The Lobby, Unmasked

by , October 24, 2006

While it may be in questionable taste to celebrate at this time of national disaster, with Iraq falling to pieces and the security of the United States compromised as never before, one can’t help but savor this delicious moment as the neoconservatives fall from their formerly dizzying heights. Here‘s Matthew Parris, in the London Times, sounding the call to gloat:

“Hark – can you hear it? Borne on the wind, can you hear the sounds of construction – of hammers hammering and woodsaws sawing? And do you detect a note of panic? I do. The good ship Neocon is going down. She has struck the Iraqi rocks, the engine room is awash, and on the deck in anxious pursuit of something to float them away is a curious assembly.”

The “good” ship Neocon is a pirate vessel, one that brazenly hoists the Jolly Roger and takes no prisoners: it patrols the sea-lanes in search of victims and, when it finds them, pounces without mercy or hesitation. Up until now, it has evaded all attempts to corner and sink it, and its success is due, in no small part, to its many allies and well-wishers onshore. Yet for those of us who see this crew as a prime candidate for sinking, the neocons’ comeuppance on account of the collapse of the Iraq campaign is hardly enough. Their disgrace, properly conceived, has barely begun.

After all, instead of taking responsibility and owning up to their authorship of the Great Iraq Disaster, they are taking refuge behind all sorts of rationalizations: we didn’t have enough troops, our strategy isn’t aggressive and destructive enough, the war is being lost in the hearts and minds of the American people and not on the battlefields of Iraq, the invasion was launched while the moon was in Pisces – the neocons are nothing if not inventive when engaged in the process of covering their asses.

Parris dispatches this narrative of “a revolution betrayed” with a few thrusts of his polemical ice pick:

“The former hawks of press and politics now scramble for the status of visionaries let down by functionaries. This is a lifeboat that will not float. Let these visionaries understand that occupation is always brutal and usually resisted; that occupying armies are always tactless, sometimes abusive, and usually boneheaded; that in the argument between hands-on and hands-off you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t; and that the first, original, and central cause of the Iraq fiasco was not the bad manners of this or that poor, half-educated squaddie from Missouri, nor the finer points of this or that State Department doctrine of neocolonial administration.

“The reason for failure was not the post-invasion strategy. It was the strategy of invasion. Blame the vision, not the execution.”

Hear! Hear! Yet I have to wonder: is there really anyone who believes that occupations aren’t brutal? We have at least some evidence that they knew it and gloried in it. The Ledeen Doctrine has its adherents. But this alone doesn’t adequately answer the question of why – if it wasn’t those “weapons of mass destruction,” or Saddam’s fabled “links” to al-Qaeda, or even the prospect of a drone attack on Passaic, New Jersey, as the president once implied, then what was it? Why did we ignore the best advice of our generals and the lessons of history to embark on a crusade that couldn’t ever have been anything other than futile? Amid widespread bafflement, there are few plausible theories. As Grover Norquist described the neocons’ Iraq project:

“Some people think we did it just to prove we could do it, like people who go running with weights on their ankles.”

There is something to this: the Iraq war as an ideological exercise. What better way to demonstrate the neoconservative concept of “benevolent world hegemony” than to invade, conquer, and occupy a country that had never attacked us and represented no threat to our territory or legitimate interests, just because we could? Still, it seems the warmongers would have paid rather more attention to the potential consequences, all of which were predicted well in advance by the war’s critics, instead of acting with such reckless abandon. You didn’t need to be an expert on the region to realize that a postwar Shia-dominated Iraq would soon be absorbed in large part by Iran, or that it would become a battlefield of sectarian feuding likely to culminate in full-scale civil war. Nor can you convince me that the neocons really believed their own crude, Pollyanna-ish propaganda, which predicted that we’d be greeted with showers of rose petals rather than a hail of bullets.

As Parris notes, occupations are “usually resisted,” and you don’t have to be a Clausewitz to realize the truth of that. Donald Rumsfeld’s “bitter-enders” and the portrait of the insurgency as a movement in its “last throes” were fictions believed least of all by their inventors. Even today, the more brain-dead among our officials and pro-war pundits aver that we’re “making progress” in Iraq, and that the war is still winnable. Yet nobody believes this, and one thing is becoming increasingly clear: there was never any rational reason to think it would turn out otherwise.

It’s funny, but in trying to understand how and why we got ourselves into this mess, I can’t help but recall the slogan of the “9/11 truth” movement, which claims that the biggest terrorist attack in our history was “an inside job.” I won’t go into my views on the nature and origins of this phenomenon except to provide this link, but I have to say that their “inside job” phraseology fits the “Why are we in Iraq?” conundrum to a tee. What Gen. William E. Odom calls the “biggest military disaster in United States history” was indeed an inside job, one carried out at the highest levels of American policymaking in spite of the alarm bells that were going off in the national security and intelligence apparatus. It was a good job of breaking and entering, a burglary of world-historic significance, in which American foreign policy was hijacked. In effect, a political coup took place right under our noses.

