The Neocons’ War

by , June 03, 2004

In detailing “the conservative crack-up” over the Iraq war, E. J. Dionne writes:

“The isolationist conservatives around Pat Buchanan cannot understand why we went to war in the first place – and they opposed it from the beginning. These conservatives speak explicitly about the ‘costs of empire,’ much as the left does. They argue that globalism is really ‘globaloney’ and that being an empire is incompatible with being a republic.”

Actually, that’s not true. We “isolationists” – conservatives and libertarians alike – understand all too well why we went to war. As Pat Buchanan put it in the run-up to the invasion:

“We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America’s interests. We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo Accords. We charge them with deliberately damaging U.S. relations with every state in the Arab world that defies Israel or supports the Palestinian people’s right to a homeland of their own. We charge that they have alienated friends and allies all over the Islamic and Western world through their arrogance, hubris, and bellicosity.

“… They charge us with anti-Semitism – i.e., a hatred of Jews for their faith, heritage, or ancestry. False. The truth is, those hurling these charges harbor a ‘passionate attachment’ to a nation not our own that causes them to subordinate the interests of their own country and to act on an assumption that, somehow, what’s good for Israel is good for America.”

Buchanan named names, tracing the development of the “what’s good for Israel is good for America” doctrine to the influential sect known as neoconservatives: ex-leftists who defected from the Democratic party in the 1960s and 1970s over the Vietnam War, and wormed their way into top GOP policymaking circles, eventually winding up in charge of George W. Bush’s foreign policy.

He cited “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” a 1996 policy paper co-authored by Richard Perle (up until recently, head of the Pentagon’s Policy Advisory Board), Douglas Feith (today Undersecretary of Defense for Policy), and David Wurmser (Vice President Dick Cheney’s top Middle East policy advisor). The realm in question is Israel, and the report was presented to then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The paper argued that Israel had no choice but to break out of its old policy of containing the threat to its security and go on the offensive: delivering a knockout blow to Iraq was deemed imperative in order to secure a stranglehold over Syria, which is depicted as the main danger to the Jewish state. The road to Damascus runs through Baghdad, or so the theory went, and now George W. Bush has implemented the first phase of that plan – with Perle, Feith, Wurmser, and their neoconservative confreres egging the President on, and berating him every time he seems to go wobbly.

This theme – that an Israeli-centric foreign policy is the real reason for this war – was not looked on with favor when the shooting began. But a year later, by a simple process of elimination, it is the only rational explanation left standing.

They said it was “weapons of mass destruction” in Saddam’s possession, and, when those failed to turn up, they fell back on Iraq’s alleged responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When that canard was debunked, however, the War Party was reduced to claiming that Saddam’s tyranny alone was sufficient as a casus belli, and that their real goal – their primary goal – is to spread Democracy, Goodness, and Light throughout a region still mired in the Dark Ages. The unwillingness to call elections any time soon, however, along with Abu Ghraib and Paul Bremer’s propensity for acting like a dictator, soon disabused all but the most gullible of such hifalutin’ notions.

That left only the truth, and it is this: Israel is the chief beneficiary of this war, with Bin Laden coming in a close second. We have opened up an Eastern front on Tel Aviv’s behalf, not only eliminating a secular Arab opponent of Israel, but also pressing the Syrians to kowtow to a nuclear-armed Israel, sending tremors through the rest of the Arab world. No sooner had we taken Baghdad, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made his move, ingesting whole hunks of the West Bank under the guise of a “withdrawal,” and blithely ignoring muted criticism by the U.S. State Department as his government subsidized yet more “settlements” on Palestinian land. A “Wall of Separation” was built – with U.S. taxpayers’ money – to underscore the Likudniks’ contempt for world public opinion, and especially American public opinion.

Looked at in purely geopolitical terms, the war in Iraq is diverting the energy, resources, and focused hatred of the Arab “street” away from the Israelis and toward – us. In undertaking what promises to be a project of many years, the U.S. invasion has shifted the balance of power – already weighted in Israel’s favor, thanks to massive American military aid – decisively and perhaps permanently in favor of the Israelis. Bristling with weaponry, including nuclear arms, and not shy about mobilizing its international amen corner to aggressively defend its interests, Israel is fast achieving the status of regional hegemon.

Israel seems to be the one exception to the new U.S. theory of global preeminence – what might be called the Wolfowitz Doctrine, since he was one of the first to put it in writing – that no power should rival U.S. hegemony in any region of the world.

Now, it is fair to ask, why is that? But not everyone thinks it’s fair, or even decent, to ask any such thing.

When General Anthony Zinni, former commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, went on national television and told the truth about the key role played by the neocons in dragging us into this unwinnable and increasingly ugly war, the voices of political correctness were raised to a pitch of shrillness not heard since the early 1990s. Back then it was Buchanan – always ahead of his time – who first identified “Israel’s amen corner” as the sparkplug and chief inspiration of the War Party, just as the first Gulf War broke out. Now, in the disastrous wake of the Second Gulf War, the rest of the country seems to be catching up with him.

