The Pentagon’s doubts about Israel began with its creation

By Mark Perry, April 1, 2010

In early February of 2006, I submitted a book proposal about the wartime relationship between Generals George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower to a group of New York publishers. I had worked on the proposal for nine months and believed it would garner significant interest. Two weeks after the submission, I received my first response — from a senior editor at a major New York publishing firm. He was uncomfortable with the proposal: “Wasn’t Marshall an anti-Semite?” he asked. I’d heard this claim before, but I was still shocked by the question. For me, George Marshall was an icon: the one officer who, more than any other, was responsible for the American victory in World War Two. He was the most important soldier of his generation — and a man of great moral and physical courage.

That Marshall was an anti-Semite has been retailed regularly since 1948 — when it became known that, by that time as US Secretary of State, he not only opposed the U.S. stance in favor of the partition of Palestine, but vehemently recommended that the U.S. not recognize the State of Israel that emerged. Harry Truman disagreed and Marshall and Truman clashed in a meeting in the Oval Office, on May 12, 1948. Truman relied on president counselor Clark Clifford to make the argument. Clifford faced Marshall: the U.S. had made a moral commitment to the world’s Jews that dated from Britain’s 1919 Balfour Declaration, he argued, and the U.S would be supported by Israel in the Middle East. The Holocaust had made Israel’s creation an imperative and, moreover, Israel would be a democracy. He then added: Jewish-Americans, were an important voting bloc and would favor the decision.

Marshall exploded. “Mr. President,” he said, “I thought this meeting was called to consider an important, complicated problem in foreign policy. I don’t even know why Clifford is here.” Truman attempted to calm Marshall, whom he admired — but Marshall was not satisfied. “I do not think that politics should play any role in our decision,” he said. The meeting ended acrimoniously, though Truman attempted to placate Marshall by noting that he was “inclined” to side with him. That wasn’t true — the U.S. voted to recognize Israel and worked to support its emerging statehood. Marshall remained enraged.

When Marshall returned to the State Department from his meeting with Truman, he memorialized the meeting:

I remarked to the president that, speaking objectively, I could not help but think that suggestions made by Mr. Clifford were wrong. I thought that to adopt these suggestions would have precisely the opposite effect from that intended by him. The transparent dodge to win a few votes would not, in fact, achieve this purpose. The great dignity of the office of the president would be seriously damaged. The counsel offered by Mr. Clifford’s advice was based on domestic political considerations, while the problem confronting us was international. I stated bluntly that if the president were to follow Mr. Clifford’s advice, and if I were to vote in the next election, I would vote against the president.

Put more simply, Marshall believed that Truman was sacrificing American security for American votes.

The Truman-Marshall argument over Israel has entered American lore – and been a subject of widespread historical controversy. Was Marshall’s opposition to recognition of Israel a reflection of his, and the American establishment’s, latent anti-Semitism? Or was it a credible reflection of U.S. military worries that the creation of Israel would engage America in a defense of the small country that would drain American resources and lives? In the years since, a gaggle of historians and politicians have weighed in with their own opinions, the most recent being Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Writing in the Washington Post on May 7, 2008, Holbrooke noted that “beneath the surface” of the Truman-Marshall controversy “lay unspoken but real anti-Semitism on the part of some (but not all) policymakers. The position of those opposing recognition was simple – oil, numbers and history.”

But that’s only a part of the story. In the period between the end of World War Two and Marshall’s meeting with Truman, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had issued no less than sixteen (by my count) papers on the Palestine issue. The most important of these was issued on March 31, 1948 and entitled “Force Requirements for Palestine.” In that paper, the JCS predicted that “the Zionist strategy will seek to involve [the United States] in a continuously widening and deepening series of operations intended to secure maximum Jewish objectives.” The JCS speculated that these objectives included: initial Jewish sovereignty over a portion of Palestine, acceptance by the great powers of the right to unlimited immigration, the extension of Jewish sovereignty over all of Palestine and the expansion of “Eretz Israel” into Transjordan and into portions of Lebanon and Syria. This was not the only time the JCS expressed this worry. In late 1947, the JCS had written that “A decision to partition Palestine, if the decision were supported by the United States, would prejudice United States strategic interests in the Near and Middle East” to the point that “United States influence in the area would be curtailed to that which could be maintained by military force.” That is to say, the concern of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was not with the security of Israel — but with the security of American lives.

In the wake of my March 13 article in these pages (“The Petraeus Briefing: Biden’s embarrassment is not the whole story”) a storm of outrage greeted my claim that Israeli intransigence on the peace process could be costing American lives. One week after that article appeared, I called General Joe Hoar, a former CENTCOM commander and a friend. We talked about the article. “I don’t get it,” he said. “What’s the news here? Hasn’t this been said before?” If history is any guide, the answer is simple: it was said sixty years ago by one of America’s greatest soldiers. George Marshall wasn’t an anti-Semite. But he was prescient.

Mark Perry’s most recent book is Talking To Terrorists (Basic Books, 2010). He is also the author of Partners In Command: George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace (2007) and Four Stars, The Inside Story of the Battle between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America’s Civilian Leaders (1989).

[This article previously appeared in Foreign Policy and is reproduced here in full with the author’s permission.]

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9 thoughts on “The Pentagon’s doubts about Israel began with its creation

  1. Renfro

    I have been through every Presidential Library begining with Truman to get to the why of support of Israel by US politicans.
    There is a wealth of information and facts on each adm’s attitude toward Israel in the papers and oral histories of adm officicals, state Department and Military commanders interviewed.
    What stands out in the Presidentail libraries is this… every single adm, the discussion of Israel ,what to do on policy toward Israel and so forth , is discussed solely in light of…..”domestic political concerns”. …meaning jewish donations and votes for
    parties and individuals based on their Israel alleigence.

    I found one hero, Eisenhower, who sent a letter to the Israeli PM saying that the US would ‘conduct it’s affairs and make it’s policy as if there wasn’t a single jew in the US’.
    Those were his exact words. No president has been that brave or carried out his oath of office and fudicary duties to the US where Israel is concerned since then.

  2. pabelmont

    Marshall may have sensed that Israel’s expansionist tendency, already clear in 1948, would result in more wars and in more need for the USA to make a very unpleasant choice between supporting Israel (as expansionist, as lawbreaker, as human-rights violator) or refusing such support.

    History since then has shown that the USA has always given “green lights” before the fact and “congratulations and protections” after the fact except in very rare cases: Eisenhower in 1956 and a fizzled attempt by GHW Bush on housing funding come to mind. That is the politics of the matter, and, as we now know, Jewish campaign contributions have become far, far greater since 1948.

    Therefore, if the military (who must have consulted with President Obama in advance) have announced that US support for Israeli actions and inactions (refusal to make peace based on 1967 borders), then their concerns (and Obama’s) must be very great indeed,

  3. DE Teodoru

    According to one of Ben Gurion’s confidants, when the issue of the Revisionist Zionists who had defined Israel as symbolized by the flag– a Star of David between two lines, meaning a Jewish land between the two rivers, Nile and Euphrates– Ben Gurion distinguished himself from the Revisionists by methodology: we’ll get there bit by bit. Crazed Askenazis were rather outspoken at the time. The National Archives and the CIA files are full of documents and analysis to show that it was all much more convoluted than it now seems in “official histories” shoved down the throats of students everywhere. By contrast, the current Likud—on whose mast-head is Jabotinsky’s face, father of Revisionism– seems rather mild in its territorial demands. But we should look back into the history of Zionism to realize how very much the Polish radicals who openly admired Hitler (“so what if he hates Jews, he’s good for Germany”) were determined to do and so why, to this day, the Arabs could not trust them. Forget not that Israel exists for 62 years without any officially designated borders!

    In the end there is one issue that matters: if ISRAEL is supposedly the land of the Jews, then what are the Jews who contribute so much to Western culture in the rest of the world’s nations, of which the mass majority are loyal citizens? There is a conspiracy under foot to force them into the ever expanding nation of Israel which establishes as “facts on the ground” encroaching EMPTY settlements– displacing their legal Palestinian inhabitants– planned for Jews who DO NOT want to move there. The question is, how will these fanatic racists FORCE our Jews to move to this “land of the Jews”? American Jews are OUR Jews; America is THEIR country, Mr. Netanyahu. Don’t try to hijack OUR citizens through expansion in the Middle East and provoking an American Krystalnacht so OUR Jews stampede in fear into your settlements. WE will protect them– not you– as they are of us by choice, not of you!

  4. ralph

    The bad thing is that in name of the “liberty of expression” people can write or say everything and, worse spread lies and make hatredful propaganda deliberately or by
    The last example is that of Mr. De Teoduru which “explains” the signification of the
    Israeli flag.
    This person of course “ignores” that Israel was attacked since the first day of its creation
    by several Arab armies, the uninterrupted threats against its existence from the times
    of Ahmed Shukeiri and Gamal Abdel Nasser to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad through the
    Hezbollah declarations ,PLO and Hamas Charters, not speaking about the suicide attacks
    and rocket bombardment against Israeli civilians .
    Ignorance and Antisemitism are the different faces of the same problem : FANATICISM

  5. Christopher Hoare

    This seems an important point, DE Teodoru.
    The British and French pointedly protested about the dangers posed to THEIR Jewish citizens by the use Mossad made of their identities in the Dubai murder of Mahbouh. Israel seems to consider that all Jews are their servants and are obligated to advance Israeli interests above those of the societies in which they live. It seems that all non-Zionist Jews are placed in a quandary. It is Israel’s actions and policies that pose the threat of blowback against this valued community within other nations. Who speaks for them? Clearly not AIPAC.

  6. John S Williams

    ralph might attempt to read the carefully documented history of THE IRON WALL, ISRAEL AND THE ARAB WORLD by Avi Shlaim for a rather different view. Ignorance and blind ideological belief in Israel’s idealized history allow right wing Israelis to accuse everyone who opposes it antisemitism! FANATICISM wears more than one mask!

  7. DE Teodoru

    WE, their fellow citizens wherever they may be, speak for them, Mr. Hoare, for they are OUR teachers, OUR doctors, OUR lawyers and OUR neighbors, not Netanyhu’s, who only comes here to reach into their pockets. OUR Jews are Americans FIRST and we would do well to start NOW reminding our fellow Americans of that because that is PRECISELY what Israel wants the anti-Semites to forget. Israel is a fraud as “the land of the Jews” as it is not where MOST Jews chose live, owe and give their loyalty! “NEVER AGAIN” means never again are the Jews of the World to be pig meat for the Zionazi scheme for domination of the Middle East through the Grand Aliyah as stampede in fear!

    The dangerous path of Likud claiming ownership of our fellow American Jews is not new. Mass majority of Jews choosing the Diaspora over Israel as homeland makes them victims of a vitriol symptomatic of utter narcissistic madness. As the noted Israeli philosopher, Avishai Margalit wrote over a decade ago, the choice of Jews to be of their nations of birth as full citizens rather than mere victims of forced exile, caused the Zionists to heap on Jews calumny of the worst kind: “The negation of exile [over Zion] was often quite vitriolic, WITH CLEAR ANTI-SEMITIC OVERTONES. The exilic [Diaspora preferring] Jews were seen as flawed, ill with a spiritual sickness that required moral correction.” Solution, to bleed them dry so that, per Margalit: “What drives a sword rather than a pin into Israel’s pretensions is the claim that in all of Jewish history there was never such a parasitic community, so dependent on donations from elsewhere, as modern Israel.” Of course Diaspora Jews are daily asked to swear primary allegiance so as political Kamikazes they censure truth and force their homelands to shed blood at reassure for Israel’s global pretensions. And if there’s a Krystalnacht backlash; who cares among the Lukidniks? The Diasporics are after all, “flawed, ill with a spiritual sickness.” NOT TO US…they are our prized and beloved invaluable fellow Americans. We want them HOME, where they belong, safe and appreciated.

  8. Mike 71

    What most the commentators above failed to note was the pervasive atmosphere of Anti-Semitism which prevailed in the U.S. between the mass Jewish immigration of the late 19th/early 20th Centuries and the end of “Restrictive Covenants” in real estate, dictating where Jews could live, and the fact that over 550,000 Jews served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, including 11,000 K.I.A., 40,000 wounded, 3 awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and over 50,000 awarded other combat decorations. Visit: and for further details. The myths of “Dual Loyalty” and that Jews did not serve in the Armed Forces of the U.S. during wartime are propagated by Anti-Semites and bigots of the right, and increasingly those of the left! From its inception to the present, the State of Israel has never demanded that the United States provide combat troops for its defense. Israel has always had adequate manpower, technology and weaponry to provide for its own defense!

    Israel has drawn the support of most American Jews and major institutions, from independence to the present. The U.S. government played no significant role in the 1948-1949 Israeli “War of Independence.” There were some World War II veteran volunteers and some arms smuggling, despite an arms embargo on the region. Ironically, most Israeli weapons of that era were of Soviet Bloc origin, including Czech built Messerschmitt fighter planes and assault rifles, which became the precursors of the famous Israeli “UZI.” The Israelis faced war surplus “Spitfires” of British origin (Egyptian Air Force) and other western weapons. In 1948, the Israelis, anticipating a coordinated Arab League attack, reluctantly accepted the 1947 U.N. partition lines,
    thus holding the “Moral High Ground” and gambling that they would gain territory if successful in war! Had the Arab League done the same in accepting the partition, they would have held more territory, achieved peace for a future Palestinian state and avoided defeat! As they subsequently learned: “Actions have consequences!” Notions of Israeli expansion to between the Nile and Euphrates rivers are not borne out by the facts. As usual, bigots distort reality to suit their unsustainable positions. They will not find the truth in “Mein Kampf” or other Anti-Semitic screeds! What DE Teodoru and other Anti-Semitic bigots of today try to do is to apply the same “divide and conquer” tactics, used by Fritz Kuhn of the German-American Bund in the late 1930’s! In any event, subsequent peace agreements between Israel and Egypt and Jordan have clearly defined those borders and gained them international recognition. Where “rejectionists,” such as Hamas and Hezbollah refuse negotiation and any concept of peace with Israel, Israel must define its own borders unilaterally as a matter of national security. Prior to the 1993 Oslo agreement, ironically the first instance in which the Arab League recognized the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis to statehood, in the absence of the possibility of peace irrespective of any concessions made by the Israelis, the adherents of “Greater Israel” policies went on to establish as many settlements as desired, knowing that restraint on their part would have absolutely no impact on prospects for peace. Thus Palestinian “rejectionists,” in part, created an atmosphere justifying “facts on the ground.” As stated above: “Actions have consequences!”

    Advocates of the “one-state solution” ignore the fact that for the past 62 years, there has been only one state, out of the intended two states! Originally, the Arab League had intended to eradicate Israel, drive its inhabitants into the Mediterranean and possibly establish a Palestinian state in its place. In rejecting two states, Palestinians forfeit their own aspirations for self-determination and subjugate themselves to occupation, which benefits neither side.

    Where Israel has the option to negotiate peace with the Palestinians, such as with the Palestinian Authority/P.L.O./Fatah, it has every moral obligation to do so. Thus criticism of the Netanyahu expansionist settlement construction, even in lands which will end up under Israeli control, is valid. The failure to halt construction is the primary impediment to resumption of direct negotiations. There is enough stupidity to go around among all parties to the conflict. Where Israel has no option to negotiate for peace, such as with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, it has no recourse but to respond with overwhelming military force, as it did in “Operation Cast Lead” and an embargo of all but humanitarian aid and medical aid. Once again: “Actions have consequences!”

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