February 19, 2003

Israel's 'amen corner' is cornered

Who benefits from our rush to war? Forget the oil companies: Iraqi oil is being kept off the market by the draconian sanctions, and its postwar release will drive the price down. That oil, in any case, will be utilized for the reconstruction of Iraq, and the profits will be used to outfit the new rulers with offices, cell phones, and palaces of their own. So, back to the question: who benefits in a geo-strategic sense?

The answer is clearly Israel. One has only to look at a map, and glance casually at the headlines, to come to this conclusion. We are told that Iraq is a threat to "its neighbors," but which of its neighbors is baying for war? Not the Saudis. Not the Jordanians. Not the Iranians, or the Syrians. It is Israel that wants this war, and for a very simple reason: Saddam's weapons of mass destruction if they exist are aimed at Tel Aviv, not Riyadh, Amman, Damascus, or even Kuwait City. The American conquest of Iraq will eliminate a threat to Israeli security, and pave the way for the extension of the war against Israel's other enemies in the region, notably Syria.

This strategic perspective was clearly outlined in a 1996 paper prepared for the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies' "Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000," entitled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm." The ideas put forward in this remarkable document emerged from a collaborative effort that included Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser. The idea was to dissuade the Israelis from going along with the Oslo accord, and outline a new Israeli strategic vision that would not only rid them of their Palestinian problem, but give them "breathing space." And I quote:

"Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right – as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions. Jordan has challenged Syria's regional ambitions recently by suggesting the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq."

The main enemy is seen as Syria, but, in the view of the authors, the road to Damascus runs through Iraq:

"Since Iraq's future could affect the strategic balance in the Middle East profoundly, it would be understandable that Israel has an interest in supporting the Hashemites in their efforts to redefine Iraq."

The authors of this paper were addressing themselves to then Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but their prescription for a new Israeli policy bears an eerie resemblance to America's post-9/11 stance in the Middle East, and the world at large. And no wonder. Richard Perle, from his perch at the Pentagon Defense Policy Board, is the Lenin of the War Party. Douglas Feith is an Undersecretary of Defense, and David Wurmser is a special assistant to Undersecretary of State for arms control and international security affairs John Bolton. Bolton's recent visit to Israel shows us how far advanced the ideas presented in that 1996 paper have come. Ha'aretz reports:

"U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said in meetings with Israeli officials on Monday that he has no doubt America will attack Iraq, and that it will be necessary to deal with threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea afterwards."

Phase one of Operation "Clean Break" seems to be well underway, with its authors ensconced in the top echelons of the U.S. national security bureaucracy – and American troops circling Iraq in a ring of steel. Now the second phase is being cranked up, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon demands action against Syria and Iran. At a meeting with a delegation of U.S. congressmen the other day, Sharon handed the Americans their marching orders:

"Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that Iran, Libya and Syria should be stripped of weapons of mass destruction after Iraq. 'These are irresponsible states, which must be disarmed of weapons mass destruction, and a successful American move in Iraq as a model will make that easier to achieve,' Sharon said to a visiting delegation of American congressmen. Sharon told the congressmen that Israel was not involved in the war with Iraq 'but the American action is of vital importance.'"

You bet it is. Without this war, the Israelis would have no chance of conquering and subjugating great swatches of the Middle East. But why the rush to war? The progenitors of "Clean Break" see the Israeli state facing a possibly terminal crisis, suffering from an "exhaustion" that could lead to extinction. The idea is to break with the idea of "containment" and go for a policy of preemption:

"Notable Arab intellectuals have written extensively on their perception of Israel's floundering and loss of national identity. This perception has invited attack, blocked Israel from achieving true peace, and offered hope for those who would destroy Israel. The previous strategy, therefore, was leading the Middle East toward another Arab-Israeli war. Israel's new agenda can signal a clean break by abandoning a policy which assumed exhaustion and allowed strategic retreat by reestablishing the principle of preemption, rather than retaliation alone and by ceasing to absorb blows to the nation without response."

Gee, that sounds awfully familiar.

