YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

October 10, 2009

Ralph Bunche and the Jewish Problem

Image (49)RALPH BUNCHE AND THE JEWISH PROBLEM

Clare L. Spark, Ph.D.,

Prepared for the conference “Ralph Bunche: Scholar, Activist, Bureaucrat” UCLA, 2-21-04 at the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. I was invited because of my article “Race, Caste, or Class? The Bunche-Myrdal Dispute Over An American Dilemma,” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol.14, No.2 (March 2001): 465-511.

Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist and politician who had been imported to solve “the Negro problem” by the Carnegie Corporation, shamelessly used and abused his chief collaborator, Ralph Bunche. Numerous scholars who have written about the making of AN AMERICAN DILEMMA: THE NEGRO PROBLEM AND AMERICAN DEMOCRACY (1944) report Bunche’s fear of lynching or imprisonment during his research trip to the South with the flamboyant Myrdal in 1939, but no recent scholar, to my knowledge, has seen how the figure of Bunche, as red specter or black crypto-Jew functioned in the text. Briefly, Myrdal hinted to Southern conservatives that if they did not “adjust” race relations by allowing political rights to their Negro populations, the young revolutionaries associated with Bunche, a.k.a. “the Howard boys,” would be tumultuously overturning the entire institutional “set-up” [AD, 519-20]; just as earlier, Southern Bourbons had warned of black domination if the abolitionists prevailed.

As if this deployment of the Bunche Threat were not enough, Myrdal and other Carnegie personnel urged Bunche, who certainly knew his way around the 1930s Left, to identify those Negro betterment organizations that were Communist fronts or otherwise disruptively militant. Oddly, Red Bunche was asked to function as Red Hunter for his patrons. (For details, see https://clarespark.com/2011/08/04/carnegie-corp-and-the-negro-problem/.) This paper will attempt to flesh out Myrdal’s chief gripe with Bunche: his imputed overemphasis on economic factors in the perpetuation of racism, exhibited in the accusation that the Bunche cadre (like all the Negro and most of the white writers on the Carnegie project) were economic determinists, for this term has only rarely been understood to be a cover for antisemitism/antimodernism/counter-Enlightenment.  My previous research had put me on guard to spot Myrdal’s strategies.

I did not set out to become a Bunche scholar; rather my encounter with him was the outcome of research on the pseudo-democratic propaganda churned out by social democratic elites in the 1930s and 1940s; I wanted to see how changing attitudes toward the big state during the later New Deal affected the scholarly and popular reception of Herman Melville’s character Captain Ahab, a character often taken to be the mouthpiece of the romantically wandering author himself. Since Melville had been considered to be an anti-racist, way ahead of his time, it was important to study the state of race relations during the period of his promotion in the twentieth century; i.e., how Melville’s rootless cosmopolitanism might have either fit in with or diverged from those of other progressives. For some social psychologists were advising, in the interests of civilian morale, that a few members of minorities should be taken into the Big Barn of the planning state, and valued for their entertainingly acrid and sulphuric contributions. [see chapter two of HUNTING CAPTAIN AHAB: PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE AND THE MELVILLE REVIVAL, partly excerpted in prior blogs; see https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/.]

So I ploughed through AMERICAN DILEMMA, and was amazed to see Ralph Bunche stigmatized as an “economic determinist.” I was shocked, for while I was growing up in the 1950s, Bunche was a prominent and revered public figure. Since that derogatory term “economic determinism” had been associated with Hebraic puritanism, and was frequently derided by 1930s humanities scholars seeking to reform the overly “Marxist” and “Freudian” American literature curriculum, my curiosity was aroused, and I began my reading of Bunche’s voluminous memoranda for the Carnegie project, also his correspondence with other scholars before and during the years of his labors for Myrdal.