As Bob Woodward put it in Plan of Attack:

“Powell felt Cheney and his allies – his chief aide, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and what Powell called Feith’s ‘Gestapo’ office – had established what amounted to a separate government.”

9/11 gave the neocons their golden opportunity to seize the reins of power, and they ran with it. Their doctrine of “transforming” the Middle East, a Trotskyism-turned-inside-out that envisioned a “global democratic revolution” sparked by the “liberation” of Iraq, was a remedy that had finally found a problem. Yet it is hard to imagine, now, that these ideological daydreams were sincere.

Elections in postwar Iraq were, at most, an afterthought: the idea was to install Iranian agent and neocon hero Ahmed Chalabi as the head of the new regime, and when that didn’t pan out the Americans ruled by means of a viceroy, first Jay Garner and then Paul Bremer, with a consultative council of anti-Saddam parties. The idea was to hold faux “elections” according to what was deemed the “caucus system.” This meant, in essence, that each province would select representatives from among the Americans’ hand-picked local quislings, who would then elevate Washington’s preordained choice to head up a government no more independent than Ukraine was during the Soviet era. If the Ayatollah Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s majority Shi’ites, hadn’t called his followers out into the streets, those much-touted national elections would never have been held.

This horrific war was never about “democracy,” in spite of the best efforts of the neocons’ kept theoreticians to convince us of the sincerity behind the effort. Get behind the pretty phrases and the talk of school-building and look at what has actually occurred: the smashing up of the Iraqi nation into a pile of ethnic and religious splinters. Warring factions fight over the rubble, and the entire region is being dragged into the burgeoning conflict – with U.S. soldiers, some 140,000 of them, smack dab in the middle of it all, sitting ducks for marauders of every persuasion.

The potential dimensions of the Iraq disaster were not altogether unknowable before the launching of the war, and my own view is that that they were known and utterly disregarded. Ideology induces a kind of blindness, and this is an ailment neoconservatives are especially prone to; it goes with the characteristic arrogance and undue self-regard that invariably colors their actions. However, there’s more to neoconservatism than a callous disregard for facts and a persistence that borders on mania.

The complete disregard for American interests – which can be measured in the rising U.S. casualty rate and the worldwide diplomatic and political “blowback” emanating from the decision to invade – goes beyond mere recklessness. It’s not as if they made an honest mistake: American interests did not enter into the calculations of key policymakers. Other interests were paramount in the decision to go to war, and since we’re talking about the neoconservatives, Israel was surely a major factor, if not the determining factor, pushing us into Iraq.

Israel’s exemplary character and its key role as a U.S. ally are central canons of the neoconservative foreign policy prescription, and always have been. This is only tangentially and coincidentally linked to religion: the Sparta of the Middle East embodies all the martial spirit and sense of “national greatness” that the neocons would love to see instilled right here in America. Unconditional support for Israel has always been at the heart of the neocons’ Middle Eastern strategy, and they haven’t made any bones about it.

One can’t help remembering this when we look at what has actually occurred in the region since the American invasion and note the winners and losers. The biggest losers, of course, are the people of Iraq: 650,000 dead, by some estimates. Iran, it’s true, has extended its influence into Iraq, but at the price of a huge American force within a few days’ march of Tehran. Every regime in the region, including Egypt and much of North Africa, is feeling tremors of instability radiating outward from the smoking ruins of Iraq. Geopolitically, there is but one winner in all this: Israel.

By now many are familiar with the “Clean Break” document authored by key U.S. policymakers for an Israeli prime minister. It describes a scenario in which Iraq undergoes “regime change” and triggers a fundamental change in the region that spreads to Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. These policymakers – neocons all – came to work for the Bush II administration and carried their agenda to Washington with them. It used to be forbidden to say this, except for Michael Kinsley or Pat Buchanan – who were ignored and smeared, respectively. However, as Philip Weiss, author of the indispensable “Mondo Weiss” in the New York Observer, trenchantly notes:

“The times are changing. Jimmy Carter’s book is coming out, Leon Wieseltier and the New Republic spend half of Marty Peretz’s hard-earned ink fighting Tony Judt. Walt and Mearsheimer are doing a book for FSG. George Soros and the Israel Policy Forum are starting a lobby to counter AIPAC, or maybe to be to the left of the Israeli government, in this country. Perestroika.”

The perestroika analogy is not exact: remember that the Soviets initiated perestroika, with Gorbachev pushing reform from above, while the partisans of what Mearsheimer and Walt call “the Lobby” are being dragged, kicking and screaming, to the realization that they can no longer dictate the terms of the debate by smearing their opponents as bigots. Nor will their rather heavy-handed attempts to control the terms of the discussion over U.S. policy toward Israel be any longer tolerated, as this letter signed by a number of prominent intellectuals makes all too clear. There’s a lot they can’t get away with anymore, and it goes beyond the Judt-Mearsheimer-Walt controversy.

