This is my third and final post prompted by the dialogue between Nick Gillespie and Charles C.W. Cooke. The issue is foreign policy, and although they did not discuss Israel, I think that it is about that country that conservatives and libertarians get most confrontational–and uncharitable–with one another.
Conservatives want a strong national defense, and some libertarians (seemingly including Gillespie) are ok with that. However, conservatives often want to intervene in this barbarous world, and libertarians are against intervention.
One libertarian argument against interventionism is that the U.S. government that is our agent to perform such intervention is the same flawed, bumbling entity whose intervention in domestic affairs we fear. Cooke concedes that point. However, he does not regard it as a decisive argument against any and all intervention.
There are more than a few libertarians whose vehemence against Israel makes it difficult for me to picture them joining a conservatarian coalition. The most charitable interpretation that I can come up with for the libertarian antipathy toward Israel is the following:
American libertarians are anti-interventionist. Israel is a country that wants America to intervene in ways to protect its interests. America has sometimes (often?) done so. Without Israel there would be less American intervention, and because of that Israel deserves to be singled out for opprobrium.
The conservative view might be the following:
Israel’s and America’s interests generally align. Along the civilization vs. barbarism axis, Israel is far more civilized than its enemies. American intervention is constructive and appropriate.
Some libertarians and progressives blame Israel for the costly, counter-productive attempt to force democracy on Iraq. I think it is unfair to hold Israel responsible. While some Israelis, notably Natan Sharansky, indeed were keen on spreading democracy, his views were much more popular in the U.S. than in Israel. Faith in democracy as a solution to the problems in the Middle East is as American as apple pie. If anything, President Obama took that faith even farther than President Bush.
My own feelings about Israel are similar to those expressed by George Gilder in The Israel Test, which I wrote about a couple years ago. Gilder sees hostility to Israel as reflecting a dislike for dynamism and entrepreneurial success. Progressives can seem nostalgic for the socialist poverty that Israelis shared before the liberalizations that took place over the past 30 years or so.
For some American Christian conservatives, support for Israel has a religious basis that is off-putting to more secular people (and to many Jews). Otherwise, I think that American support for Israel among conservatives is based more on Israel’s circumstances than on its diplomacy or lobbying. If there were as many medieval fanatics surrounding Singapore or Switzerland, my guess is that the conservatives who see America as the Indispensable Nation would want us to be heavily involved in those areas as well.
Another possible argument for leaning against Israel is that one should do so in order to counter Jewish political pressure. However, my sense is that most Jews feel a stronger affinity to the cause of progressivism than to Israel’s government, particularly with a conservative at its head.
Yes, there are American Jews who advocate for the U.S. to pursue hawkish policies in the Middle East, but they are far outnumbered by other American Jews who loathe the hawks. My guess is that if Binyamin Netanyahu wanted to get into a popularity contest in America with Barack Obama, he would do better if American Jews were excluded from taking part in the poll.
Finally, I have to say that I have concluded that this is a topic on which people have a hard time disagreeing with one another charitably. If you (or I) want to voice an opinion on Israel in order to vent, then fine. But you (or I) should not expect that someone’s mind is going to change as a result. Instead, expect an uncharitable response.
While I expressed some of my views on Israel, they are beside the main point, and feel free to ignore them. The main point in this post is simply the observation that Israel profoundly divides conservatives from a significant group of libertarians. If you disagree with that, or you think that the divide is caused by something I have not mentioned, then by all means weigh in.