A few years later, during a UCLA conference on the history of the social sciences, I mentioned that Myrdal had treated Bunche rather badly to one of the participants, who then urged me to pursue this problem, for he had read some of the Carnegie materials at Columbia University, and thought there was a scandal that needed to be aired. Shortly after that, I was invited to contribute a journal article to a special issue on Gunnar Myrdal, little dreaming that this new research would so clearly dovetail with my work on the Melville Revival and the construction of the postwar humanities curriculum, influenced as it was by Southern Agrarians, some of whom were pro-fascist. [See Clare Spark, “Race, Caste, or Class? The Bunche-Myrdal Dispute Over An American Dilemma,” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol. 14, No.3 (March 2001): 465:511]

Most significantly, I saw that there were sharp methodological differences between the two collaborators: Myrdal advocated his theory of cumulative causation to solve the Negro problem, while Bunche insisted upon class politics, rejecting those strategies of existing interracial organizations then advocating attitude change through better communication and understanding: these latter were moral reformers who would purge the bigoted heart of hate and fill it with Christian love.

This divergence of method and strategy between  Myrdal and Bunche reflected a long-standing antagonism in Western culture regarding the political and economic institutions that would best carry forward the democratizing promises of the radical Reformation, increasing mass literacy, the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment. Personalities associated with the radical enlightenment, namely the so-called mechanical materialists of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century progressive bourgeoisie, were challenged by romantic conservatives (the corporatists) who, as conservative enlighteners, co-opted “science” and “liberalism” to protect the property and prerogatives of threatened aristocrats, finally developing the welfare state and its concomitant theory of ethnopluralism, today called multiculturalism.

The corporatists aimed to mitigate group conflict and integrate malcontents into the body politic. In his important essay “Sombart and (German) National Socialism,” Bunche’s mentor and Howard U. colleague Abram L. Harris referred to such reactive persons as liberal interventionists deriving their social theory from German Romanticism and Bismarck. I call them corporatist liberals; they call themselves the moderate men, charting their socially responsible and spiritually inflected middle course between the “extremes” of laissez-faire capitalism on the Right and totalitarian statism on the Left.  Moreover, since the rigorously empirical Herman Melville had been read as Prometheus, or the Romantic Wandering Jew, by numerous corporatist critics, I came to understand that the scandal of “economic determinism” was at bottom, a comment upon the supposed havoc wreaked by “the Jewish spirit” that had, in its typically defiant and deicidal Jewish way, toppled the unquestionable authority of Christian religion, hence had infected the masses with an excessive desire for material improvement, political power, and self-direction: in other words, emancipation from illegitimate, arbitrary authority.

For elites threatened by dispossession, it was a brave new modern world, dominated as it seemed by usurpers fortified by science, secularism, and mobbish majorities. Empiricism or positivism, as wielded, say, by Ralph Bunche, that relentlessly thorough investigator of institutional power and all manner of economic, political, and social conflicts–this field research or “objectivist” disinterested fact-finding was the deadly enemy to social cohesion as previously managed by Kings and Churches.

Under that benign and selfless corporatist management, peace and harmony had ruled, thanks to the unselfish, disciplined, and self-sacrificing monarchs and clergy who were now, owing to the intrusion of free markets, hunted, incinerated, and decapitated by the dastardly dark mustachioed and beetle-browed homo economicus, Adam Smith’s “narcissistic” monopoly-busting economic man who could care less, it was alleged, for the public interest. Whereas the good king integrated his subjects into the organic society, the bomb-makers of modernity decimated the natural bonds between master and servant, introducing, for the first time in history, class warfare. And for some Christian conservatives homo economicus was, what else, a typically money-grubbing and domineering Jew, the archetypal confidence-man promising false utopias to credulous masses; moreover, the new industrial working class and its allies were clamoring for rights when they should have been mindful of their duties. Alas, the modern world was jewified, and hence, afflicted with the disease of decadence. But social engineering, radical subjectivism, and the related concept of the rooted cosmopolitan would repair all that.

