aid dollars, early-warning radars, and Hawk SAMs, punching a hole in the U.S. embargo on the sale of major weapon systems to the Middle East that had been maintained until that time.

With characteristic fearlessness, the Israelis deployed the Hawks around their Dimona nuclear weapons facility as if to mock Kennedy's efforts to shut it down.

Well, the 1962 Hawk sale, followed by Skyhawks in '66 and Phantoms in '68, set the precedent that created the U.S. - Israeli strategic relationship, a multi-billion dollar business in cutting-edge weaponry supplemented by military-to-military dialogues, joint exercises, and cooperative R&D. That multi-billion dollar business has engaged the defense industry and its dependent congressmen in the already robust Israeli lobby.

Thus, it was that, shortly before Kennedy's death, the president, during meetings with Golda Meir in Palm Beach characterized the U.S. - Israeli alliance as no less intimate than our special relationship with Great Britain. Privately, however, Kennedy deplored Israeli policies, which had spawned, as he called it, a Palestinian liberation movement, Fatah and the PLO, which had now become the rallying cry of every Arab government in the region, vastly complicating U.S. initiatives and strategy in the Middle East.

LBJ, of course, paid little attention to the Middle East. Everything to do with the Middle East must be subject to events in Southeast Asia, as his secretary of state, Dean Rusk, said. When he did pay attention, he viewed the region like Truman, a place where he could win Jewish votes in U.S. elections. "I've got three Cohens in my cabinet," LBJ said, "No one is going to do more than Israel than I will."

In 1965, U.S. ambassador to Israel, Wally Barbour, warned the IDF, which now towered technologically and organizationally over all of its Arab rivals, must be prevented from making any new annexations. Such annexations, Barbour argued in 1965, would do incalculable long-term damage to U.S. interest. If Israel attacks, the U.S. is going to have to impose merciless sanctions. "It's not enough to contain the Arabs," Barbour said, "we have to contain both sides."

Well, in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel launched a surprise attack on Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, quadrupled its territory, and created 300,000 new refugees alongside the 1.7 million old ones. Far from sanctioning Israel for the annexations or the attack on the USS Liberty, Johnson sat on his hands, entrenching the forever war still sputtering in Israel and the occupied territories. Instead of rolling back the Israeli annexations, as Ike had done in 1956, Johnson approved them, as well as the sale of F-4 Phantoms to Israel, merely commenting that American Jews want LBJ to send the Sixth Fleet to the Gulf of Aqaba, but they won't send a goddamn screwdriver to Vietnam.

Under attack by RFK and Eugene McCarthy for the ‘68 nomination, LBJ didn't dare alienate the lobby. From LBJ on, every president tolerated illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, a process Rabin called "redeeming Israel's narrow hips." And the hips were narrow, of course, because, despite Israeli efforts to evict the Palestinians in 1967, most of them had stayed put, increasing Israel's Arab population from 200,000 to a million.

Well, U.S. pressure on Moscow in the '70s -- I just have a little bit more to get through here, I hope you'll indulge me -- was aimed by pro-Israel hawks like Scoop Jackson, filling up the West Bank, the Golan and Gaza settlements with Russian Jews. Forty-thousand immigrants a year and $35 million a year in expenditures enabled by U.S. aid dollars created new facts on the ground that we deal with today. "We disagree with this policy," Kissinger aide Joseph Cisco wrote in 1971, "but we say nothing, so the Israelis assume our acquiescence."

Nixon called the failure of his predecessors to solve the Palestinian land and refugee problems one of the major lapses of the post-World War II era. His first secretary of state, William Rogers, the first diplomat to use the term "Palestinian" instead of the Israeli favored term "refugee," tried to roll back the Israelis but was immediately stymied by Golda Meir, who drove a wedge between the friendly U.S. government of Nixon and the hostile State Department of Rogers, another tried and true Israeli gambit.

Kissinger fared no better than Rogers. He threw away Washington's best opportunity to ring major game-changing concessions from Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. With Israel on the defensive, Nixon and Kissinger authorized a massive airlift to Tel Aviv. Instead of trading weapons and support for Israeli concessions on land and refugees, the course actually advised by Secretary of Defense Schlesinger, they gullibly assume that Israeli gratitude for rescue would result in concessions after the war. There wouldn't be any concessions. Before the war even ended, Nixon realized his error. He made the Israelis, as he put it, "more difficult to deal with than ever before."
During the crisis, Schlesinger, who had asked at a principal's meeting the following question, "Is there a difference between defending Israel and defending Israel's conquests?" Everyone in the room said yes. "Well, then," Schlesinger said, "we should only ship the Israelis consumables, fuel and ammunition, and hold back the planes and the tanks until after the war when we can use these as levers to pry the Israelis out of the occupied territories." Smart guy.

Kissinger assumed that he was smarter. He said, "No, if we kick the Israelis in the teeth," notice the language, "If we kick the Israelis in the teeth over this, they'll never listen to us again." It makes no sense, and Kissinger, clearly a very smart guy, I don't know what was ailing him at the time. Kissinger assured Nixon that he'd be able to manage the Israelis. Of course, he wasn't. They crossed the Golan Heights. They crossed the Suez Canal, provoking a major Cold War crisis. "They can't do this to us again, Henry," Nixon wailed. "They've done it to us for four years but no more." As if.

Nixon, pushed by key senators, like Humphrey, Kennedy, Javits, Jackson, Church, Cranston, and Bayh some of whom were planning to run for president in '76, paradoxically rewarded Israeli intransigence after the war with $2.2 billion in new military aid. Nixon and Kissinger reinforced the Kennedy, "We must let Israel use weapons to produce security." It's seen that the only way to manage the Israelis in a U.S. political environment that made real negotiation or sanctions impossible was to give them more stuff, arms and money, and merely hope that they'd give a little to get more, a point made very well by Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer in their book.

Well, Quicksand follows this thread through to the present day. The U.S. - Israeli relationship continues with the same tail-wags-dog quality described above. And so we arrive at today, an Obama administration that has burnt its fingers every time it approaches the issue of a peace settlement. The portfolio has been transferred to John Kerry, whose tremendous ambition and energy I suspect is going to be insufficient to arrange a settlement that Israel has become so proficient at resisting.

If there is to be a final settlement, as Netanyahu hinted at AIPAC early this week, it will be less from American diplomatic pressure, which the Israelis routinely ignore, and more from Israeli fears of the BDS movement and from their calculation that, with the Middle East splintered, they might be able to join a large Sunni coalition against Iran and its clients. A Palestinian state would be the precondition for such a diplomatic revolution and, yet, in view of the history I've just described, I, for one, am not holding my breath.
Thank you very much.

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