In the American media, American soldiers and allies are usually "the good guys". Adversaries are "the bad guys". This premise has been applied to every conflict, from the colonists' clashes with the "treacherous redmen" to the so-called "global war on terrorism". It's a feel-good practice that has no analytical utility. It merely drags out the fight.
For any conflict, the crucial question is "Who won?". The answer is not always axiomatic. The winners of the American Revolution, the wars against the Native Americans, and World War II are self-evident, but in the debate over the Vietnam War, there are diehards who still argue that if America had kept up the fight, America would have "won".
Most observers believe not only that America lost in Vietnam, but that Washington should have had enough sense to avoid the war in the first place. This is the argument I propose to make about our involvement in the monumental power struggle in the Middle East.
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During World War II, US policy for the Middle East underwent a radical shift. Prewar, Washington had confined its attention to the promotion of private American sponsorship of educational institutions, thereby making a signal contribution to the intellectual development of the region; political issues were left to the European imperialists, who had misruled the region since the early 1800's.
Postwar, Washington gradually replaced up-close, land-based European imperialism with a long-range, sea-based American brand - with the radical exception that it was subtly anchored on a quasi-colony, the new state of Israel.
The Americans' motivation vacillated with circumstance. When Roosevelt met with Ibn Saud in 1945, the primary American concern was access to oil. Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers were obsessed with the Cold War - and their delusion that the Middle East was in danger of going Communist.
Under Johnson and Nixon, imperialism took firm root. In the Far East, it was seen as the antidote to Communism. In the Middle East, it was escalated as insurance for the safety of Israel - a domestic political concern that was unrelated, sometimes even antithetical, to the national interest of the United States.
For the Israeli leadership, traumatized by the Holocaust, the preservation of the Jewish sanctuary is an existential necessity. For the American leadership, operating in a special-interest democracy, the defense of the Jewish state is a political necessity. Both governments are oblivious to...