Zinni, a registered Republican who voted for Bush in 2000, reflected the views of a broad swath of the thinking public when he told 60 Minutes:

“I think it’s the worst kept secret in Washington. That everybody – everybody I talk to in Washington has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do.

“And one article, because I mentioned the neo-conservatives who describe themselves as neo-conservatives, I was called anti-Semitic. I mean, you know, unbelievable that that’s the kind of personal attacks that are run when you criticize a strategy and those who propose it. I certainly didn’t criticize who they were. I certainly don’t know what their ethnic religious backgrounds are. And I’m not interested.

“I know what strategy they promoted. And openly. And for a number of years. And what they have convinced the president and the secretary to do. And I don’t believe there is any serious political leader, military leader, diplomat in Washington that doesn’t know where it came from.”

Zinni was mercilessly smeared by all the usual suspects, but the mud didn’t stick. Instead, it boomeranged, and, instead of isolating him, suddenly everyone was citing him, and defending him, including author Tom Clancy, who has co-written with Zinni a new book that promises to let the cat out of the bag as far as the origins of this war are concerned. While neocon sock-puppets on the order of Jonah Goldberg flailed angrily about, retailing the obligatory innuendoes, The Forward, the oldest Jewish newspaper in America, intervened to recognize the new reality, and “The Ground Shifts” was the very apt title of their editorial on the subject:

“As recently as a week ago, reasonable people still could dismiss as antisemitic conspiracy mongering the claim that Israel’s security was the real motive behind the invasion of Iraq. No longer. The allegation has now moved from the fringes into the mainstream. Its advocates can no longer simply be shushed or dismissed as bigots. Those who disagree must now argue the case on the merits.”

Arguing for or against anything strictly on the merits is going to be a whole new experience for the neocons. Smearing their enemies and lying is, for them, a matter of course – it isn’t just a matter of tactics, it’s part of who and what they are.

As Israeli “settlers” push out the Palestinians under the protection of U.S.-made helicopter gunships and tanks, American soldiers are taking heavy casualties on the Eastern front – and the U.S. homeland gets ready for a “summer of terror.” How can anyone make a rational argument that this is in America’s national self-interest? It isn’t possible, and so the neocons have no arguments: only a barrage of lies and smears. Argue their case strictly “on the merits”? It can’t be done, unless they want to openly argue that America’s interests must be subordinated to Israel’s. Strip away the ideological pretenses, the sexed-up “intelligence,” and the “patriotic” window-dressing, and what you see is the naked reality of Israel’s fifth column in America.

In identifying who dragged us into this war, and why, General Zinni “changed the terms of the debate,” says The Forward, and “he is not one to be waved off.” Not that they agree, exactly. They blame the President, “unilateralism,” and the “ideological predilections” of this administration, although they admit that

“The truth is, of course, that Zinni is partly right – but only partly. Securing Israel was one of the war hawks’ motives, but not the only one, probably not even the main one.”

But what were these “ideological predilections” that the Bushies brought with them to the table if not the neoconservative ideology embraced by his top foreign policy advisors and officials – an ideology that, aside from championing a foreign policy aiming at “benevolent global hegemony,” elevates Israel to a special status among America’s allies, and advocates unconditional support for the actions of its ultra-rightist government?

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) has made the trenchant point that Bush’s policies have made Israel, and Jews worldwide, less safe, but the mantle of victimhood is not so easily surrendered by the radical Zionist faction: this is “blaming the victim,” says the Likudnik chorus, a stance that neatly sidesteps the issue of whether or not anyone, Jew or Gentile, feels the least bit safer these days.

According to Jonah Goldberg, the term “neoconservative” – up until now a recognized term in the American political lexicon, meaning “a liberal who’s been mugged,” a Scoop Jackson Democrat turned Reagan Republican – is just a “code word” for “Jew.” But it’s too late for special pleading and the usual victimological histrionics just won’t do, as Rich Lowry, Goldberg’s boss over at National Review, makes clear in an interview with columnist Bill Steigerwald in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

“With the war on terror, you saw neoconservatives emerging as a distinct tendency within conservatism, mostly on foreign policy; its hallmarks being extreme interventionism, extremely idealistic foreign policy, and emphasis on democracy building and spreading human rights and freedom and an overestimation, in my view, of how easy it is to spread democracy and liberty to spots in the world where it doesn’t exist currently.”

It seems the neocons aren’t creatures of pure myth, the unicorns of the American political bestiary, but living breathing individuals, and, what’s more, they’re a movement separate and distinct from ordinary unprefixed run-of-the-mill conservatives, with their own doctrines and organizations. So, is it “anti-Semitic” to separate them out from the rest of the Republican Right, and name them “as being the planners and instigators of the war in Iraq?” asks Steigerwald. Lowry’s reply is more than a little equivocal:

“No. No. It would be false. It wouldn’t necessarily be anti-Semitic. It would be accurate to say that some of the most articulate and powerful expressions of the case for war have come from people who are neoconservatives. So that’s not anti-Semitic. But if you take a couple of steps beyond that, you begin to get into territory that is a little shady, I would think.”