Though Myrdal is often represented as basing his optimism on the spellbinding American Creed, the enlightened ideology of democracy, rationalism, and equality he sees undermined (but not fully vanquished) by the persistence of “caste conflict” and the general backwardness of the South, his progressivism, in contrast to that of Harris and Bunche, was located in a powerfully paternalistic state.  America’s weak state fomented only corruption and chaos; a neutral bureaucratic layer would enforce the laws and suggest new ones where indicated.  Although answerable to the people (in America, the passive masses who should learn the skills of participatory democracy), the process of bureaucratic accountability was not spelled out; perhaps Myrdal longed for a modern version of the even-handed contractual monarch of the High Middle Ages who ostensibly protected the commonweal from factions of selfish interest groups.  In a complex industrial “set-up,” the [king’s] regulatory functions would necessarily be distributed among specialist bureaucrats, the social engineers led by social scientists.

While aligning himself with the social goals of radical liberals (materialists), Myrdal’s organic conservative discourse and objectives locate him in the opposing idealist camp. Myrdal’s organic society would reduce the distance between classes, not eliminate them [the communist ideal], nor would it focus on wealth creation [the free-market capitalist ideal]. [This needs revision and additions to allow for Bunche’s emphasis on the reduction of toil and a rising standard of living, plus Harris’s probably changing views on labor unions as monopolistic and ultimately bad for workers. C.S. 2/27]

“A vitalized democracy,” Myrdal wrote, “would result, not only in a decrease in the immense class differences in America, but more fundamentally, it would effect a higher degree of integration in society of the many millions of anonymous and atomized individuals: a strengthening of the ties of loyalty running through the entire social fabric; a more efficient and uncorrupted performance of all public functions; and a more intense and secure feeling on the part of the common citizen of his belongingness to, responsibility for, and participation in the commonwealth as a great cooperative human endeavor–a realization of a fuller life” (AD, 716).

Like the prominent sociologist Robert S. Lynd, attacking do-nothing and defeatist social scientists in the present “revolutionary situation,” Myrdal states, “We are entering an era where fact-finding and scientific theories of causal relations will be seen as instrumental in planning controlled social change. The peace will bring nothing but problems, one mounting upon another, and consequently, new urgent tasks for social engineering. The American social scientist, because of the New Deal and the War, is already acquiring familiarity with planning and practical action. He will never again be given the opportunity to build up so ‘disinterested’ a social science”(1022-23).

Turn now to the problem of race as imagined by Bunche versus Myrdal. For the rationalist Bunche, writing in the 1930s, race was a debilitating myth that masked the primacy of class power and economic competition; “race” was false consciousness that defeated a potentially unified labor/tenant farmer movement, whether in the cities or in the rural South; the concept of “race” difference, reinforced by the twisted conditions of ghetto life, was the chief obstacle to group betterment and individual emancipation, not only for “[his] own people,” but for all of suffering humanity.

Bunche was obviously not a vulgar Marxist, ignoring the autonomous power of ideology, but it does not follow that attitude change of the sort advocated by the Carnegie Corporation, interracial organizations, and Myrdal, “by the actual spread of an ideology of class solidarity,” can force positive structural institutional change without independent organization by participants in the labor market, educated through the experience of unified class action how best to defend their individual and group interests. And, for Bunche, integration signified equal rights; i.e., equal opportunity to pursue the American dream, a goal that was unlikely to be realized without the elimination of ghettoes.

By contrast, for the irrationalist Myrdal and other social democrats, “race” was an obstacle to fellow-feeling, not only in the mob that must be pacified and made to feel compassion for each other and for their overburdened superiors, but in the hidebound conservatives whose stubborn and callous adherence to white supremacy would lead to catastrophe: Mutual empathy and a willingness to compromise and share the wealth would restore the lost paradise of community, peace and harmony envisaged by advocates of the social democratic planning state, and after the war, by the upper-class peace movement that put its hopes for earthly “salvation” in a Christianized United Nations populated by rooted cosmopolitans in “the international community,” again, redistributing the goods of this world.

