The Father of Lies

The first historian, the Ionian Greek Herodotus, known as the "father of history," has also been called the "father of lies" because of his reluctance to spoil a good story with the truth. Today the neoconservatives twist history to fit their political agenda. The National Review‘s house historian and Dick Cheney favorite Victor Davis Hanson has left academia and launched a new career as a pundit able to modify any historical event to accommodate the contemporary war on Islam and democracy promotion a.k.a. regime change. His muddle of the Peloponnesian War, in which he likens an "all-powerful" Athens to modern day America while conveniently forgetting that Athenian hubris lost the war to the unpleasant Spartans, is downright humorous. The Kagan brothers likewise wrap their support of the endless engagement in Iraq and a bellicose policy towards Iran into a historical framework, as if being able to name Napoleon’s chief of staff while praising General David Petraeus somehow elevates the latter.

But compared to the Israelis, the American neocons are neophytes when it comes to reshaping the past. Israel has long funded major archaeological projects intended to emphasize the Jewish presence in Palestine while minimizing or even denying the presence of others in the region, an attempt to demonstrate that Jews have a historical legitimacy that Arab inhabitants lack. For years, Israel has had an official historical creation myth that it has promoted that alternately saw Palestine as largely depopulated in 1948 or voluntarily vacated by its Arab inhabitants. Golda Meir famously stated that there was no such thing as the Palestinians. It is only recently that Israeli historians have begun to describe how the Arabs were, in fact, subjected to a deliberate policy of terrorism by Israel’s founders that drove them from their homes.

One of the first Israeli historians to admit that Israel forced the Arabs off their land was Benny Morris, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Ben-Gurion University. Morris does not, however, think that it was a bad thing to kill other people and take their property. He only regrets that all of the Arabs were not driven out in 1948 and in 2004 recommended that those who remain be dealt with like animals, saying "Something like a cage has to be built for them…There is a wild animal there that has to be locked up in one way or another." In spite of views about Arabs and Muslims that most would consider extremist, Morris has been provided a bully pulpit by The New York Times to urge the United States to attack Iran before Israel is forced to stage a preemptive nuclear attack that would turn the country with its eighty million inhabitants into a "nuclear wasteland." It may well be the first time that the editors of a major American newspaper have given prominent space to someone who is openly advocating mass murder.

Morris’s July 18th op-ed, with the catchy and oxymoronic title "Using Bombs to Stave Off War," should tip its hat to Herodotus because it is a good story that is virtually devoid of facts, an attribute also ignored by the Times editors. Morris, who is exceptionally truculent for a bookworm, may or may not be a good example of what passes for scholarship in Israel, but he is certainly not interested in cutting the Iranians any slack. He argues that Iran must be attacked, that Israel will almost certainly do so in the next four to seven months, and that it will not be Israel’s fault because the rest of the world has refused to do what is right. Per Morris, attacking Iran’s nuclear program might bring peace and not doing so will inevitably lead to Israel’s eventually staging a preemptive nuclear strike to solve the Iranian problem once and for all, which would be a worse outcome. As Morris is well connected to the Israeli government, his doomsday scenario must be taken seriously, even if it is bluff or deliberate disinformation. Having given warning of what might happen, the purpose in writing the piece is clearly to frighten the rest of the world into doing the dirty work so that Israel will not have to act. Obviously, the only country that can carry out the mission in a thorough fashion using non-nuclear weapons is the United States. That makes Morris’s op-ed a strident call to arms from a leading Israeli for the United States to start yet another war on Israel’s behalf because Israel feels threatened. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The unstated premise for Morris’s rant is the assumption that only Israel can be trusted to have nuclear weapons in the Middle East and that Israel has the right to act preemptively if any other country has the temerity to seek to obtain weapons of its own. While this is a formula that would guarantee Israeli regional supremacy it is a policy that is far from reassuring for Tel Aviv’s neighbors, most of whom have been on the receiving end of Israel’s conceit that it can strike whenever and wherever it wishes. Being victimized by a paranoid Israeli regime is a virtual guarantee that the country that has been assaulted will seek a "weapon of mass destruction" to deter such attacks, ironically providing less security for the Israelis rather than more.

Morris makes numerous errors of fact to bolster his argument. In his very first sentence he supports an attack on Iran to delay the country’s "production schedule," seemingly implying that Tehran is making something, obviously a weapon. He later returns to the same language, stating that "Iran will speed up its efforts to produce the bomb that can destroy Israel." The text suggests that an ongoing Iranian weapons program that is committed to destroying Israel is a well documented fact. It is not. There is no evidence that Iran is currently producing anything except possibly in the minds of Israeli politicians and pundits or possibly John Bolton, who unambiguously recommended in the July 15th Wall Street Journal that "we should be intensively considering what cooperation the US will extend to Israel before, during, and after a strike on Iran."

Morris also claims that "every intelligence agency in the world" believes that Iran is "geared towards making weapons." That is completely untrue. Many intelligence agencies would concede that it is always possible that there is a secret Iranian weapons program, but there is no evidence to support such a view and the only serious study of the issue, in the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, concluded that the exploratory program had been cancelled in 2003. Morris then goes on to assert that the "Western intelligence agencies agree that Iran will reach the ‘point of no return’ in acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in one to four years." No Benny, that’s not true. Only the Israelis claim that Iran is undeniably seeking nuclear weapons and will control the technologies and processes to produce them in one to four years. Everyone else believes that it will take much longer even if Iran makes the political decision to acquire a weapon and then chooses to emphasize and accelerate its program. In such an effort, it would almost certainly be impeded by sanctions, which would further disrupt any timetable.

Israel is threatened "almost daily with destruction by Iran’s leaders" according to Morris, but it is a complete falsehood. He then concludes that the world is left with only one way to deal with Iran – "an aerial assault by either the United States or Israel," conveniently ignoring that there exists a diplomatic option that might actually be successful if the United States were to get behind it in a serious way. He also gives Iran absolutely no credit for behaving rationally, claiming that there is a "fundamentalist, self-sacrificial mindset of the mullahs who run Iran." He further asserts that they are "likely to use any bomb they build…because of ideology." As a historian, even a poor one, he should know better. There is no indication that Iran is bent on national suicide. The Iranian regime has been noted for its pragmatism and its unwillingness to take risks, the exact opposite of the message Morris is trying to send to his American audience.

After conceding that Iran might not roll over after being attacked and might even retaliate, Morris states that Hamas and Hezbollah would be involved and that Iran would be "activating international Muslim terrorist networks" against Israel, Jewish targets, and the United States. This is the classic neocon con job, used to suggest that the US has a vital interest in crushing Iran because Tehran sponsors "international terrorism," linking it in the public mind to 9/11. It implies that Iran has ties with groups like al-Qaeda, for which there is no evidence whatsoever, and also suggests that Tehran controls such organizations. It is a replay of the old Doug Feith line connecting Saddam Hussein to Usama bin Laden. One would have expected a presumably smart guy like Benny to come up with something better than that. Even the generally Israel-first readership of the Times appears to be unconvinced. Six of the seven letters responding to the Morris op-ed in the print edition of July 21st disputed either his evidence or his conclusions regarding what an appropriate response to Iran should be.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.