Pre-Emption, Disarmament Or Regime Change?
Part III
Holger Jensen
Independent Foreign Affairs Analyst
October 7, 2002

So Where’s the Opposition?

Given all these factors, how many Americans are opposed to a war in Iraq? Public opinion polls show around 60 percent would support a war but only with international backing. If we have to go it alone, support drops to half that figure.

Those who have spoken out against military action include former vice president Al Gore, religious leaders, academics, retired military men, former Republican administration statesmen and some current and former lawmakers. But their objections are uncoordinated and most have failed to capture much media attention.

Recently, 33 academics who felt ignored by the media bought a full-page advertisement in the New York Times to register their opposition to an invasion. And 100 leading Christian ethicists issued a statement saying it could not be morally justified under the doctrine of a just war.

Rep. Sam Farr, a California Democrat, says he has been bombarded with calls from constituents in his home district around Monterey demanding to know "Where the hell is the opposition? Where’s the debate?"

There isn’t any, said Farr, because mid-term elections make many lawmakers scared to stake out an antiwar position for fear of being labeled unpatriotic by their opponents. But some lawmakers concede that letters and telephone calls from constituents are running heavily against an invasion.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, received over 5,000 letters and telephone calls in one week on Iraq, of which only about 100 supported an attack. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer’s office received almost 35,000 letters, e-mails and telephone calls in two weeks, 99 percent of them against the war.

Some Republican senators, including North Carolina’s Jesse Helms, Virginia’s John Warner and Nebraska’s Charles Hagel, also report their mailbags running substantially against military action. Said Farr: "The more the public is given a full set of facts, the less supportive they are of the president."

That said, a powerful group of Washington neocons continues to beat the war drums. Many of its members are Jewish and ardent supporters of Israel, causing some to question whether they are promoting the U.S. national interest or that of the Jewish state.

One of their leaders is Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. Perle is an ardent Zionist, personal friend of Sharon, head of Hollinger Digital, part of the group that publishes the Daily Telegraph in Britain, a board member of the Jerusalem Post, resident "fellow" of the American Enterprise Institute and ex-employee of the Israeli weapon manufacturer Soltam.

Others include Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim; Edward Luttwak of the National Security Study Group; Lewis Libby, Cheney’s Chief of Staff and a lawyer for the infamous Mark Rich; Robert Satloff, an adviser to the National Security Council and executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Israeli lobby’s principal think tank in Washington; Elliott Abrams, another National Security Council adviser, and Ken Adelman, who was head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency under President Reagan.

Their cause is pushed relentlessly by conservative magazines like Commentary, and the Weekly Standard, edited by William Kristol, whose parents Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb helped found neoconservatism. Influential think-tanks such as the AEI, the Hudson Institute, the Project for the New American Century and the Middle East Forum add their weight.

Although the neocons promote views from only one end of the political spectrum, the amount of exposure that they get with their books, articles and TV appearances is extraordinary. The Washington Institute, for example, takes the credit for placing up to 90 articles written by its members, mainly "op-ed" pieces, in newspapers during the past year.

"The media attention bestowed on these thinktanks is not for want of other experts in the field," said the Guardian. "American universities have about 1,400 full-time faculty members specialising in the Middle East. Of those, an estimated 400-500 are experts on some aspect of contemporary politics in the region, but their views are rarely sought or heard, either by the media or government."

The Guardian goes on to point out that Perle and his collection of "talking heads" also have a virtual monopoly on Sunday talk shows, while popping up newspapers, books, testimonies to congressional committees, and at lunchtime gatherings in Washington."

Perle’s close friend and political ally at AEI is David Wurmser, head of its Middle East studies department and author of a book titled Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein. Another "scholar" at AEI is Laurie Mylroie, author of "Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America," which expounded the theory that Iraq was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Although that theory later turned out to be wrong, Perle hailed it as "splendid and wholly convincing."

Wurmser’s wife, Meyrav and Colonel Yigal Carmon, formerly of Israeli military intelligence, cofounded the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which specialises in translating and distributing articles that show Arabs in a bad light.

"At a time when much of the world is confused by what it sees as an increasingly bizarre set of policies on the Middle East coming from Washington, to understand the neat little network outlined above may make such policies a little more explicable," said the Guardian.

