A Confederation of War-Seeking Factions

This is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, released today.

Why would the president, in the midst of substantial and growing cooperation with the Iranians, suddenly decree Iran in 2002 to be part of an axis of evil, and all but declare Iran an enemy on whom war must inevitably be waged? Numerous and disparate factions surrounding the president each desired, albeit for different reasons and with different motives, hostility and conflict with Iran. Those factions perceive that belligerence toward Iran, rather than a negotiated peace, would promote their respective agendas. And each was able to depict Iran in the Manichean terms that would ensure that the president would see Iran as an implacable foe he was duty-bound to defeat.

Numerous ideologies and belief systems have played prominent roles in shaping the president’s Manichean militarism toward Iran. Initially, the president surrounded himself with traditional, garden-variety hawks – those who are driven by a central belief in the virtue and justification of America’s use of its superior military force to impose its will on other nations. Such hawkishness is embodied by both Vice President Cheney and former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and exists independent of any specific geopolitical reasons for seeking Middle East hegemony. Hawks of this sort have cheered on every warmongering step taken by the president. A highly influential strain in the Bush administration seeks war because it believes in the use of war as a principal tool for securing America’s interests and dealing with other nations that refuse to submit to America’s will.

And then there is the related set of concerns: the emerging prospect that the world’s demand for oil will outstrip supply, and that with Saudi oil production potentially peaking, the largest strategic reserves will be in Iran, where U.S. access can be ensured only with a pro-American government in place. Oil is a critical resource for a nation’s strength, prosperity, and security. It is also finite and becoming scarce. Those who insist that such considerations are irrelevant to foreign policy decisions regarding the most oil-rich region on the planet, and the most oil-rich nations in that region, are advancing claims too frivolous to merit serious consideration. Access to and control over the Middle East’s oil supply pervades, to one degree or another, virtually all power struggles within that region.

Regarding the most important issues of the Bush presidency – the invasion of Iraq, the treatment of Iran, and enhanced and unprecedented domestic police powers – traditional hawkishness and concern over the Middle Eastern oil supply have worked in perfect tandem with one another. And that agenda has also converged with two other critically influential factions of the Bush presidency – namely, the president’s base of Christian evangelicals who view political power as a means for promoting their theological objectives, and independently, the Israel-centric strain of neoconservatives. The agendas of all of those factions have been promoted by the same policies – the invasion of Iraq, expanded police powers at home, and the treatment of anti-American regimes in the Middle East as mortal enemies to be shunned, demonized, and attacked.

An influential faction of Christian evangelicals has loyally supported the Bush foreign policy in the Middle East (except to complain periodically that it is insufficiently aggressive). That faction is driven by the general theological belief that God’s will is for Jews to occupy all of "Greater Israel," which will occur only once the enemies of Israel are defeated.

There is no question – because many of their key leaders have said so themselves – that evangelicals, who compose a substantial part of President Bush’s most loyal following, have become fanatically "pro-Israel" in their foreign policy views because they believe that strengthening Israel is a necessary prerequisite for Rapture to occur – for the world to be ruled by Christianity upon Jesus’ apocalyptic return to Earth – and they believe that can occur only once "Greater Israel" is unified under Jewish control.

Devout evangelicals are among the most steadfast supporters of his aggressive and militaristic policies toward the Islamic world, and many expressly defend those policies on theological and moral grounds. That the president finds some of his most loyal support for his War on Terrorism among such theologically driven groups lends further support to the connection between religious beliefs and President Bush’s militaristic, Manichean foreign policy in the Middle East.

Evangelical leader James Dobson told Larry King in a November 2002 interview: "I feel very strongly about Israel. You know it is surrounded by its enemies. And it exists primarily because God has willed it to exist, I think, according to scripture." Dobson is an almost completely reliable supporter of the neoconservative line, condemning the Baker-Hamilton report’s recommendation that the United States negotiate with Iran by predictably equating the recommendation to appeasement of the Nazis: "That has the same kind of feel to it as the British negotiating with Germany, Italy and Japan in the run-up to World War II." And evangelical minister John Hagee of Texas addressed the first annual conference of his new group, Christians United for Israel, during the Israel-Hezbollah War in July-August 2006. He declared that war to be "a battle between good and evil" and insisted support for Israel was "God’s foreign policy." The following day, Hagee went to the White House to meet with President Bush’s top Middle East adviser, neoconservative Elliot Abrams, and he delivered the same message, adding that "appeasement has never helped the Jewish people." Hagee advised the New York Times that Abrams largely agreed with his views.

Evangelical leader Gary Bauer told the Times in November 2006 that as a result of his intensely anti-Israeli rhetoric, Iranian President Ahmadinejad has become one of the most despised foreign political figures among American Christians: "I am not sure there is a foreign leader who has made a bigger splash in American culture since Khrushchev, certainly among committed Christians."

U.S. Senator James Inhofe, a Republican social conservative from Oklahoma, actually placed blame on the U.S. for the 9/11 attacks, by asserting that the U.S. had itself opened "the spiritual door" for those attacks by failing to support Israel steadfastly enough. Senator Inhofe declared in a March 2002 speech on the Senate floor.