For Bunche, writing before the war, antisemitism was a problem that had to be confronted by black activists, for it not only divested blacks of dedicated allies to the labor movement (he referred to pro-union Jews already present in some Negro betterment organizations), but antisemitism unfairly attributed to Jewish shopkeepers– exploitative characteristics that were actually a problem of all small businesses; whereas the populist/progressive Myrdal, in defiance of Bunche’s memoranda, suggested in his endnotes to AD that Jews were the most sinister exploiters of blacks and controlled the black press through their power as advertisers, hence masking rational anti-Jewish protest from ripped-off ghetto consumers. What is at stake are contrasting views on what constitutes fascism and nazism, and how these ideologies are taught today throughout our educational system and the mass media, as I shall attempt to restate now in my final remarks.

The ideological commitments of the moderate men were longstanding, and did not originate in wartime state planning or propaganda to counter accusations of American hypocrisy from Germany and the Soviet Union; rather the failure of weak statist reforms in response to the Depression, fears of renewed economic collapse likely to follow postwar demobilization, and the ongoing resolve by prescient moderates to co-opt minorities and labor were the proximate causes that shaped the writing of Myrdal’s book. An American Dilemma incorporated some of Bunche’s ideas, while attacking or ignoring others. It is well-known that Myrdal refuted Bunche’s central thesis, namely that however noble the civil libertarian goals of the established interracial and Negro betterment organizations might be, only pressure from the politically conscious rank and file-controlled labor movement, unified across racial lines and organized in industrial unions, could solve “the Negro problem.”

Scholars have entirely ignored (to my knowledge), however, Myrdal’s response to Bunche’s fervent plea that Negro intellectuals combat the antisemitism rife in the Negro press and cultural nationalist movements. For Bunche, antisemitism was a distorted perception fostered by fascists and protofascists that stunted the development of class consciousness among the working class, Southern sharecroppers and tenants, and the unemployed; Negro organizations should be demanding job creation, not the displacement of white workers or the elimination of rival Jewish small businessmen. The Urban League emphasis on jobs for Negroes, Bunche wrote, had “lent encouragement to the development of a racial caste within the American working class and it certainly lacks the independence and the courage to give honest and intelligent direction to the Negro working population.”[NBO, book 2, p. 272]

Bunche’s emphasis on the development of an effective and independent internationalist labor movement as the best defense against either white supremacy or fascism in America clashed with Myrdal’s definition of fascism as an extreme form of racial persecution and oppression imposed by a “centrally controlled, ruthless, and scientifically contrived apparatus of propaganda and violence.” [AD, 6]. Such an emphasis implied that counter-propaganda (attitude change) would be efficacious in combating racism. Myrdal did not specify the destruction of independent working class organizations in Italy and Germany by business interests in many countries; such an evasive diagnosis of fascism by Myrdal (in AD) tended to obscure the similarities between bureaucratic collectivist strategies in “the West,” similarly coping with economic crisis and fearful of the spread of “[Jewish]Bolshevism.” [Peter Alexis Gourevitch, Politics in Hard Times: Comparative Responses to International Economic Crises (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1986)].

As I have shown elsewhere, by the end of the war, the socially responsible moderates had triumphed. The classical liberals of the eighteenth century were now misdescribed as forerunners of the welfare state, while the disintegrating and dissembling “Jewish spirit” had been pinned on Hitler, the wily outsider who had misguided the German masses and whose support of free markets was echoed in America among “fascist Republicans.” Sadly, the alliance between Harris and Bunche was ended, as Harris, convinced that socialism could never protect individual autonomy, fled to the Chicago school of free market economics, while Bunche, in his ascension to middle-management, adopted the “genuinely liberal” formulations of deceptive organic conservatives: Bunche had switched to Myrdal, the author of “a great book.” [see illustration: Bunche holding Myrdal’s AMERICAN DILEMMA] For a related more recent blog on the transformation of the civil rights movement, see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/.

Advertisements

October 9, 2009

Conflict Resolution: Ralph Bunche’s Nobel Prize (3)

Image (49)Today, October 9, 2009, President Barack Obama learned that he was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; some believe that it was given in anticipation of the pacific and internationalist diplomacy that his administration would embody.  Since I have been writing for months here on progressives and their confidence in the efficacy of “conflict-resolution” as the jewel in their crowns, I am commenting on two figures today who also advocated an end to war. First, here is Woodrow Wilson, thirteen years before he commenced his promotion of the League of Nations; indeed the last of his famous Fourteen Points called for precisely such an international organization. But in the speech below, it is clearly the class war that alarmed him while he was still President of Princeton University. (The material that follows is the conclusion of my blog https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/ ):

     Representing the American Whig Society at the Sesquicentennial Celebration at Princeton University, a quaking Wilson addressed his magnificently dressed international audience, October 21, 1896; his topic “Princeton in the Nation’s Service.” “The Old World trembles to see its proletariat in the saddle.” “The literature of your own race and country” would instruct the masses, and neutralize “the work of the noxious, intoxicating gas which has somehow got into the lungs of the rest of us, from out the crevices of [the scientist’s] workshop…I should tremble to see social reform led by men who have breathed it; I should fear nothing better than utter destruction from a revolution conceived and led in the scientific spirit. Do you wonder, then, that I ask for the old drill, the old memory of times gone by, the old schooling in precedent and tradition, the old keeping of faith with the past, as a preparation for leadership in the days of social change?” Closing his remarks, a calmer Wilson elaborated his pacific model of the perfected university, breeding ground for democratic leaders to be trained in the ascetic ideal, hence liberated from Sumner’s ruptures, Margoth’s foul wind[s],[1] and the example of Europe’s runaway horsy proles. Serving “the nation,” it would be

           ” the home of sagacious men, hard-headed and with a will to know, debaters of the world’s questions every day and used to the rough ways of democracy: and yet a place removed–calm Science seated there, recluse, ascetic, like a nun, not knowing that the world passes, not caring, if the truth but come in answer to her prayer; and Literature, walking within her open doors, in quiet chambers, with men of olden times, storied walls about her, and calm voices infinitely sweet; here ‘magic casements opening on the foam of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn,’ to which you may withdraw and use your youth for pleasure; there windows open straight upon the street, where many stand and talk, intent upon the world of men and affairs. A place for men, and all that concerns them; but unlike the world in its self-possession, its thorough[2] way of talk, its care to know more than the moment brings to light; slow to take excitement; its air pure and wholesome with a breath of faith; every eye within it bright in the clear day and quick to look toward heaven for the confirmation of its hope. Who shall show us the way to that place?”

   With science safely closeted and purified, the South would rise again. Wilson’s home was a typically Southern one: quieted, for a time, but not subdued. In the late 1930s, one writer stated flatly that the South had justifiably hated the North, and without remission: ” The late war had seemed to them a test between the strength of men and the strength of things, between a spiritual philosophy and a materialistic philosophy; and they were convinced that the result of it would be the extinction of everything they valued. They felt that more-and-more and not better-and-better was the inevitable motto of the new order; and they believed that such a premise was comfortable only with the standardized and the un-polite; the essentially un-human.” [3]

The genteel South, like much of the anti-consumerist, anti-commercial 1960s counter-culture and New Left, would not be railroaded by Yankee Puritans; would not be uplifted by “geologic Jew[s]” into the modern age. [end excerpt, Margoth v. Robert E. Lee]

     Also, on this website, I have suggested that the Southerner Wilson viewed “self-determination” as analogous to “state’s rights,” and that his collectivist ideology, in a typical “progressive” gesture erased the individual and epistemological materialism in general in favor of “community” or “the public interest” (as defined by elites). Add to that the numerous blogs in which I likened the now omnipresent “peace studies” or “conflict-resolution” exercises in the schools, to a kind of “coerced harmony” from above, in which the artful, manipulative, but always rational and neutral “mediator” brings to the table two irrational entities, whose lust for war, in this industrialized but disorganized world of deadly weapons widely distributed to the crazies, will ignite the planet in a war that will destroy everyone with unprecedented ferocity.

