Wednesday, March 29, 2006


A Passover-Time Lesson from the Prophets

One of the flaws of the "neo-conservative" foreign policy of the Bush administration is that, in spite of claims that neo-conservatives support a "Wilsonian" foreign policy while those of us on the left who oppose neo-conservativism are actually being illiberal "realists", neo-conservative foreign policy, at least as it had previously influenced the Reagan administration and currently drives the Bush administration hardly represents a break with Kissinger-style "realism" but rather it's continuation. The Bush administration is actually stuck in the pre-9/11 mindset that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" that caused us to nurture the very trends that would bloom into Al Qaeda.

Actually, "foreign policy realism" is very old and has a track record of being, well, unrealistic. One thing we tend to forget about the Prophets of the Bible is that they were, in the theocratic society of ancient Israel and Judah, first and formost political advisors. That the Prophets speak to us today does not indicate they were prophesying about the far future but rather speaks to the fact that "nothing is new under the sun" but rather the political and foreign policy challenges faced by ancient Israel continue to face us today and the moral advice of the Prophets, being inspired by the True word of God, are relavent to us as we face the same challenges faced by all nations in all times (not everything is different simply because of 9/11), including ancient Israel and Judah.

One of the challenges faced by Judah was the Assyrian threat. Assyria was the rising local hegemon who eventually swallowed, among other territories, the kingdom of Israel. The only country that could provide adequate opposition to Assyria was Egypt. Many in positions of power in Judah, sandwiched between Assyria and Egypt, sought alliance with Egypt on the principle, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". The Prophets, however, warned against this. It is was not that they were 100% against allying with Egypt as necessary to repell an Assyrian threat, but that they realized the only way to remain independent was to create a society in Judah that was strong and cohesive enough to play a major role in warding off Assyria on its own (in the end, Egypt was not what kept Assyria in check -- it was the rise of a new Chaldean state which proceded to successfully invade Judah and Egypt could not have done a thing to stop that). Dependence on Egypt would be dicey and just because Egypt hated Assyria didn't make Egypt the friend of Israel. Some have suggested that the emphasis in Judaism on retelling the story of the Exodus (if not the story itself) dates from the tireless campaigning of those, who we know today as "Isaiah" and "Jeremaiah" (who ironically ended up in Egypt when all was said and done -- so I don't think his point was to hate Egypt but merely to indicate the dangers of too close an alliance with it), et al., who wanted to make the point that the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

As we approach Passover, let us remember that lesson. Just because some nation wants to help us fight evildoing terrorists doesn't make it our friend any more than those who wanted to help us fight Communism (and who later developed Al Qaeda) were our friends. And specifically us Jews should remember that just because someone wants to "support" Israel in its fight against those who would threaten it, doesn't make that person a friend of Israel and the Jewish people. We Jews need to remember the lesson of retelling the Exodus every spring: we need to be on the look-out not to place too much trust in an alliance with the land of narrow straights (lit. translation of "Mitzraim" -- i.e. Egypt).

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