Associated Press’s Mark Lavie reports from Jerusalem that Israel’s Prime Minister has stated that the “supreme duty of the State of Israel “ and “the supreme duty of the Prime Minister” is to prevent another Holocaust.
Who could deny the wisdom of avoiding another Holocaust? Or of preventing another one?
It rang a bell in my mind, though, one of those obnoxious clang-clangs that are used on ships to alert everyone to a particularly dangerous situation.
It came to me that this was exactly what the former President Bush started saying when justifying his (failing) wars in the Middle East. Even at the time certain sober minds observed that what the Leader had actually sworn to do, and was bound by oath to do, was to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and see that the laws be faithfully executed. ‘Protecting’ the citizens was not included in the Oath (nor, as far as anybody knows, did he file a ‘swearing statement’ modifying the Oath after he took it).
There was a whiff of some sort of cheap carnival shell-game, that what the Leader said he was supposed to do was not what he had freely taken the Oath to do. In fact, as We are continually discovering, he most certainly did not do what his Oath required him to do. Instead, neatly, he did what he wanted to do, under the guise of accomplishing an objective that was not only not in the Oath, but actually betrayed the terms of the Oath. (The Founders referred to such a gambit rather candidly as “treachery” and considered it a prime ground for impeachment.)
The Constitution and the Framers did not erect an office of “Protector” or “Chief Protector”; they knew very well what England had gone through the century before with the “Lord Protector”, Cromwell.
No, they were willing to risk a certain amount of ‘harm’ and ‘pain’ in the rough-and-tumble of history – that, after all, was why this life was called a Vale of Tears.
What they were not willing to risk was that one person, and the government that served him (or her), would presume to control the lives and minds of The People, under the guise of ‘protecting’ them. The People were not a sheep-herd that needed to be protected by shepherds and dogs.
The People was a society of free, independent, serious individuals in whose service and upon whose authority the government was erected, elected, and – frankly – hired to handle the administrative chores.
The People would be led by their own common wisdom, achieved through careful and attentive deliberation, and communicated to their responsive elected representatives. The People would rise or fall on the basis of the efficacy of that common wisdom, but that was the nature of democracy. There was never a guarantee – express or implied – that the Framers and their Constitution would generally or largely prevent ‘pain’ and ‘harm’; the Framers were very happy, thank you very much, just to be able to prevent the lethal and fundamental political ‘pain’ and ‘harm’ of tyranny.
You couldn’t ask much more of a guarantee in life, and History was famous for taking bad bounces.
I wondered: did the Israelis get this idea from Bush’s baaaad example? Or did Bush actually get it via Beltway pillow talk from the Israelis?
After all, America was founded in comparative safety, almost an invulnerability for all practical purposes. Nor were Americans paranoid. They were acutely aware of the imponderables of History, and they were even more acutely aware of that perennial human tendency – especially when near power – to lust for more of it, and to ‘do whatever it takes’ to get more of it as well as to keep what you’ve already gotten your mitts on. They took steps in the constructing of the Constitutional machinery to make sure that that very realistic danger was provided for. But they weren’t paranoid and there were no enemies hovering just across the way with the power to deliver a lethal blow forthwith.
The State of Israel in an altogether different story. It was founded by folks who believed, long before there ever was a Holocaust, that they had a right to a piece of real estate from which they had been ejected after a failed revolt against Rome, two thousand or so years before. Such are the ups and downs of human history. The Mormons, ejected somewhat rudely from Illinois, simply packed up and set up shop in Utah, and in doing so displayed a remarkably Western practicality and flexibility.
That is not how non-Western folks do things, however. Feuds and claims to actual slabs of real-estate can go on for decades, centuries, millennia. ‘Compromising’ is a sign of weakness, not an indication of a societal and sociable maturity.
That was those Israel-founders even before the Holocaust.
The Holocaust, of course, emitted a fog of outrage, shock, repugnance that nicely blanketed the fundamentally rigid and not particularly Western obsession with the millennia-old religious and tribal feud. Western peoples who would not care for a moment to descend into taking sides in such a feud were much more easily persuaded to be sensitive to the admittedly profound outrage perpetrated upon European Jewry by the admittedly odious and repugnant Third Reich.
And under cover of that blanket, the ancient feud smuggled itself in.
