Historical Precedence: Bush, Truman, Israel and the State Department

By Bonnie Goodman

Monday, after the Qana attack, just hours after Israel agreed to a 48 hour cease on aerial bombing in Lebanon; they quickly reversed their decision. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice who was in Jerusalem negotiating a cease fire with the Israeli government claimed to an aide that she was “sickened” by the deaths, which included 34 children and 12 women. The Secretary of State believed a temporary cease in bombings provided a solution; President Bush sent a different message to Israel in a Miami speech on Monday.

Bush expressed sympathy in light of the mounting death toll “we mourn the loss of innocent life, both in Lebanon and in Israel. We’re determined to deliver relief to those who suffer; we’re determined to work to resolve this crisis.” At the same time he showed his support to Israel understanding their need to continue on with the offensive: “it is important to remember this crisis began with Hezbollah’s unprovoked terrorist attacks against Israel. Israel is exercising its right to defend itself.” It was a message that Bush repeated in an interview with Fox News stating “Stopping for the sake of stopping can be OK, except it won’t address the root cause of the problem.”

This aerial bombing suspension was a result of Rice’s diplomatic efforts to swiftly end the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah; where military operations have centered on the Israeli-Lebanese border. The proposed tripartite cease-fire involves according to Rice, an immediate “cease-fire; the political principles that provide for a long-term settlement; and the authorization of an international force to support the Lebanese army in keeping the peace.” The temporary suspension was meant for humanitarian relief, to provide 24 hours of safe passage for civilians to escape the cross-fire, and for an investigation into the incident.

This comes as a blatant policy contradiction between the cease-fire goals that Rice has been trying to secure this past week on her Middle East visit, and President Bush’s unequivocal support of Israel’s offensive. The suspension was deemed a diplomatic success for Rice and the State Department; Israel’s reversal of this suspension and President Bush’s support for it comes as a major blow to her efforts.

Although the White House is denying any rift or contradictions in their policies, this is not the first time a U.S. president has disagreed over the State Department’s policy towards Israel and the Middle East. In 1948 President Harry Truman went against Secretary of State Edward Stettinius and Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s advice over lending support to a struggling Israel in their bid to declare Independence. Truman ultimately gave Israel de facto recognition as a country within 11 hours of their declaration of independence, regardless of the State Department’s opposition.

Throughout World War II, the State Department appeared more concerned over Arab loyalties in the war and oil fields than the humanitarian concerns of Jews seeking refuge from the Nazis. The immediate post-war opinion remained unchanged; Arab reaction took precedence despite President Truman’s support for increasing Jewish immigration to Palestine. The State Department viewed the Middle East as an important strategic point, as it remains today. They feared the Soviet Union would persuade the Arab nations to become their allies. Today with the precariousness in the Middle East with Iraq, and the potential nuclear threat of Iran, the possibility of a military escalation could lead to an expanded war against the Hezbollah, with Syria and Iran as their allies.

Despite the apparent disagreement, as it was with Truman, President Bush is maintaining his principles and moral code which are at the core of his decision. While Truman’s decisions centered on religious beliefs that there “was an obligation and a commitment made in the Old Testament that one day the Jews would have a homeland,” and the need for them to have a new life after the atrocities of the Holocaust. Bush’s centered on his complete intolerance towards terrorism and terrorists since 9/11 with a goal to fight “every terrorist group of global reach.”

Ed Abington, a former consul general in Jerusalem during the Clinton administration speaking to the JTA argues that Bush sees Israel’s fight as a proxy war with Iran. Eradicating the Middle-East of terrorists has been the President’s and the US’s primary goal since 9/11. It comes as no surprise that he would remain steadfast in the goal of “opposing the forces of terror and promoting the cause of democracy across the broader Middle East.” Nor should there be any tolerance for unprovoked attacks on nations by terrorists.

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