The response in the United States to the surge of violence between Palestinians and Israelis holds no surprises whatsoever. The usual bipartisan contingent of pro-war figures in the political arena, the policy community, and the corporate news media presented a predictable narrative from the outset that quickly became dominant. Proponents parroted familiar clichés that portrayed a complex struggle as a stark morality play with nothing but innocent victims on one side and monstrous villains on the other. Typically, President Biden labelled the Hamas attacks as “pure, unadulterated evil.”
Such “logic” leads to the inescapable conclusion that the United States must support Israel enthusiastically and without reservation. The New York Times established the tone in an October 9, 2023, editorial. Members of the editorial board stated that “President Biden is right to express America’s full support for Israel at this painful moment. The United States, as its closest ally, has a critical role to play.”
It is the same script that America’s pro-war elites used with respect to the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, the two wars with Iraq, and the disastrous meddling by the United States and its allies in Libya, Syria, and Ukraine. The motive is the same as well – to whip-up public support for the client that the U.S. government is backing and visceral hatred for the “aggressor.” Such imagery also is designed to create sentiment in favor of a possible direct U.S. military intervention.
Two dominant themes have emerged from the latest propaganda offensive. One is that the Palestinians are entirely to blame for the bloodshed. To be sure, Hamas contains nasty terrorist elements. Some of the organization’s tactics in the new offensive (especially the taking of civilian hostages, and credible reports of gruesome murders) are reprehensible. However, there is a pervasive unwillingness among Israel’s supporters in the West to concede that the country’s appalling behavior toward Palestinians (especially in Gaza) contributed to the latest outbreak of violence. Yet Human rights advocates have aptly described Gaza as the world’s largest open-air prison.
Severe international sanctions (and possibly a multilateral military intervention) would have occurred long ago, if a country not so favored by Washington had treated an ethnic or religious minority the way that the IDF (Israel’s defense force), police, and other security personnel routinely treat Palestinians in both Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Yet members of America’s hawkish propaganda brigade will concede none of that embarrassing, disagreeable evidence. Instead, they attribute the latest round of violence entirely to Hamas “terrorists” and advocate a draconian Israeli military response that would flirt with committing outright war crimes.
The other, increasingly visible narrative theme is that Iran, using its Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon, has served as the inspirational and logistical godfather for the latest Hamas offensive. Indeed, the dust from the initial Hamas attack had barely settled when the Wall Street Journal’s editors published a high-profile article contending that Iran was the party really responsible for the assault. That narrative was not helped, though, when Israel’s government issued a statement conceding that there was no credible evidence that Tehran was involved.
Such an inconvenient detail has not deterred avid American hawks from continuing to voice that argument. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, have been especially vocal. It is not a coincidence that many of the proponents of military action against Iran in this case are the same neoconservatives who have been salivating for a U.S. war against that country for years. Indeed, some of them were involved in the dishonest campaign to tar Iraq for alleged involvement in the 9-11 terrorist attacks – an assertion that has been thoroughly debunked. Unfortunately, that lobbying effort was all-too-successful and paved the way for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, which unleashed chaos throughout the Greater Middle East. Such hawks are trying to get the Biden administration to go down a similar path with respect to Iran.
We must not allow the same bloody scenario to take place again. Tehran does provide support for Hamas, as one component of a strategy to undermine Washington’s already shaky hegemony in the region. However, it is dangerously simplistic to attribute the latest wave of violence to Iranian machinations. Yet U.S. policymakers appear to be moving in that direction. On October 8, 2023, the Biden administration deployed an aircraft carrier group to the eastern Mediterranean as an emphatic signal of support for Israel. Iran was the only plausible target for that show of force; Hamas has neither an air force nor a navy.
The United States needs to end its rote solidarity with Israel. It is a sad situation when the Secretary of State feels it necessary to delete a bland tweet simply calling for a cease fire in the Israeli-Hamas conflict. In his Farewell Address, President George Washington cautioned his fellow citizens that a “nation which indulges towards another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.” It was a prescient warning that applies with special intensity regarding U.S. policy toward Israel. Too many American opinion leaders act as though Israel is an integral part of the United States rather than a foreign country with its own biases, interests, and agendas.
Administration officials especially must end any flirtation with the notion of attacking Iran as a response to the violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Venturing down that path will lead only to greater tragedy for all concerned. The last thing that America needs is to launch another bloody, debilitating, unwinnable war.
Ted Galen Carpenter is a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute and a senior fellow at the Libertarian Institute. He also held various senior policy posts during a 37-year career at the Cato Institute. Dr. Carpenter is the author of 13 books and more than 1,200 articles on international affairs. His latest book is Unreliable Watchdog: The News Media and U.S. Foreign Policy (2022).