It is certainly true that this extremist, theological commitment to Israel as a means of facilitating Jesus’ return is not shared by a majority of Christians. But these are hardly fringe views either. Christian evangelicals have played an important role in both of President Bush’s election victories and in the general preservation of Republican power. Many of the evangelical leaders who spout these extremist "pro-Israeli" theological views exert substantial influence at high levels of the Bush administration and with the president himself. Their doctrinal convictions have played a substantial role in generating support for the president’s militarism in the Middle East and his Manichean approach to Israel’s enemies.

And then there is America’s alliance with Israel and the role it plays in our bellicose posture toward Iran. In examining the president’s 2002 decision to include Iran in the axis of evil despite increasing U.S.- Iran cooperation – and to this day to insist that Iran is an enemy of the United States – the role played by Israeli interests (as perceived by its right-wing American supporters) simply cannot be ignored. But when it comes to discussions of Iran in the national media and by national political figures, that topic typically is ignored.

While Iran has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to seek cooperative relations with the United States, relations between Iran and Israel have been genuinely, and mutually, hostile. The depiction of Iran as pure Evil being propagated by Bush-supporting, war-seeking Americans has been echoed by the Israelis with increasing fervor.

As is true for the rhetoric of the president’s supporters and the president himself, 2006 saw a marked escalation in the Israelis’ hostile rhetoric toward Iran. On October 27, 2006, Israel’s prime minister Ehud Olmert invoked the standard neoconservative "historical analogy" by expressly comparing Iran to Nazi Germany. Referring to Iran, Prime Minister Olmert said: "We hear echoes of those very voices that started to spread across the world in the 1930s."

Ironically, Olmert, at the start of 2007, found himself the target of the same accusation invoking the specter of Neville Chamberlain. As UPI editor Arnaud de Borchgrave reported regarding Israeli debates over Iran: "In a New Year’s Day message, superhawk and former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of the kind of appeasement that threatened Israel’s very existence."

Israel’s newest cabinet minister, Avigdor Lieberman, whose duties include strategic affairs with Iran, visited the United States in December 2006 and told the New York Times: "Our first task is to convince Western countries to adopt a tough approach to the Iranian problem," which he called "the biggest threat facing the Jewish people since the Second World War." Lieberman insisted that American efforts to negotiate with Iran were worthless and should not be attempted: "The dialogue with Iran will be a 100-percent failure, just like it was with North Korea."

In his 2007 New Year’s speech, Netanyahu made clear that he shares the same goal – convincing the U.S. to consider Iran as an American problem, not just an Israeli one. He said that Israel must immediately launch an intense, international, public relations front first and foremost on the U.S., the goal being to encourage President Bush to live up to specific pledges he would not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons. "We must make clear to the government, the Congress, and the American public that a nuclear Iran is a threat to the U.S. and the entire world, not only Israel."

UPI’s de Borchgrave quoted from an article in Ynet by Oded Tira, chairman of the Israeli Manufacturers Association and former chief artillery officer in the IDF, in which he made clear that many Israelis are committed to finding a way to make an American attack on Iran a political necessity (emphasis added):

"Bush lacks the political power to attack Iran. As an American air strike in Iran is essential for our existence, we must help pave the way by lobbying the Democratic Party, which is conducting itself foolishly, and U.S. newspaper editors.

"We need to turn the Iranian issue into a bipartisan one and unrelated to the Iraq failure. Hillary Clinton and other potential presidential candidates in the Democratic Party (must) publicly support immediate action by Bush against Iran."

As the prewar "debate" over the invasion of Iraq demonstrated, the key to persuading Americans to support a new war is to convince them that the country targeted for attack is governed by terrorists and those who support international terrorism. Those terms, by design, evoke images of the 9/11 attacks, and the accusation is designed to tie the accused to those attacks even where the so-called terrorist supporters have nothing to do with 9/11.

Indeed, to claim that a country "supports international terrorism" is the most inflammatory accusation that can be made, as it will be understood by many Americans to designate specifically that the accused "participated in the 9/11 attacks," or more generally that they are close allies of Al Qaeda. Even with Americans’ growing emotional distance from the 2001 attacks, many Americans will reflexively – one could even say understandably – support military action against not just anyone who directly participated in the 9/11 attacks but anyone who seems to have close proximity to those responsible.

This same manipulative tactic – accusing the Iranians of "supporting international terrorism" as a means of implicitly persuading Americans that Iran bears some responsibility for, or at least connection to, the 9/11 attacks, so therefore it, too, must be attacked – is the principal one on which the president and his supporters are relying to justify antagonism toward Iran. And the tactic is no less honest than it was when employed against Iraq. If anything, it is far more dishonest. The evidence that Iran sponsors or in any way abets terrorist attacks on the U.S. is nonexistent.