That American policy has become a giganticized replica of Israel's is not a development that could have passed unnoticed, and several commentators on the right as well as the left have called attention to it. But Lawrence F. Kaplan has an answer for them. Writing in the Washington Post, he calls this "toxic talk" and bemoans the wide circulation of the idea that, in attacking Iraq, America is essentially waging a war on Israel's behalf. Kaplan gives us a long list of all those who have given voice to this thesis, first and foremost Pat Buchanan:

"From the musty precincts of the Old Right, the contention that Israel and a powerful 'cabal' of its American supporters have manufactured the present crisis with Iraq has become canonical. Buchanan, who writes that President Bush has become a client of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the 'neoconservative war party,' has transformed his new magazine, The American Conservative, into a regular forum for those who share this conviction."

But it isn't just us musty Old Rightists who can look at a map of the Middle East, listen to Ariel Sharon and his supporters in this country, and come to the obvious conclusion: Bob Novak, Chris Matthews, Ian Buruma, columnist Georgie Anne Geyer, and Jason Vest are also spreading this "toxic" meme but just what is so toxic about it? Kaplan asks:

"Does all this add up to an echo of Charles Lindbergh's charge that the clamor to wage war against Hitler was being stirred by 'the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration'? Not necessarily. How the Bush administration has arrived at the brink of war with Saddam Hussein, and to what extent Israeli influence has brought it there, is a legitimate question about which there is ample room for disagreement."

So, then what's all the fuss about? Well, apparently, it isn't such a legitimate question, after all, because, you see:

"The problem here is the implication that some members of the Bush team have been doing Israel's bidding and, by extension, harbor dual loyalties. The charge that the administration's 'rabid Israel supporters' are behind the drive to war is risible. Perle and Wolfowitz and their fellow Jewish neoconservatives are surely hawks – but not merely on Iraq. Their expansive view of America's overseas obligations has in the past led them to support interventions wherever America's interests and ideals have been threatened: Grenada, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Bosnia, Kosovo – in the last two cases for the explicit purpose of protecting Muslims."

To begin with, it would be a mistake to charge the War Party with harboring "dual loyalties," since their loyalty is not to the American Republic but to another entity altogether – not Israel but the emerging idea of an American Empire. However, the way in which that empire emerges full-blown on the world stage in the first act, in the Middle East – benefits Israel enormously. Kaplan goes all the way back to Grenada and the cold war era to document the bloodthirstiness of the neocons they've always been for war, he avers, so what else is new?

Yes, but many conservatives including us musty denizens of the Old Right saw the end of the cold war as an opportunity to bring America home and put an end to our policy of global intervention. Not the neocons. In the post-cold war world, they trundled about, uncertainly, looking for an enemy to fight, a holy cause to embrace and invoke as a war-cry. In trolling for a constituency that would back their dreams of imperium, the neocons made alliances: with the "born again" Christian dispensationalists of the Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell flocks, who support Israel unconditionally for theological reasons, and also with the old-line cold war conservatives who were looking for new enemies – and found them, post-9/11, in the world's billion-plus Muslims.

Bosnia and Kosovo were not wars fought in defense of Muslims, but to extend Turkey's influence and integrate it with Europe. A key Israeli ally, second only to the U.S., Ankara fulfills a vital function by keeping the pressure on Syria from the north. In the event of war with Israel, the Syrians will be forced to fight on two fronts.

Furthermore, it was on the issue of the Balkan wars that the neocons split from the old-line right-wingers, who opposed both interventions. When a majority of House Republicans voted against the Kosovo war, including the leadership, Bill Kristol stamped his foot and threatened to walk out of the GOP. Under a Democratic President, the Republicans were moving steadily toward a more non-interventionist position, and even Bush had to appease this growing tendency on the campaign trail by promising to pursue a "humbler" foreign policy.

Then came 9/11, when the mere thought of humility went right out the window and in flew our war-birds, of the species Chickenhawkus neoconnus.

This bird is shrike-like in its habits: it's a meat-eater, and it likes to draw blood. And certainly Kaplan does that in his description of Jason Vest's piece in The Nation, which details the central role played by the Center for Security Policy and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs in setting this administration on the road to war. Vest's piece, he announces, is "the socialism of fools," which is code for neo-Nazism. It's a vicious attack, but since no evidence is offered of Vest's alleged Nazism, the reader is forced to search the original and comes up with nothing. Zero. Zilch. All Vest does is trace the origins and development of a militaristic clique that germinated all during the Reagan years and came to full-blown fruition in the current era. As long as the "J" in JINSA stands for Jewish, to criticize the group or descry its influence is evidence of "the socialism of fools." But only a fool would accept those kinds of strictures.

