Richard has an article on Israel in Gaza that included this line:
The recent conflict is the “frontline” (where have we heard that before?) in a struggle between “the West”—that great abstract, vacuous construction we’re supposed to defend—and “those waging holy war” on “civilization.”
Richard was describing the view put forth by Melanie Phillips, but it could just as easily have come from Ilana Mercer’s recent VDARE piece calling on paleos to rally to Israel’s defense. More on that in a moment. As Richard’s statement suggests, “the West” is a phrase that can have many different meanings. One of the advantages of its vacuity is that it can be used by just about everyone living in western Europe and North America to refer to whatever they happen to value. Thus Christopher Hitchens can claim to be defending “the West” (i.e., secular modernity) against religious fanaticism, while John Hagee, say, could claim to be defending “the West” against Islam by glorifying the bombing of Lebanon and I could claim to be defending “the West” by opposing Christopher Hitchens and John Hagee in their respective obsessions. Hitchens, of course, is extremely critical of Israel, and Hagee is slavishly supportive of Israel adopting the most militaristic policies imaginable (which is to say that he is considered “pro-Israel” in Washington), and both could probably come up with some way to claim that each position is a true expression of their commitment to the values of “the West.” If we are going to get anywhere, I think we will first have to stop using this evasive, imprecise phrase and talk about what it is, really, that we want to defend. For the most part, “the West” has been a phrase used to justify dragging Americans, directly or indirectly, into other people’s wars for several generations. We should be concerned about the American interest and leave defenses of “the West” to someone who puts some stock in this meaningless concept.
Where Mercer goes wrong is in her assumption that paleos actually took the Serb or Russian side during the ’90s and ’00s in their conflicts. It is worth noting that interventionists frequently invoked Western “values” in both the Balkan and Chechen wars as reasons to side with the separatists or at least punish the government attempting to suppress a rebellion, so it is natural that we should be a bit wary of arguments that are couched in similar terms. She describes the paleo position as supporting “Western interests” in these conflicts (and includes Cyprus to boot), when the general paleo position on the Balkan and Chechen wars was one that said that the United States should not side with separatists against their governments (nor should the U.S. side with the governments against their separatists–they are internal matters!). Because there was no American interest in intervening on either side, much less on the side of rebels (and particularly rebels with connections to jihadism), paleos counseled neutrality and non-intervention in these cases. Of course, it is true that there was sympathy for Serb and Albanian civilians when they were being bombed by NATO, and there was sympathy for Russian victims of Chechen terrorism, but generally there was an understanding that these conflicts were internal or regional problems that were best solved by those directly involved and by the nations most directly affected by the conflicts. What we objected to most strenuously was taking the side of these rebel groups and in some cases even actively aiding them with military action. In the absolutely implausible event that NATO or some international force intervened on behalf of the Palestinians against Israel, I imagine that most of us would be among the first to oppose the action.
Part of our sympathy with and respect for Europeans is the conviction that European conflicts are for the Europeans to settle. Whether or not they are capable of settling the conflicts, it is their business, not ours. It is the consistent failure to remember this that has cost America so much over the last century. If I can speak for most paleos, our view of Near Eastern conflicts is much the same: just dealings with all nations combined with neutrality. Of course, a pragmatic compromise position would be one that recognizes that we are not going to depart from the region anytime soon, and so we should maintain good relations with the allies we have but should not therefore endorse foolish, counterproductive and ultimately self-damaging policies by those allies that end up harming both them and us. Mercer’s argument does not allow for the possibility of a position that permits criticism in the context of continued support. This, of course, is the same false choice that has been presented to Americans time and again: endorse foolish government policy X or be deemed anti-American or unpatriotic.
Mercer certainly does not want to play the Near Eastern Christian card in her argument in the wake of the war in Lebanon, unless the Maronites and other Christian communities there are to be ignored in all of this. No one I know among paleos has any illusions about the status of Palestinian Christians. We know that the PA discriminates against and harrasses Palestinian Christians, but then we also know that Christian churches are subject to harrassment from the Israeli state in part because of the Arab ethnicity of their members and bishops.