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October 31, 2007

It's Not Only the Israel Lobby


Other Interests Benefit from the Chaos

by Jon Basil Utley

The new, public debate about the Israel lobby is missing a major point the lobby's allies, the many other interests in America that want chaos in the Middle East. For example, in the Walt-Mearsheimer book there is no listing in the index for "military-industrial complex." For all its vaunted power, the Israel lobby could not dominate America's Mideast policies without cover and active support from other powerful groups. Although AIPAC promotes the lobby's image in Congress as being all powerful, it isn't. The book does specify Christian Zionists as an integral part of the lobby, but it neglects many others.

Another important question is how, when polling data shows that most Jews opposed the Iraq war, did the Likud/settler minority faction take over the whole Israel lobby? Although a minority with an agenda will often win over an amorphous majority, that is not a sufficient explanation. Indeed Jews are at the forefront of the fight against the war and the consequent encroaching police state here in America. Some of the most honest reporting on Israel comes from Jewish media: Ha'aretz in Israel and The Forward in America. What happened?

It was Likudniks headquartered at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington who first undermined the Oslo Peace Accords. They also urged attacking Iraq long before 9/11. Some, such as David Wurmser, even predicted that the attack could result in Iraq being "ripped apart," splintered into warring tribes for years. Polls show that most Israelis also want peace and support a Palestinian state (in fact, they voted out Likud); meanwhile, the Likudniks want America to attack Iran and Syria. They appeal to those who see a greater Israel "from the Nile to the Euphrates."

The Allies

The first major ally is the military-industrial complex, now funded by the new system of hidden congressional earmarks. Arnaud de Borchgrave first wrote about there being 15,000 defense budget earmarks. These allow a congressman to slip contracts into the budget for favored constituents, who then donate money to the congressman's reelection committee and may also provide well-paid jobs in their districts. These encourage warmaking, or at least threats of war, as never before. It's hard to hide money in the budget for "a bridge to nowhere," but a missile to nowhere will never be questioned, as its sponsors cloak their profits in "national defense."

Among the beneficiaries are the new mercenaries, all the companies subcontracted by the Department of Defense to provide everything from kitchen services to bodyguards and intelligence. All of these are very well paid and now have an interest in promoting unending wars. Add to this the new power of think tanks taking money from war-wanting corporations and foundations to hire skilled polemicists and propagandists to work the 24-hour news cycle.

The complex has seen military spending triple since 9/11. The collapse of communism had threatened them. As they faced lower budgets, they offered a plan to keep military budgets high. The bin Laden attack suited them perfectly. Hundreds of billions were then appropriated for the complex, even for weapons irrelevant to the war on terror. Unbelievable profits rolled in. But few question the waste, and all the Republican presidential candidates (except Ron Paul) and most of the Democrats want to increase it further.

Next come the religious fundamentalists' dominant minority of Armageddonites, those who see Israel's expansion as expediting the return of Christ. They see Bush as God's agent. They saw, in the words of Tom DeLay, that the war in Iraq was a prelude to the chaos necessary to bring about the "end times."

Then there's Big Oil. Although long ago it opposed the Israel lobby for antagonizing the Muslim world, more recently it has cast its lot with imperialism. Kevin Phillips argues in his book American Theocracy that Big Oil supported the Iraq war. It feared that Washington had made American interests so unwelcome in much of the Muslim world that future concessions and contracts would be going to Chinese, French, Italian, Indian, and Russian companies. In this view, conquering Iraq and placing major military bases on its soil would sustain a friendly government that would give first choice to American interests. Needless to say, it's not working out that way. Iraq's oil production is minimal, and even Saudi Arabia chose a French company over American rivals for its last big postwar contract. The war also further revived Russian nationalism and aroused major anti-American forces in Central Asia so that American oil companies are weakened there as well. But at least oil was a tangible reason for war, a reason most recently backed up in Alan Greenspan's biography.

American "Conservatives"

Then come many leading American conservatives. Mostly ignorant of the outside world and still fighting the Cold War against the United Nations, they see the world as allied against America. They strongly sympathized with Bush's go-it-alone agenda. Many have a knee-jerk response to military spending, that more is always better. Others feel hostility toward Arabs and Muslims and see Israelis as being "like us."

During the first Iraq war in 1991, when I was a co-founder of the Committee to Avert a Mideast Holocaust, I saw how many conservatives still resented losing the Vietnam War and wanted to prove to recalcitrant Third Worlders that we could "win" such wars. Others are anti-Semitic and use support for Israel as a cover. Others admire Israel for doing what America could not: smash its enemies without caring about winning hearts and minds. Fox News' TV generals today often express such sentiments for unleashing "total war" (a euphemism for killing more civilians) as the way to win in Iraq. Support for war among traditional conservatives was promoted by National Review, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and the Heritage Foundation, which excluded virtually all antiwar voices. The common thread among these writers, many of whom I know, was an abysmal ignorance of the world outside Europe. A subset were Englishmen (and some Irishmen), e.g., National Review's former editor, who dreamed of playing Greece to America's Rome. They pine for the old British Empire and long for America to replace it.

Finally there are the neoconservatives, the brains of the War Party, the influential think-tankers and lifetime Washington policy wonks. Though many are Jewish, their support for belligerence is motivated mainly by the desire of some intellectuals for excitement, relevance, and power. It's a common trait of those who have never been out in the real world, especially business or the military. Remember that before 9/11 they were demanding a confrontation with Russia and then war with China over the U.S. spy plane incident. For them, any war would do; it did not have to be against Iraq. In fact, their founder, Irving Kristol, wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 1996 that America needed a real enemy, one "worthy of our mettle." Long before 9/11 others (John Bolton, for example) were urging the U.S. to abandon treaties and, indeed, ignore international law because it would constrain the imperialist policies they promoted.

In conclusion, this alliance of interests should be better understood. Aside from more wars, the risk, as Kevin Phillips has said, is that unending war with the Muslim world may do to America what the World War I did to England: weaken us irreparably.


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  • Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative and Robert A. Taft Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. A former correspondent for Knight Ridder in South America, Utley has written for the Harvard Business Review on foreign nationalism and was for 17 years a commentator on the Voice of America. He is director of Americans Against World Empire.

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