Or, rather, invaded. Following a programme of assassination and bombings that were intended to destabilize the British forces assigned to the Protectorate of Palestine, including the bombing of a hotel housing them, a larger force of armed invaders landed in Palestine from the sea, and forthwith ejected the natives – their villages destroyed, and not a few women and children killed.
You would not need a crystal ball to predict what would happen if the British left or if the invaders stayed. The British did leave, as quickly as they decently could. The invaders set up the State of Israel, and the Americans – with an eye to domestic politics and facing a difficult election – recognized the State forthwith. They did not repeat the British mistake of actually having their own troops on the ground; but various indulgences were issued: looking the other way as arms and materiel were brought in, and then providing foreign aid in various forms.
The Israeli government, born in blood and gunfire - most of the gunfire its own and most of the blood somebody else's - and swathed in the bloody shirt of the Holocaust, was destined to be a permanent war-government from the moment of its inception. And the distinction between its government’s ‘civilian’ and ‘peaceful’ pursuits and objectives and its government’s military responsibility to maintain sufficient capability to repel all violence with violence … that distinction was blurred from the outset.
Once the American election of 1948 was satisfactorily resolved, Israel was left somewhat on its own. In 1962 another American President took a very dim view when it was discovered that the Israelis were quietly but vigorously pursuing a nuclear capability; the introduction of such an element – officially acknowledged or not – into the Middle East equation, in a world already bethump’t by the thermonuclear stand-off between the USA and the USSR, did not seem to him a very wise idea.
But then suddenly he died – violently.
His successor had other concerns and somehow it came to him that having the State of Israel as a reliable square on the Great Chess Board, situated in a Middle East that was seeing a bit too much Soviet attention, appeared a very good idea indeed. And, being from the great oil-producing state of Texas, that President may also have realized that in the not too distant future (it would be 1969) America’s domestic oil production would be insufficient for its needs, and all the oil sitting underneath the Middle East would become a very significant national interest indeed.
Anyhoo, the American government wound up welding itself to the State of Israel, not out of any particular emergent concern that the Third Reich would rise again to have another go at world Jewry, but rather for its own national interests and its domestic political concerns.
The Israeli government, as evidenced by its acquisition of atomic-nuclear capability, was not going to permit anything – not international law, not treaties, not international opinion, not any concept of international justice or morality, not any ‘larger picture’ – to interfere with its acquisition and retention of the whole parcel of land deeded in the Bible. In the service of that abiding goal, and the defense now virtually guaranteed to be necessary unto the Latter Day, the Israeli government – as it eventually found it useful to admit – would ‘do whatever it takes’.
Just how profound and unboundaried that ‘whatever’ really is has constituted one of the more painful learning curves of the modern world.
And in some dark and lethal synergy the ‘weld’ between the US government and the government of Israel has now resulted in the American Presidency becoming infected with the Israeli concept that a government exists – and exists only – to ‘protect’ its people. And that in the service of that ‘protection’, any government worth its salt must be prepared to ‘do whatever it takes’, against external enemies or even against internal dissenters whose thoughts would complicate and reduce the efficiency of the ‘whatever it takes’ stance.
This is a not a Western philosophy of government; the West grew out of, in great part through the experience of Cromwell, and certainly after early-20th century experience of ‘Leaders’ like Mussolini and Hitler.
But this approach to government is not only simply not-Western. It is hell-and-gone from, and utterly antithetical to, the American Constitutional vision of the role of government.
‘Emergencies’ and ‘victims who need permanent protection’ … these are the tools of a terrible regression in the American political ethos. You cannot maintain a Constitutional Republic on the assumption that most of the citizenry are ‘victims’ that need nothing so much as to be ‘protected’.
It was precisely the effort to ground the legitimacy of its permanent-war stance in the victimization of the Nazi Holocaust that has led Israel to its profoundly compromised project. And it was precisely the embrace of ‘victimization’ and the ‘need to protect’ – eerily, in the same forty-year span that saw the LBJ-initiated ‘weld’ to Israel – that has led the Beltway to profoundly compromise the Republic, by casting The People as helpless sheep, and so removing the most fundamental check on unbridled government power, a check built into the Constitutional vision from the moment of the Founding.
Some serious re-thinking is in order. And very soon.