     The fear of apocalypse was present in the imagination of Ralph Bunche as he was given the task of mediating the war of 1948, after the new state of Israel was invaded by her neighbors. His labors as mediator earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, but as he states (privately) in his papers, he thought that he should have given it back. The armistices that he negotiated were not peace treaties at all, but the result of unanticipated Israeli military victories in late 1948 that had brought Egypt to the table, lest Israel expand further beyond the borders agreed upon by the United Nations partition resolution of November 29, 1947. For the Arab states, the armistice agreements were stopping points in a war they would never relinquish until the Jews and their State were out of the Middle East.

    Nor was Bunche the disinterested figure that has been painted by hagiographers. His papers show that both during the period he was assisting Count Bernadotte and after he became Acting Mediator (Bernadotte had been assassinated in September 1948) he was transmitting the strategies advanced by the U.S. Department of State and the Foreign Office of the U.K., for instance in the designs that the U.K. had on the Negev as a site for a military base. I see the armistice negotiations as a charade, but Bunche’s success is made the inspiration for student exercises in effective conflict-resolution in a booklet prepared by the National Center for History in the Schools (UCLA), A Unit of Study for Grades 9-12. It is entitled “Infinite Patience, Indomitable Will, Ralph Bunche, His Struggle for Peace and Justice,” while the publicity for the Spingarn Medal awarded to him in 1949 restores the Great Man theory of history.

   A few scholars have noted Bunche’s real influences and the dynamics of conflict that led to the armistices between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria (Michael J. Cohen and before that, J. C. Hurewitz), but in the material presented by UCLA Magazine, he is lauded “for his success in negotiating a peaceful settlement….” as if the United Nations intervention alone had led to a resolution of conflict.

    To link these three sections together (Wilson, the spirituality of Southern Review, and Bunche), my complaint is not against conflict-resolution as such, but rather the invisibility of irreconcilable conflicts, grounded in competing material economic, political, and cultural interests, in the minds of many advocates of “peace studies.” When Wilson relegated “science” to the nunnery, he was throwing overboard the only methodology that could minimize future violent conflict: that is, narrowing the difference between the rich and poor nations through economic, political, and cultural development. Unless the meaning of “spirituality” is changed to the unblinkered search for the multiple material and ideological causes of conflict, we have nothing but words, words, words along with glittering medals that signify nothing.


[1] Herman Melville, Clarel, 2.26, 1-24. Margoth has insulted the Roman Catholic Church, declaring that “All, all’s geology, I trow.” Margoth is first introduced in the text at the dung-gate. The narrator explains that it marked where “By torch the tipstaves Jesus led,/ And so through back-street hustling sped/ To Pilate./ Odor bad it has/ This gate in story¼.” (1.24, 16-20).

 [2] Compare to Wilson’s description of the Radical Reconstruction program: “Thorough” in Division and Reunion.

 [3] From Southern Review Vol.3 (July-April 1937-38), “What The South Figured 1865-1914,” by John Donald Wade. See also Frank L. Owsley, “Jefferson Davis,” Southern Review, Vol.3, 762-768. Affirming the State’s rights position, Owsley points out that, despite modernization, differing sectional interests remain. The majority may not tyrannize minorities. Cf. Geographer Sumner’s survey of the American continent in “Are We A Nation?” Our rivers and mountains confer natural unity on the nation. In the same volume of Soutern Review see also Donald Davidson, “Regionalism as Social Science,” 209-224, for his preference for Turner over Beard. The essay may be read as supportive of multiculturalism and postmodernism. For a repudiation of Robert E. Lee’s too passive stance, see Andrew Nelson Lytle, “Robert E. Lee,” SR Vol.1 (1935-36): 411-422. “[It was not Lee, who submitted, and trusted in God’s mercy, but rather] those who led the Ku Klux Klan, that society which made survival possible.

