The Transparent Cabal

History is full of examples of a determined minority prevailing over a more passive majority. A case in point is the neoconservative effort to bring the United States into war with Iraq largely for the protection of Israel. Despite the dubious reasons the neoconservatives advanced — Iraq has WMDs, ties to al-Qaeda — they managed to overcome the resistance of the military, the State Department and CIA partly by infiltrating them for their own ends. As the book title suggests, much of this was done in the open, a transparent cabal. 

The cabal is described in convincing detail by author Stephen Sniegoski, who, somewhat retiring, lets the neoconservatives tell much of it in their own words — and what words! full of the passion of their endeavor: "Creative destruction is our middle name:" "precise military action against Hezbollah and Syria for as long as it takes without regard to mindless blather about proportionality;" "There is no middle way for Americans. It is victory or the holocaust;" "Could World War Two have been won by Britain and the United States if the two countries did not have it in them to firebomb Dresden and nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki — the willingness to inflict mass casualties on civilians?" Like Gaza? we might ask.

The neoconservatives, to be sure, had significant help from the top. President Bush, not well versed in foreign affairs; Vice President Cheney, basically a neoconservative himself; and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, who wanted to try out his new concept of a sleek, swift high tech attack, which fitted nicely with neocon plans. Much of the media was also supportive, like the New York Times. Columnist Tom Friedman wrote: "The war is the most important, liberal, revolutionary democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan." Poor George Marshall, who, as they say, must be rolling over in his grave.

But if the neoconservatives knew what they wanted, they were less sure of the consequences, indifferent really. That point was made by General Anthony Zinni observing the neoconservative reaction to the chaos in Iraq following the war: "Maybe some strong man emerges, it fractures, and there really is a Kurdish state. Who cares? There’s some bloodshed and it’s messy. Who cares? I mean we’ve taken out Saddam. We’ve asserted our strength in the Middle East. We’ve changed the dynamic, and we’re not putting any pressure on Israel." 

To avoid a global takeover by what he calls "Islamofascism," former Commentary magazine editor Norman Podhoretz urges war with Iran, no matter what the outcome: "There would be a vast increase in the price of oil with catastrophic consequences for every country of the world. The worldwide outcry against the inevitable civilian casualties would make the anti-Americanism of today look like a love fest."  Still, the war would be worth it. 

Sniegoski gives almost equal time to neoconservative opponents, called "realists," who argue that stability is paramount for the Middle East, while neoconservatives want to destabilize it as fast as possible. Their aim is to fracture the countries of the region into harmless statelets of no danger to Israel. Given the results of the war in Iraq, the realists would seem to have the better of the argument. But why didn’t they act on it at the time? They seemed to be strangely diffident, apparently lacking the conviction of the neoconservatives. Even much respected Secretary of State Colin Powell, who called them "crazies," eventually gave in and helped bring on the war with his speech to the UN. 

The realists have another chance to rise to the occasion since the neoconservatives are now gunning for war with Iran, invoking the same fantasies they did with Iraq — the threat of nuclear destruction by a nation that doesn’t have nuclear weapons, while indeed Israel has an estimated 200 to 300 such weaponry. 

No diplomacy for the neoconservatives. War is the only answer. Before the Iraq war began on specious grounds, Saddam Hussein tried to get talks started with the United States, and so has Iran — to no avail. Once demonized, always demonized. For all the tragic mistakes they have made, neoconservatives continue to exert influence.

Is there perhaps an alternative way of looking at the threats, real or perceived, that Israel faces? Are the neoconservatives so certain their policies may not be ultimately harmful to Israel as well as to the United States? Fragmented or failed states are vulnerable to the very terrorists the neoconservatives claim to fear. Contemporary Mexico is a perfect example. A weak central government has lost control of the murderous criminal cartels that have established their own fiefdoms — a state within a state. They thrive on smuggling illicit drugs and human beings to the United States and receive weaponry in return that allows them to keep on killing. Wouldn’t it make more sense to deal with existing centrally controlled regimes, however critical of Israel, than take the chance of a terrorist-ridden region? 

This deserves debate, but there isn’t any because the major media have ignored Sniegoski’s book. It’s scrupulously written with careful attention to detail. Its drawback? It can bring charges of anti-Semitism because it deals critically with a largely though not exclusively Jewish group. But Sniegoski is at pains to distinguish the neoconservatives from the greater Jewish community that is generally more averse to war than other Americans. So why not some reviews and a debate? It’s only democratic.

Author: Ed Warner

Ed Warner was a political writer, essayist, book reviewer for Time for about 20 years, and another 20 with Voice of America as a reporter-analyst-broadcaster. He has traveled to and reported on many countries -- including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, all the countries of Central Asia, of the Caucasus, Turkey, Egypt, Sudan, Israel. I headed a Focus unit dealing with foreign affairs. He is now retired with his wife in Arizona.