Buruma's sin, apparently, is to point out that what we are talking about here is not a Jewish "cabal," but an unholy alliance of Christian fundamentalists and neoconservatives – "former Trotskyists," and by no means exclusively Jewish – with their own foreign policy agenda, one that complements the program of the Likud party in Israel and the Falwell/Robertson wing of the Republican party. Buruma puts it well:

"Country-club Republicans are rarely zealous. They want to be left alone to make money and perhaps do some good. The new Bushies, on the other hand, are serious about wanting to change the world with American firepower.

"And this is where Christian millenarians and secular, neoconservative Jewish intellectuals, such as Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, find themselves in the same bed. Christian zealotry is driven by visions of messiahs and Armageddon. The neoconservative mission still gives off echoes of the old leftwing zeal to change the world. Such missions tend to end in disaster. Zealotry has already produced a brutal impasse in Israel and the occupied territories. And a botched, ill-conceived war in Iraq might set in motion the very catastrophes we were supposed to avoid."

But Kaplan is determined to turn this brutally accurate description of the political alliances and passions that empower the War Party into a recitation of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." He writes:

"The real problem with claims such as these is not just that they are untrue. The problem is that they are toxic. Invoking the specter of dual loyalty to quiet criticism and debate amounts to more than the everyday pollution of public discourse. It is the nullification of public discourse, for how can one refute accusations grounded in ethnicity? The charges are, ipso facto, impossible to disprove. And so they are meant to be."

Nonsense. The accusation that the U.S. is pursuing an Israel-centric foreign policy is grounded, not on ethnicity, but on ideology and theology, two realms that often coincide. As for nullifying the public discourse that is precisely what Kaplan's thinly-veiled charge of bigotry is designed to do. All discussion of Israel and its central role as a motivating factor in American foreign policy is forbidden on pain of the critic being declared the living reincarnation of George Lincoln Rockwell. Is it really "the socialism of fools" for The Guardian to publish Buruma's perceptive piece, which is about millenarianism as a religious and political theme, and not about ethnicity? Is The Nation to be relegated to the "fringe" because they investigated the neoconservative foreign policy apparatus? It's ridiculous. Talk about trying to "quiet criticism"!

What Arnaud de Borchgrave calls "the Bush-Sharon Doctrine" is now being played out before our eyes:

"The strategic objectives of the U.S. and Israel in the Middle East have gradually merged into a now cohesive Bush-Sharon Doctrine. But this gets lost in the deafening cacophony of talking heads playing armchair generals in the coming war to change regimes in Baghdad.

"On Feb. 9, the Washington Post's Bob Kaiser finally broke through the sound barrier to document what has long been reported in encrypted diplomatic e-mails from foreign embassies to dozens of foreign governments: Washington's 'Likudniks' – Ariel Sharon's powerful backers in the Bush administration – have been in charge of U.S. policy in the Middle East since President Bush was sworn into office. In alliance with Evangelical Christians, these policy-makers include some of the most powerful players in the Bush administration. The course they plotted for Mr. Bush began with benign neglect of the Mideast peace process as Intifada II escalated. September 11 provided the impulse for a military campaign to consign Saddam Hussein to the dustbin of history."

My only disagreement with de Borchgrave is that it ought to be called the Sharon-Bush Doctrine, on account of who's really calling the shots.

If Mr. Kaplan wants to complain about the "toxic" effects of a "born-again"/Likudnik concoction, then one can only hasten to agree with him. But it wasn't Pat Buchanan, Ian Buruma, Bob Novak, Chris Matthews, Georgie Anne Geyer, or Jason Vest who mixed that lethal cocktail, and if this administration is drunk on it, then these sober and politically disparate writers are hardly to blame. They are merely describing a phenomenon, the War Party, that Kaplan is trying to reduce to an ethnic slur. But playing the ethnic victim card won't work in this case.

It isn't a question of "dual loyalty" on the part of the neocons: their only loyalty is to power, and their only pleasure is war. As long as they are a powerful factor in the political equation, and enjoy such a prominent place in this administration, their machinations are a legitimate subject to pursue no matter what their ethnicity.

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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