To document the ongoing threat posed to the United States by international terrorism, the Bush administration’s 2006 National Security Strategy focuses on al-Qaeda and the type of terrorist attacks that have been directed at Americans or Westerners generally during the last decade – in London, Madrid, Bali, and New York during the first World Trade Center attack and on 9/11. But Iran had nothing to do with any of those. That country does not sponsor al-Qaeda or any groups affiliated with al-Qaeda, nor does it sponsor any other groups devoted to staging terrorist attacks on the United States.

Quite the contrary, Shiite Iran has long-standing animosities with Sunni-dominated al-Qaeda. That was one reason, among others, why Iran stalwartly opposed the al-Qaeda-sheltering Taliban and worked extensively with the U.S. in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in order to bring about an end to their rule.

To the extent that Iran can be said to have an association with "terrorist" groups, those groups are devoted to supporting the Palestinians against Israel as part of the conflict over the West Bank (Hamas) or devoted to supporting the Lebanese against Israel (Hezbollah). Iran is not devoted to fighting along with al-Qaeda or any other group devoted to staging terrorist attacks on Americans or against the United States. Iran’s support for what the Bush administration calls "international terrorist groups" is limited to those groups that are hostile to Israel, not those which pose a threat to the U.S.

The 2003 Congressional Research Service Report documented that "U.S. concerns about Iran’s support for terrorism center on its assistance to groups opposed to the Arab-Israeli peace process, primarily Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command" (emphasis added). The agendas of those groups are confined to anti-Israeli positions, and none stages attacks on the U.S.

Deliberately vague claims that Iran "supports international terrorism" are virtually always predicated on its support for anti-Israeli, not anti-U.S., groups. When Michael Gerson issued his call to war against Iran in the pages of Newsweek in August 2006, for instance, he accused Iran of supporting "terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas." In Joe Lieberman’s December 2006 op-ed in the Washington Post, which essentially declared the U.S. at war with Iran, he warned Americans of what he called "Iran’s terrorist agents," whom he then identified as "Hezbollah and Hamas."

It is true that Hezbollah, a group created to defend Lebanon against military invasions from Israel, was responsible for the attack on U.S. troops in 1983 when American troops were inside that nation. Ronald Reagan then withdrew American troops from that country, and ever since, over the next twenty-four years, Hezbollah has staged no attacks of any kind on the United States.

Hezbollah was also quite possibly responsible for two bombings in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the early 1990s – a 1992 car bomb attack at the Israeli embassy in Argentina and a similar 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. But even assuming that those attacks were engineered by Hezbollah with Iranian backing – a precarious assumption for which, particularly with regard to Iranian involvement, there is no confirmation – the target of Hezbollah is plainly Israel, not the United States.

There are countless groups around the world engaged in what could be called terrorism, and the vast majority have nothing to do with attacks on the U.S. Some have domestic agendas and some have regional agendas. Only a tiny fraction have anything to do with al-Qaeda or are devoted in any way toward attacking America. Perhaps there is (or is not) a good case to be made that U.S. interests are so inextricably linked with Israel’s that America cannot, or should not, attempt to distinguish between terrorist attacks directed at Israel and those directed at the U.S. If there are valid arguments for deeming Israel’s enemies to be enemies of the U.S., then they should be made explicitly and clearly, without the type of misleading obfuscation that President Bush and his supporters clearly intend to create by implying that Iran supports anti-U.S. terrorist groups.

From its inception, the campaign to depict and treat Iran as pure, unadulterated Evil has been driven by this manipulative and dishonest attempt to conflate Iran’s posture toward Israel with its posture toward the U.S. Whether the president himself was a victim of that manipulation or a knowing propagator of it is something one can debate, and the truth likely lies somewhere in between. But what is beyond dispute is the centrality of Israel and its right-wing American supporters in shaping the president’s moralistic and absolutist view of Iran.

Few things are more threatening to Israeli interests than deceitfully securing American policies based on pretext, conflation, and contrivance whereby Americans are manipulated into supporting policies based on false pretenses. People can be fooled for only so long, and people who feel deceived generally backlash against the deceivers.

It is not the case that those who attempt to trigger U.S. military action against Israel’s enemies are guilty of doing too much to help Israel. Though "helping Israel" might be their motive, they achieve the precise opposite result.

A strong argument can be made that Americans are likely to be supportive of a democratic, long-standing ally like Israel and to sympathize with the need for America to protect all of its allies – including Israel – from genuine existential threats. But if Americans are being induced to support wars not in American interests but rather Israel’s, and if American lives and treasure are being squandered in wars justified by false pretenses, by a hidden agenda, they will realize that at some point – likely at the point when such a war has gone particularly awry and they begin to search for the real reasons we entered it in the first place.

When the realization begins to dawn that at least one substantial factor as to why America waged Middle Eastern war(s) is because influential individuals with an overarching devotion to Israel pushed for war against Israel’s enemies, then an anti-Israeli backlash is highly likely to occur. And the backlash is likely to be far more severe and hostile than anything that would ever happen naturally, meaning in the absence of such manipulation.