American journalists who cover the Middle East are accustomed to attacks by hate web sites such as CAMERA and Honest Reporting, which bombard their editors with demands they be fired for "pro-Arab" or "anti-Israel" views. The hit lists on such sites invariably include NPR, all the major television networks and most newspapers from the New York Times on down.

Recently, however, the Middle East Forum has also launched a campaign to discredit university departments it deems biased. The Forum published a vitriolic book by Martin Kramer, a former director of the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, attacking universities as "Ivory Towers on Sand." And it encourages students to report "anti-Israel" professors on its Campus Watch web site.

So far the web site displays dossiers on professors at Georgetown University, the University of Michigan, the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford, Northeastern, the University of Chicago and the University of North Carolina. Forum director Daniel Pipes says it will eventually monitor 250 North American academic institutions.

Professors on the list say it is a "McCarthy-like" attempt to stifle opposition to U.S. policy in the Middle East. But Pipes says he will not remove a "Keep Us Informed" page on the site that invites students to turn in their teachers.

"We’re not at universities because our views are not welcome," he told the Associated Press. "We’re trying to create an alternative voice within the field."

The neocons argue that "by liberating Iraq and establishing a decent, tolerant government in Baghdad, the United States will achieve tremendous beneficial effects in the entire Middle East." Among these benefits would be an instant strengthening of reformist forces in Iran and a weakening of radical Islamic forces throughout the Middle East, including among the Palestinians.

But their opponents say that is dangerously simplistic; far from boosting democratic forces in the Middle East, an invasion of Iraq will only fuel anti-American rage, embolden radicals, weaken U.S. allies and lead to more terrorism.

"The neocons have a view of the world that divides it into absolute good versus absolute evil. Their attitude towards an Iraq invasion is, if you have the ability and the desire to do it, that’s justification enough," said James Zogby, chairman of the Arab American institute.

Other critics argue that this small but well-placed group of neoconservative officials and commentators is primarily interested in eliminating what they regard as a threat to Israel. Any disagreement or opposing point of view is labeled as "anti-Semitism" or, worse yet, pro-terrorist and unpatriotic.

"Absent their activities," said Stephen Walt, a dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, "the United States would be focusing on containing Iraq, but we would not be trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein. We would also be pursuing a more evenhanded policy in the Middle East in general."

In a thoughtful article published by Britain’s Prospect magazine last April, American author and intellectual Michael Lind says "America’s unconditional support for Israel runs counter to the interests of the US and its allies. We need an open, unprejudiced debate about it" – a debate that the pro-Israel lobby has sought hard to stifle.

But Lind says that lobby "distorts US foreign policy in a number of ways. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, enabled by U.S. weapons and money, inflames anti-American attitudes in Arab and Muslim countries. The expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land makes a mockery of the US commitment to self-determination for Kosovo, East Timor and Tibet.

"The US strategy of dual containment of Iraq and Iran, pleases Israel – which is most threatened by them – but violates the logic of realpolitik and alienates most of America’s other allies. Beyond the region, U.S. policy on nuclear weapons proliferation is undermined by the double standard that has led it to ignore Israel’s nuclear program while condemning those of India and Pakistan."

Lind goes on to say that "the kind of informed, centrist criticism of Israel which can be found in Britain and the rest of Europe, a criticism that recognises Israel’s right to exist and defend itself, whilst deploring its brutal occupation of Palestinian territory and discrimination against Arab Israelis, is far less visible in the U.S.

"Most Americans would support Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself against threats even if the Israel lobby did not exist. However, in the absence of the Israel lobby, America’s elected representatives would surely have made aid to Israel conditional on Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. It is this largely unconditional nature of U.S. support for Israel that compromises its Middle East policy" – something that George Bush has yet to grasp.

Holger Jensen has covered 23 wars, revolutions and civil upheavals on several continents. He has written 54 cover stories for Newsweek magazine and his "Foreign Affairs" column was distributed by the Scripps Howard News Service to more than 400 media outlets In the United States and Canada. He left the Rocky Mountain News and Scripps Howard in May 2002 and is now self-syndicated.

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