And the example of Northern Ireland suggests precisely the opposite. Yes, even a stateless, terrorism-prone Jewish group in the Holy Land would doubtless have sympathizers in the United States, just as the Irish Republican Army did in the 1970s and ’80s. But despite the sympathies of some Irish Americans for the rebels in Northern Ireland, and the dalliances of the occasional American politician with Gerry Adams and Co., the IRA was on the State Department’s list of, yes, terrorist organizations until the Good Friday Accords.
Leave aside that at least one of those “dalliances” involved inviting Gerry Adams, head of the political wing of said terrorist organization, to the White House as early as St. Patrick’s Day in 1993, just weeks before the “Provo” IRA bombed London’s financial district. Despite this major attack on an allied capital, albeit by what was formally considered a splinter group, Adams was invited back to official St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in 1995. Sympathy for the republican cause and a willingness to entertain political leaders of Sinn Fein as legitimate figures were not simply a matter of Irish Catholics expressing solidarity with their kinsmen, but were consequently desirable poses for Democratic politicians to strike to solidify their support in these circles. The point here is that the political influence of Sinn Fein sympathizers was much greater than official government listings of the IRA as a terrorist group would suggest. The same could be said of the influence of pro-Albanian political pressure in the late ’90s that led not only to supporting the Albanian position on Kosovo but to treating the KLA as a military ally against Yugoslavia. Technically, the government listed the KLA as a terrorist group starting in 1998, but in practice the government treated it very differently.
Were it not for our very close postwar relations with London, it is hard to imagine that modern U.S. policy would have been all that different from the tolerance for Stateside Fenian and IRB organizers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the rapturous welcome accorded to the republican extremist De Valera when he visited the United States. Popular opinion in the U.S. was very much behind the Irish nationalist cause and it spread far beyond the Irish immigrant community. For a country nursed on Anglophobia, Irish republicanism appeared as a sister movement to our own fight for independence. This is one reason why comparisons with the Irish republican cause could make Walt’s counterfactual stronger (i.e., political or ideological affinities with a particular group will sometimes override moral and strategic considerations). This sentiment would have continued to be extremely strong, had more significant great power priorities taken over from midcentury on.
This comes back to the point I was making in an earlier assessment of the counterfactual. The IRA was a genuine terrorist group, but it was listed as such by our government most of all because it was a sworn enemy of one of our closest allies. The record seems clear: terrorist groups that are useful to us or harmful to states we officially oppose are given a pass, while those that target us or our allies are condemned in the strongest terms. That’s the nature of things in the real world, I suppose, but it is something that none of the reponses to the counterfactual seems to be taking into account. Had things gone very differently in the last century and London and Washington became enemies once more, it is very easy to imagine that the IRA or similar groups would have been made into anti-British proxies of the U.S. government. In the unlikely counterfactual event that an independent Arab Palestine had emerged out of a very different ’67 outcome, the official attitude towards the enemies of that state would have depended entirely on U.S.-Palestine relations. All of this is by way of saying that the official opprobrium heaped on Palestinian militants, for example, is primarily a matter of condemning the enemies of an allied state; their use of terrorist tactics is secondary to whether or not they are labeled this.
Update: Alex Massie has more.
Second Update: Goldberg chimes in:
And, truth be told, most supporters of Israel don’t make “ethnic” arguments either (which is a big hole in McArdle’s analogy to the IRA).
The more criticism McArdle’s analogy receives, the more I think it holds up quite well. As I was saying above, and as McArdle was implying in her remarks on the relative breadth of support Israel (i.e., including evangelicals among those who identify closely with Israel), sympathy for the Irish nationalist cause generally and the IRB/IRA in particular extended far beyond the Irish Catholics in America, because Irish republicanism was seen as an anti-imperialist, liberation movement and, best of all, a rebellion against Britain. Americans generally sympathized with the Irish for the same reason that they sympathized with the Afrikaners during the South African War–resistance to British imperialism by itself merited American enthusiasm. Our boosting of anti-British nationalists was more ideological, in that we were not imperial rivals with Britain, but it bore strong similarities to the adoration the British heaped on Abd-al Kadir when he was fighting the French and the encouragement the Germans gave to the Afrikaners and caliphalists in India. For that matter, Fenian rhetoric was always casting the cause of Irish independence as part of a universal struggle between liberty and tyranny; anyone who has ever heard “The Foggy Dew” or “A Nation Once Again” will understand this.
To sympathize with their cause, one need only believe that one was sympathizing with another people seeking liberty and independence, and at least up through WWII most Americans assumed that those two ideas were mutually reinforcing. The point, then, is that nationalist causes start out and end up with co-ethnics being their main sympathizers, and this forms the floor of their support, but when a nationalist cause is growing in strength and has appropriated the rhetoric of liberty (or democracy or some other favorable buzzword) its sympathizers will tend to come from many other groups who identify with the cause in a more abstract way. For that matter, think of the western European response to the Greek War for Independence–Philhellenes and political liberals supported the Greeks almost in spite of who they were, and rallied to the cause because of what they hoped the modern Greeks might become once they were free of the Porte. Obviously, Byron didn’t die at Missolonghi because he felt strong ethnic ties to his comrades-in-arms, but because he was a romantic liberal.
Third Update: Just one more point on American support for Irish republicanism. In addition to the ideological affinities that Americans felt with Irish rebels, even after the British became major allies there was a concerted effort from Washington starting with FDR to dismantle the British Empire as quickly as possible. For those still interested in that agenda, the continued British control of Northern Ireland represented one of the final holdouts of the empire, so support for Irish republicanism would have followed naturally from that.