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A Brief History of Quagmire

The United States is the world’s sole superpower, a globe-spanning “hyperpower” with professed interests everywhere.  Israel is a small nation of minimal resources, far from America.  Under normal circumstances, such a country would not loom large in U.S. policy.  Yet, in the post-September 11 world, Israel sits at the center of American strategy.

Israel’s importance stems from both religion and propinquity.  As the geographic refuge of the Jewish people and the culmination of Zionist ambitions, Israel embodies a unique transnational status; other nations exert a special ideological or ethnic draw internationally (America and China, respectively, for instance), but no other state so self-consciously offers a similar spiritual magnet.  Thus, Israel has attracted support in America from most Jews and many Christians.  Even many nonreligious people see Israel as a necessary response to the holocaust.  That country’s advocates are apt to cast Washington’s relationship with Israel in moral, or even spiritual, terms.  They point to Israel’s status as a democracy surrounded by tyranny and cultural affinities with the West.

Moreover, Israel sits near the Middle East’s great oil fields, creating her image as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” for Washington, countering such Arab states as Egypt and Syria, which forged close links with...

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