[Debate] Letting go of the leash

In an effort to engender educated conversation, the Opinion staff will debate pressing election topics.  Future debate topic idea?  Email Zach Brown at zbrown@samford.edu.

Positions are determined by coin-flip.  Stated opinions may not necessarily reflect an individual columnist’s view, but are crafted for rhetorical exercise.

Should the United States provide military support to Israel in the event that it attacks another Middle Eastern state?

To see Garrett Vande Kamp’s response to this question, click here.

Letting go of the leash

By Wes Spears

The United States should not move to support Israel militaristically in the event that it attacks another state in the Middle East.

Sure, Israel is a major non-NATO ally, but that does not mean Israel should get a blank check when it comes to foreign policy. We need to be critical of how our allies behave if we are going to be a valuable member of the international community. The United States already gives Israel too much latitude when it comes to human rights within their own borders; the United States cannot mirror that attitude in foreign policy as well.

If the United States were to support Israel in armed conflict, the war must at least be just. However, it is difficult to imagine any conflict into which Israel enters as the aggressor is a just war. Consider St. Thomas Aquinas’ basic formulation of just war:

First, the war must be under the authority of a state. While Israel is certainly a state, there are some problematic questions. Given how Israel treats Palestinians, the international community—including the United States—ought to question Israel’s status as a just state. Before Israel attacks another nation for some form of injustice, they should get their own house in order.

Second, the war must have a just cause, one that is not for self-gain or merely an exercise of power. It is hard to imagine any war in the Middle East begun by Israel as not self-serving or an exercise of power.  Generally, it is difficult to imagine many recent military conflicts that fit this qualification—certainly few of our own.

Third, the aggressor must have a “rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil.” Here, even attacking Iran seems questionable. Arguably, doing so would prevent it from using nuclear weapons. However, attacking Iran would only make the inevitable detonation of a nuclear weapon more likely, not less. That would only escalate conflict around the globe—hardly an avoidance of evil. Armed conflict should be the last resort, not a simply tool on the table.

These reasons aside, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) does not need more military aid. The IDF claims to have over three million people available for military service and a budget of over $14 billion. The United States has already given Israel more than enough: The Congressional Research Service reports that since 1976, Israel has been the largest annual recipient of U.S. foreign aid. In 2009 alone, it received $2.55 billion in grants from the American Department of Defense. If Israel wants to go to war with one of its neighbors, it needs to do it on its own.

I think the real issue is the privileged position Israel has within American politics. Since President Truman recognized its status in 1948, Israel has held an abnormal amount of power over American foreign policy. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobby, has 100,000 members and a budget of $26 million. Fortune magazine once named AIPAC the second-most powerful lobby in Washington. It is because of lobbies like AIPAC that the United States spends almost $3 billion in Israel each year.

Now, there is talk about how to cut government spending this election cycle. If you really want to cut the deficit or future spending, maybe this is the place to start. $3 billion is a lot more than the $14 million going to PBS. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I prefer public broadcasting to war promotion.

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