Conflict Resolution: Ralph Bunche’s Nobel Prize (2)

Filed under: 1 — clarelspark @ 9:47 pm
Tags: , ,

Image (64)

Conflict Resolution: Ralph Bunche’s Nobel Prize (1)

Filed under: 1 — clarelspark @ 9:35 pm
Tags: , , ,

Image (63)

September 11, 2009

Oil politics and Obama’s “Israel”

Herbert Feis, economic advisor to FDR

Since James Traficant, ex-Congressman from Youngstown Ohio, newly released from jail, appeared on Fox last night (9-10-09) on Greta Van Susteren’s program, and since he explained recent American interventions in the Middle East as a product of omnipotent Jewish machinations (machinations that eventuated in the understandable attacks of September 11, 2001!), I thought it appropriate to review 1. the importance of oil to American interests as early as the middle of the second world war; and 2. Obama’s abysmal ignorance of the dynamics of the Arab-Israeli conflict, let alone the diplomacy surrounding the founding of Israel and America’s ambiguous role in it.

Here is a passage from Obama’s second book, The Audacity of Hope, subtly reiterating the hostile Arab narrative at the end of the second world war (i.e., the Holocaust was Europe’s doing, and Arab states should not be asked to bear the burden of the sins of others: the Jews should disperse and return to their countries of origin. This argument has never changed).  I believe it is an indication of the Obama presidency’s likely attitude toward the U.S. role in mediating the conflict between Israel and her neighbors. He briefly reminisces about his trip to the region:

[Obama:] “I talked to Jews who’d lost parents in the Holocaust and brothers in suicide bombings; I heard Palestinians talk of the indignation of checkpoints and reminisce about the land they had lost. I flew by helicopter across the line separating the two peoples and found myself unable to distinguish Jewish towns from Arab towns, all of them like fragile outposts against the green [sic?] and stony hills.

We have an obligation to engage in efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East, not only for the safety and security of the people of the region, but for the safety and security of our own children.” (Audacity of Hope, p.322. Can you decode these statements without me, readers? The U.S. was never neutral, and is not now. The conflict was not about two peoples fighting over the same piece of land–the cycle of violence frame to the conflict– but was about the fears of a disunited group of Arab states fearful of their own impoverished populations, and terrified of an advanced democracy, keen on economic development, planted in their region. All other explanations come from corporatist liberals who think both sides are irrational and susceptible to mediation by the neutral intervention of more rational and compassionate powers. On corporatist liberalism, see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/09/what-is-a-corporatist-liberal-and-why-should-they-frighten-us/ . Heaven forbid that Israel should conduct negotiations with its neighbors without U.S. bullying.)

In these three sentences (I found no other pages on the subject), could we have made inferences about Obama’s likely foreign policy, or his grasp of the politics, history, and geography of Israel and its environs prior to the election? Will it be continuous with that of Roosevelt administration official Herbert Feis, one of Roosevelt’s economic advisors? This is what Feis wrote in his concluding thoughts on international cooperation regarding Middle East oil, published in 1946, but referring to failed U.S. government initiatives in 1943-44 and centering on Saudi Arabia:

[Feis:]”…no program having merely to do with the protection of oil resources can prevent them from becoming a cause of dispute if the great powers quarrel about the political control of the region. If any one of them takes measures hostile to the others or encourages threatening attacks against established political positions of the others, then each oil field in the Middle East will be the scene of turmoil, plot, and counterplot.

Within the next year this may become a grave danger. Arab opposition to further Jewish immigration in Palestine might express itself in a repudiation of existing American and British rights and a search for Russian protection in such measures. This is highly unlikely; but if such a situation arises, it must be ardently hoped that the USSR will not exploit it. There will only be “order in oil” if the large powers work with, not against, each other in the management of the political affairs of the Arab states. Otherwise, any international agreement on oil will be without future. Its phrases would be merely weapons to wound.

Here lies the test of future diplomacy. If it fails, there will be no harmonious way of assuring the availability of Middle Eastern oil to the United States. Whether or not we protect established American enterprises in the regions against the troubles that may beset them will become primarily a matter of military calculation. We shall have to bend over those plotting boards on which the rights and destinies of nations are measured solely in units of force. In other words, we shall be in the anteroom of war.” [Herbert Feis, Seen from E.A., pp189-190]

As I will show in future blogs, the U.S. was concerned solely with protecting oil supplies that would be vital for the restoration of Western Europe as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, and this entailed maintaining the alliance with Great Britain, a shaky one as the war ended. (If you don’t believe me, read Skidelsky in vol. 3 of his Keynes biography.) Hence during the various UN interventions in the conflict between the aspiring, then actual, Jewish state and its neighbors (1947-49), the U.S. looked to its own long term interests. The notion that the U.S. elites were ever a disinterested, morally motivated friend to Jews and Israelis, let alone supine in their acquiescence to New York Jews and their votes or Hollywood and its propaganda, is a convenient myth for populist politicians in the U.S. and anti-Western forces elsewhere.

In my view, the primary reasons that a Jewish state exists today are 1. the temporary diplomatic and material support of the Soviet Union (secret arms shipments from Czechoslovakia that angered Bunche, who saw the Israelis as likely communists and undoubtedly expansionist), deployed in the expectation that  Israel would join the Soviet bloc, while throwing Great Britain out of the region; and 2. the willingness of Israeli Jews to take huge casualties to defend its tiny nation. It was only Israeli military victories in defiance of UN interference that brought Egypt to the negotiating table in early 1949, and the armistices that were mediated by Ralph Bunche were not for peace and defensible borders, but for a halt in the fighting, for Israel was expected to conquer yet more territory. [This latter interpretation is based upon my reading of the Ralph Bunche papers at UCLA, collected by Sir Brian Urquhart as he wrote his biography of Bunche. For another blog on this subject, see https://clarespark.com/2014/05/17/miracle-man-ralph-bunche-saves-the-un/.]

It is crucial to understand that without oil from the region, the Marshall Plan would have failed, for oil was central to the economic recovery of Western Europe. America’s own supplies were already drying up. It was not just romantic Arabism in the U.S. State Department that determined U.S. policy, but the Cold War. Current misconceptions about the love of the U.S. for “the Jews” or for Israel only lead us away from the economic-political reasons for U.S. policy. Isolationists and populists from the likes of Traficant or Patrick Buchanan or, to climb up a notch in the status ladder,  Walt and Mearsheimer, are patently absurd when they claim that the “Israeli lobby” determines U.S. foreign policy. It is even more shocking when Jewish leftists or left-liberals echo their ignorance about the history of the region.

These are my thoughts on the anniversary of the attacks of 9-11-01, and I fear that they are all too relevant. Norman Podhoretz is going around complaining that Jews are too liberal. I wish that he would complain about the ignorance of diplomatic history or the indifference to it, as evidenced in the schools and in the media.

[Added 4-11-10: see this recently declassified document http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/CriticalIncidentNo.14.pdf. Although heavily redacted, it validates my analysis that the Cold War context was crucial to writing diplomatic histories of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that the U.S. was ready to intervene if Israel attempted to expand its borders beyond the 1949 armistice lines. Throughout the State Department document, the desire for “stability” in the region is paramount. U.S. policy is clearly stated.]

« Previous Page

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.