The US, the IRA and Israel…

I had a Facebook message from Bock this morning, noting how seemingly impossible it is to have civil and intelligent conversation about Israel/Palestine. In part, no doubt that’s because of the huge lose of life in Gaza, primarily at the hands of the IDF. But Megan McArdle reckons it’s because when nationalisms of any sort contend, sense and reason go out the window. Elsewhere she notes the similarities between the Irish Lobby with the Jewish Lobby in the States, and she highlights the former of which led her own country’s decided ambivalence towards the IRA before 9/11. To Daniel Larison, it is unsurprising:

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.

The idea of Liberty, he reckons, is the tie that bound US sentiment to Irish Republicanism:

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.

And there’s a nice little addendum to this argument:

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.

Then Jonah Goldberg refute’s McArdle’s comparison between publicly favourable sentiment towards the IRA and similarly emotive echoes in favour of Israel:

In the case of Israel, sure, I have my ethnic sympathies, but I have never made arguments for Israel based on any of them. 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). Israel’s critics acribe such motives to Israel’s supporters, sometimes accurately to be sure. But not nearly so often in good faith. They go after the putatively ethnic motives of Israel supporters in order to avoid the public arguments of Israel supporters.

The decisive turning point was undoubtedly 9/11. It may shut down the flow of sympathy and political capital towards Ireland, but not Israel. Brendan Simms has noted:

…the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York changed everything. By chance, the US presidential envoy to Northern Ireland, Richard Haass was meeting Gerry Adams on the very day the towers came down, and the latter was left in no doubt that the game was up for what he later revealingly dubbed “ethically indefensible terrorism”.

By contrast, as Alex Massie notes, it formed a startling disjuncture with the past:

Clinton made plenty of phone calls and a visit or two. But when push came to shove he refused to put additional pressure on Sinn Fein and the IRA. Consequently the Good Friday Agreement was signed despite there being a crippling ambiguity on the question of decommissioning terrorist arms. The failure to resolve that problem would cripple the peace “settlement” for years, helping to hollow-out the centre of Northern Irish politics, leading us to the present happy state of play: government by bigots and murderers.

This wasn’t, obviously, all Clinton’s fault. Nontheless one reason Tony Blair lost faith in the american president was Clinton’s habit of promising to lean on the Republican movement and then signally failing to follow his promises with, like, actual action. The State Department may have been hostile to the IRA -it opposed giving Gerry Adams visas to enter the US – but the rest of the US government, including the likes of Tony Lake at the National Security Council was entirely sympathetic to the “cause” of Irish Republicanism.

Which brings to mind that great quote from a State Department official in Mary Alice Clancy’s thesis: “Clinton ‘is a s—t, but ultimately he is a thinking man’s s—t”.

9/11 would eventually provide the Bush White House with sufficient clarity and purpose to drive on from the legacy position bequeathed them by Clinton. It didn’t happen right away. Clancy again:

“It appears that Haass’s concerns about dissidents most likely stemmed from his growing relationship with Adams, as officials have admitted that raising the spectre of dissidents was one of Adams’s key negotiating strategies.”

Yet when Bush eventually replaced Haass, Mitchel Reiss was to play a critical role in fixing the final deal in a complex four or five way power game. In an influential series of interviews with key players in 2006, Irish Times journalist Frank Millar drew this typically steely response to Gerry Adams’ assertion that the Bush administration had little or no say in the endgame:

“I think what Gerry Adams said about my not having any authority in Northern Ireland is absolutely correct, and that the key decisions are going to be made by the political parties and the two governments. But I think it’s also correct to say that the United States does have a fair amount of influence, and it’s how we decide to use and leverage that influence that defines the role we play in the peace process.”

He goes on to explain just why, for instance, he’d chosen to cut Sinn Fein off from its fund raising activities in the US:

…this really isn’t about fundraising at all. It’s all about giving the decent, law-abiding people in republican and nationalist communities the type of police service they deserve, so that they’re not confined to ghettoes. It’s about policing, it’s about normality, about having a police service that reflects the personality and the wishes of people of the communities.

The truth is that in the concluding stages of the Northern Irish Peace Process, there was a endgame in hand and a constructive role for the US to play… As I have argued elsewhere, there is no such role available to them in Gaza until real and sustained political leadership emerges from both sides of that conflict…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty