James Forrestal and Palestine

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As we relate in the newly published book, The Assassination of James Forrestal, the starting place for our examination of the fatal fall of the recently resigned first American Secretary of Defense, Forrestal, was the latter pages of the widely acclaimed 1992 biography, Driven Patriot: The Life and Times of James Forrestal by Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley. We quickly discovered that their account of Forrestal’s death is replete with very obvious shortcomings, which for some strange reason no one else seemed to have picked up on.

Apart from what appears to be Soviet-like obligatory adherence to the completely unsupportable notion that Forrestal took his own life, the biography is largely deserving of the accolades that it received at the time. Most importantly, it went a long way toward restoring the reputation that had taken a real beating in the period starting a year or so before Forrestal’s death and continuing right up to the time of the Hoopes and Brinkley biography. The authors leave little doubt as to who and what were behind the attempted destruction of Forrestal’s reputation.

The sixth and concluding section of their book is entitled “Exhaustion and Tragedy.” The first chapter in the six-chapter section is appropriately titled, “The Palestine Imbroglio.” The last section of the chapter bears the title, “The Cost to Forrestal,” and it begins with this paragraph:

Forrestal, [Secretary of State, George C.] Marshall, [Under Secretary of State Robert A.] Lovett, the State Department, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were all agreed that a war in the Middle East into which American troops might be drawn, loss of Arab friendship, and long-range turbulence in the whole region were too high a price to pay for a Jewish state. They underestimated, however, the elemental force of the Zionist movement and the need of a politically weak administration for the support of Jewish votes. Ironically, although he was not, in fact, a central figure in developing and carrying out U.S. policy on Palestine, Forrestal took a disproportionate share of the heat and suffered heavier damage to his reputation from hostile press attacks than any of the others. In part, this seemed the consequence of his outspoken insistence on reasoned argument and orderly process, an inability to conceal his dismay at the sorry, fantastically disordered performance of government officials and special interest lobbyists and their feckless indifference to the consequences of their actions. It was a spectacle entailing everything Forrestal considered inimical to good government.

The discriminating reader will notice only one sour note in that paragraph. It was not Jewish votes that were so important, but Jewish money and media power that wield a far more powerful influence over the total votes rendered than their actual numbers represent at the polling place. They have also perhaps inadvertently put their finger upon a very important factor in that power wielding. The balance of power between the incumbent Democrats and the Republicans was very precarious. Such a situation made their money and power in tipping the balance much more effective, and such has really been the case ever since. A strong, effective American president and American political party that can do without Zionist money and power is to be feared, so it is very much in their interests that America have weak leadership and a sharply divided electorate.

In their next paragraph the authors explain that, actually, in the short run, the two great concerns of Forrestal and the others proved to be unwarranted. The Arabs were not in a position to cut the West off from their supplies of oil, because, in so doing, they would have ruined their own economies. They depended upon the revenue of the oil exports. And the Zionists proved to be much stronger militarily than expected and were able to fend off their Arab neighbors—who proved to be weaker than expected—without the need for American troops to assist them.

At this point Hoopes and Brinkley fail to observe that this unexpected military strength of the fledgling Israeli state was a significantly mixed blessing. It hardly proved to be a barrier to the United States being dragged into bigger military and diplomatic commitments in the region. It gave the Israelis the confidence to instigate the Six-Day War in 1967 to grab the rest of Palestine, and the most sensible analysis of the USS Liberty incident is that it was a false flag attack intended to bring the United States into the war in a big way on the side of the Israelis. It does not take much imagination to see 9/11 as the USS Liberty attack that succeeded.

Hoopes and Brinkley, like Forrestal and his cohorts in the U.S. foreign policy establishment in 1948, are prescient as we pick up their narrative to the end of the chapter:

In the longer perspective, it is hard to fault those who in 1948 argued that sponsoring a state of Israel was not in the U.S. national interest. The United States has paid, and continues to pay, an extremely high political and economic price for its indulgent support of that nation. Instability in the Middle East over the past forty years would have existed had there been no Israel, but the unending Arab-Israeli antagonism has inexorably bifurcated the U.S. approach to the Middle East, making it impossible for Washington to define and pursue U.S. interests there without ambivalence and contradiction, or to promote the economic development of the region as a whole. A series of bloody Arab-Israeli wars has not perceptibly mitigated the hostility or the vicious complications, and these conditions continue to fuel a relentless arms buildup on both sides (including nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons) that makes the Middle East the most overarmed and explosive region in the world. “The melancholy outcome,” Robert Lovett said in 1985, “is in the day’s headline.” His statement applies with equal force in 1991, even after the U.S.-led Persian Gulf War against Iraq. The Palestinians remain a permanently dispossessed people.

Forrestal, Lovett added, “warned that unless the American support of the Zionist demands guaranteed that the rights of the Palestinians would be justly upheld and the boundaries of the new state explicitly drawn, the United States would alienate not alone the Arabs of the Middle East, but the whole Moslem world…and eventual harvest would be not a peaceful homeland for a race exhausted by persecution and massacre, but a reaping of a whirlwind of hate for all of us.”

The immediate consequence for Forrestal, however, was to become (continuing to quote an unpublished work by Lovett) the target of “an outpouring of slander and calumny that must surely be judged one of the most shameful intervals in American journalism.” (pp. 402-404)

One can well surmise that the authors suspected who was as much behind Forrestal’s untimely death as they were the destruction of his reputation, but they had their own reputations and careers, if not their very lives, to think of.

David Martin

Comments from the Discussion Forum

  1. Your description is almost right, but at all these informations something isn’t mentioned, the loss of all Forrestal reputation depend upon also something related to Admiral Byrd events in South Pole. In fact also Admiral Byrd death was very suspect and his diary and some other written notes on South Pole expedition disappeared very fast by secret services.
    I lnow that things reading from various sources, perhaps something can be in part wrong but I think not all

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