Commentary Magazine

The Politics of Defeat, by Joseph Churba; Honor the Promise, by Robert F. Drinan

The U.S. & the Middle East

The Politics of Defeat: America’s Decline in the Middle East.
by Joseph Churba.
Introduction by Elmo R. Zumwalt. Cyrco Press. 224 pp. $10.00.

Honor the Promise: America’s Commitment to Israel.
by Robert F. Drinan.
Doubleday. 250 pp. $7.95.

No matter what happens between Egypt and Israel in the near future, these two stimulating and useful books about Israel and the United States are not likely to become obsolete. They are quite different from one another. Joseph Churba, former intelligence chief of the air force, writes almost excusively about the strategic importance of Israel. Father Drinan, a Jesuit and Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts, writes almost exclusively about moral and religious questions in the Middle East. But taken together, they add up to a devastating indictment of American diplomacy, an indictment which appears increasingly accurate with each passing day. Churba charges the United States with failing to perceive its strategic interests in the Middle East; Father Drinan condemns Christianity and Islam for failing to recognize the moral and religious integrity of Zionism, and accuses the United States of threatening the existence of Israel. Both call upon America to support Israel to the hilt.

Churba’s book is typical of that school of thought which sees the Middle East as a segment of a global chessboard, and views every move there as if it were being made—directly or indirectly—by either the Soviet Union or the United States. Everything that happens, whether by plan or inadvertence, by stratagem or coincidence, fits into this strategic scorecard on which there are only two players.

There is much to recommend this approach, particularly since, in the Carter administration, geopolitics of Churba’s kind is considered passé, if not immoral. Thus, one must admire Churba’s prescience for observing, several months before the U.S.-USSR joint declaration on the Middle East, that

some American pundits in a moment of misconception have proposed that a viable solution for peace in the Middle East must incorporate the Soviet Union as a party. In reality, this approach is the sure way to guarantee failure so long as the Soviet Union retains its continuing imperial dreams against the liberal democracies.

This goes hand in hand with Churba’s warning that an independent Palestinian state would only “serve as a Soviet agent provocateur.

Churba is also on the mark concerning the administration’s passion for a “comprehensive settlement” of the Middle East conflict—which in practice probably means no settlement at all, as Anwar Sadat must have concluded before making his dramatic visit to Jerusalem. On the altogether reasonable ground that “negotiations [should] be the result of a determination by the parties that accommodation serves their respective national interests,” Churba calls for the two superpowers to get out of the way of the contending states and permit Arabs and Israelis to conduct negotiations by themselves. This sort of analysis is like a breath of fresh air in the steamy atmosphere of an administration which has been bent on forcing everyone in the Middle East to the Geneva conference rooms.

Finally, Churba specifies what he calls the “pillars for stability” in the Middle East: Turkey, Iran, and a secure Israel. To these he adds the creation of a stable Christian Lebanon. Yet this proposal, which amounts to a plan for what would be just a mirror image of the Palestinian state advocated by others, suggests that Churba does not fully appreciate either the history or the current realities of the Middle East, and it points to a shortcoming in his overall approach. He understands that Israel is of crucial importance to the United States; he sees that we have often been outmaneuvered; he recognizes that the Soviets have a clearer perception of the possible gains and losses than we—and yet there is an important missing ingredient here. One simply does not have a sense in reading Churba of the passions of the immediate parties to the conflict, namely, Israel and the Arabs. Significantly, he provides no detailed discussion of the important role of Saudi Arabia in bankrolling the PLO, for example. Is this, as some have suggested, protection money? Is it, as others believe, an attempt to create a praetorian guard for a projected Saudi empire? Or does it betoken a search for the decisive weapon in a holy war against the Jews?



This last possibility, interestingly enough, is raised by Father Drinan, a Jesuit priest who may be best remembered for his relentless opposition to the Vietnam war and his campaign against Richard Nixon. Honor the Promise is an unexpectedly elegant book. In it, Father Drinan argues that Israel’s existence is a moral imperative for Christianity, that America’s policies (especially the sale of arms to Israel’s Arab enemies) threaten Israeli security, and that Christianity must rally to support Israel and the Zionist cause.

There are moments when one has the sensation of reading a latter-day Theodor Herzl:

The unique feature of anti-Semitism is that it has metastasized into the entire universe. The contempt for the Jews which persisted through all of the Christian centuries has infected the United Nations, where the international wrath reserved uniquely for the state of Israel finds no parallel or precedent in time or place.

Father Drinan spares no one in his diatribe against Christian anti-Semites, from the Popes to Luther, from Christians in the Arab world (who, he says, “constitute a force seeking to deter Christians outside of the Arab world from recognizing the legitimacy of Israel”) to the United Nations vote which condemned Zionism as racism (“the most public trial of Jews and Judaism in the history of mankind”). He endorses Herzl’s conclusion of seventy years ago that the Jews can find no peace in a Christian world, and that a Jewish state, Israel, is the only solution to the Jewish predicament. He insists that Christians, and particularly American Christians, study, understand, and support Zionism, and that they recognize the moral significance of the state of Israel.



But Honor the Promise is not merely an exercise in moral theology. Its author sits in the House of Representatives and understands the nature of political power. Thus, his chapters on American arms shipments to Arab countries and on the practices of American corporations (from active collaboration with the anti-Jewish boycott to joint conspiracy with the Arabs to inflate oil prices at the expense of Western security) are among the best in the book. His conclusion is that “moral indignation at the tactics of the super-rich Arab nations is pervasive in the Congress and in the country, but it is apparently insufficient to overcome the grasping desires of corporations and banks to secure the lavish profits. . . .” This, although very alarming, is nonetheless not nearly so grave as America’s arming of Israel’s Arab enemies, an effort that Father Drinan rightly says “has terrorized, impoverished, and confused the people of Israel.”

Finally, Father Drinan performs a political analysis of the Palestinian question that might have come from Menahem Begin himself. The PLO, he says, is not a national-liberation organization; it is not supported by a majority of the Palestinians living in “occupied territories”; its hypocrisy is demonstrated by its constant calls for the elimination of both Israel and Jordan from the Middle East; and its legitimacy is undermined by the close ties it maintains to the Soviet Union. Like Churba, Father Drinan is convinced that “the establishment of a new Palestinian state would carry with it the possibility and perhaps the certainty such such a nation would be used by the USSR to gain additional military and political leverage.”



Why, then, is there support for the PLO in the American government? The answer is simple: oil. The United States has dug a trap for itself, from which escape will be possible only if the country is prepared to make substantial sacrifices on behalf of Israel, or undertakes a drastic change in overall policy. Father Drinan, virtually alone even among pro-Israel analysts, spells out the degree to which American national interests, insofar as they consist in the flow of Middle Eastern oil to this country, are in direct conflict with Israel’s interests. He has the courage to face this head on, and declare his own choice:

America’s commitment to Israel cannot and will not be kept unless Christians . . . recognize that the Christians of this generation—especially in America—are called upon by their religion and by their government to undertake whatever extraordinary remedies might be necessary to protect Israel, a nation made necessary by the Holocaust acquiesced in by most of the world’s Christians [emphasis added].

One confesses to amazement at this book. In an impassioned introduction, Elie Wiesel expresses his admiration of Father Drinan, and reminds him that Jews, above all other peoples, cherish their friends and benefactors. One may add a further note: is it not somehow symptomatic of the confusion of our times that a Jesuit priest, writing primarily about theological and religious questions, has produced a political analysis superior to that of the former head of air-force intelligence?

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