So Jonah is wrong, at least according to his boss, that merely employing the term “neocon” is the equivalent of shouting “Sieg Heil!” at the top of one’s lungs. It’s amazing to see how far the boundaries of neoconservative political correctness are being stretched, these days, but then Lowry – perhaps remembering how much his magazine depends on the largesse of big neoconservative foundations – snaps back and comes out with this murky business of taking “a couple of steps beyond that.” What “steps” is he talking about?

One need only step up to a computer terminal, and read Seymour Hersh’s detailed sketch of the “Office of Special Plans,” or perhaps Julian Borger‘s, and Jim Lobe‘s, to go beyond merely naming the neocons as the chief culprits in this dirty business of invading and occupying a nation that had never posed a real threat to us. What occurred in the run-up to war was not merely an intellectual debate, as Lowry genteelly pretends, but a battle between two organized factions, one of which had seized the reins of power in Washington, according to Bob Woodward, who writes in Plan of Attack that Cheney and the neocons had, in effect, set up “a separate government.”

In examining this highly organized effort, and in effect writing the history of what amounted to a coup d’etat, a number of reporters, including on-the-scene observers such as Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, point to an Israeli component as a key element in the intelligence apparatus that pushed us into war. Robert Dreyfuss, writing in The Nation, cites a former U.S. ambassador with strong ties to the CIA:

“According to the former official, also feeding information to the Office of Special Plans was a secret, rump unit established last year in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel. This unit, which paralleled [Abram N.] Shulsky‘s – and which has not previously been reported – prepared intelligence reports on Iraq in English (not Hebrew) and forwarded them to the Office of Special Plans. It was created in Sharon’s office, not inside Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, because the Mossad – which prides itself on extreme professionalism – had views closer to the CIA’s, not the Pentagon’s, on Iraq. This secretive unit, and not the Mossad, may well have been the source of the forged documents purporting to show that Iraq tried to purchase yellowcake uranium for weapons from Niger in West Africa, according to the former official.”

A Jewish conspiracy? No. An Israeli covert action? Perhaps.

Anti-semites may see no difference, but, then again, neither do the neocons. To them, an attack on the Wolfowitz-Feith-Shulsky Axis of Deception is an attack on “the Jews.” The Nazis (no, I’m not providing a link!) concur, adding “And rightly so.” But this terminological confusion, as Michael Lind trenchantly pointed out in an excellent essay in The Nation, is rooted in journalistic sloppiness and the error of conflating ethnicity and ideology:

“It is true, and unfortunate, that some journalists tend to use ‘neoconservative’ to refer only to Jewish neoconservatives, a practice that forces them to invent categories like ‘nationalist conservative’ or ‘Western conservative’ for Rumsfeld and Cheney. But neoconservatism is an ideology, like paleoconservatism and libertarianism, and Rumsfeld and Dick and Lynne Cheney are full-fledged neocons, as distinct from paleocons or libertarians, even though they are not Jewish and were never liberals or leftists. What is more, Jewish neocons do not speak for the majority of American Jews. According to the 2003 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion by the American Jewish Committee, 54 percent of American Jews surveyed disapproved of the war on Iraq, compared with only 43 percent who approved, and American Jews disapproved of the way Bush is handling the campaign against terrorism by a margin of 54-41.”

The idea that naming names – identifying specific government officials as tireless advocates of war with Iraq – is the equivalent of painting a swastika on a synagogue door is, as longtime conservative activist Paul Weyrich put it to Steigerwald, “really outrageous.” Weyrich’s answer to the “anti-Semite” smear needs to be read and absorbed by all thinking conservatives, especially those who supported the war:

“I really resent the idea that if you question who it is that planned the war – just because you ask questions about them – it is automatically anti-Semitic. It is not. It is legitimate to ask these questions. It is legitimate to have a debate about the legitimacy and effect of this war. If that means questioning some of the people who are involved in it, so be it. The president is a very committed Christian. Should we say that, ‘Well, we can’t question anything that Bush does, because if we did it would be anti-Christian’? That’s silly.”

Silly – in a sinister kind of way. Political correctness is not entirely a phenomenon of the Left, as Rush Limbaugh and his fellow neoconized “conservatives” would have you believe: the Right has its own version, which is, in many ways, even more rigid than any campus “speech code.” But the failure of the neocons’ war is introducing a note of glasnost into the conservative camp, as E. J. Dionne and others are beginning to notice. When even George Will begins to notice that something is terribly wrong, you know something must be up….

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Hey, I knew there was a reason for this startling turn of events – it must have been my article in the June issue of Chronicles magazine on the complicity of the American media, and especially Judith Miller of the New York Times, in lying us into war. The piece appeared just before the Times “ombudsman” came out with his long overdue apology – and how’s that for timeliness?! Nope, it’s not online – sheesh, you mean you haven’t subscribed to Chronicles yet? Boy-oh-boy, you sure are missing out. I’ve been writing for the magazine for years, and hope to continue doing so as long as they’ll let me, so, c’mon, don’t deprive yourself. Go here and check it out….

Read more by Justin Raimondo