The AIPAC spy scandal – in which the top official at AIPAC, former pro-Israel spark plug Steve Rosen, and foreign policy analyst Keith Weissman were indicted for violating the Espionage Act – is the signal that the tide is turning against the Lobby. If AIPAC survives the trial of Rosen and Weissman, I’d be very surprised. Perhaps the shell of the organization will still exist, once it’s forced to register as an agent of a foreign power, but it will have nowhere near its former effectiveness – which is perhaps why a new, more “liberal” version is reportedly in the works.

In spite of crude attempts to mask what amounted to spying for Israel in the pure white raiment of “free speech,” it seems clear from the facts presented in the indictment [.pdf] and what has been reported in the media that the team of Rosen and Weissman routinely met with government officials and sought to extract classified information from them, which they then transmitted to Israeli government officials, some of them associated with Israel’s Washington embassy. They were observed doing this on several occasions: their phone conversations were recorded, and they were followed by federal law enforcement officials as part of a long-standing investigation – dating years back – into Israel’s covert activities in the U.S.

As I wrote in a piece for The American Conservative, the AIPAC case is the dorsal fin of something much larger lurking just below the surface. This was indicated by hints of Israeli involvement in the faux “intelligence” that was funneled to the White House, Congress, and the American people by the secretive Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon. According to former Pentagon analyst Karen Kwiatkowski, Israelis enjoyed rights of unrestricted access and didn’t bother to go through the process of signing in at high-level Pentagon meetings with U.S. officials.

It wouldn’t be the first time a foreign country undertook a successful propaganda effort to get us involved in an overseas war, as William Boyd recently pointed out in the Guardian. Israel’s amen corner in the U.S., the neoconservatives who have taken over the GOP, and their allies in the supine Democratic Party – just as beholden to the Lobby – pushed hard for the invasion. The Lobby’s influence on Congress and the executive played a key role in taking us down the road to war, and we aren’t just talking about AIPAC’s aboveground component.

What the AIPAC spy case shows is that Israel’s American sock puppets also play a key role in gathering information, including classified information, as well as exercising their First Amendment rights by disseminating their opinions. The Rosen-Weissman spy team is not an isolated case; the FBI likely wouldn’t be investigating just two individuals over a span of several years.

Now we learn that none other than Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), a Democratic hawk who is the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, is under investigation as part of the AIPAC spy probe. One of her aides has already been suspended by the head of the House committee for reportedly leaking the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to the New York Times just in time for the election. However, the question raised by the Harman-AIPAC story is, who else did her office leak classified information to, and for what purpose?

The second part of that question is at least partially answered by the Time magazine story on the Harman investigation: with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi looking to replace Harman on the committee, the hawkish Democrat undertook a campaign that enlisted AIPAC and such pro-Israel heavyweights as Haim Saban, who weighed in with a phone call urging Harman’s retention. It isn’t clear from the Time story exactly what the FBI’s interest in all this is: on the surface, it seems like an ordinary lobbying effort. Yet if AIPAC is seen as an instrument of Israel’s covert activities in the U.S., including gathering classified information, then it isn’t hard to imagine under what circumstances someone in Harman’s office managed to persuade AIPAC to go to bat for the congresswoman. A simple trade: classified intelligence for political support.

AIPAC’s defenders have alleged that the prosecution of Rosen and Weissman amounts to “persecution,” that the two were just exercising their First Amendment rights. Oh, they say, “everybody does it” – and therefore passing classified U.S. government memos around as if they were baseball cards ought not be prosecuted. With the revelations of the Harman investigation, what “everyone” is doing, with AIPAC’s assistance, is beginning to crystallize. And it isn’t pretty. If “everybody” does it, then “everybody” deserves a stiff jail term.

The Lobby isn’t just in the business of peddling a glorified, largely fictional portrait of Israel as America’s valiant little “democratic” ally, which deserves unconditional support as it tyrannizes its Palestinian helots and rampages through Lebanon and occupied Palestine. It is clearly also performing another service for the state of Israel, namely espionage. Before the AIPAC investigation is through, it could cut a wide swath through the world of Washington politics, ensnaring members of both parties and exposing the true extent of Israel’s fifth column in America.

I have to add that this new revelation, like the initial exposure of the AIPAC investigation, looks to me like a preemptive leak, a “controlled burn,” undertaken to obstruct the investigation and give the guilty some opportunity to cover their tracks. These guys are professionals, and they’re resisting exposure every inch of the way. However, it looks to me like we haven’t heard the last of the Harman-AIPAC-espionage connection, and there’s lots more to come.

Read more by Justin Raimondo