“F*cking crazies” that’s how Colin Powell described the neoconservatives to Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw during the run-up to the Iraq war, according to The Accidental American: Tony Blair and the Presidency, by BBC broadcaster James Naughtie, due to be released this week in the U.S. To which one can only add: you got that one right, brutha.
The neocons are certainly crazed in the megalomaniacal sense to suggest that the American response to 9/11 must be to somehow “democratize” at gunpoint a region that has never gotten out of the Middle Ages and launch a worldwide struggle against a religion of a billion-plus adherents. But crazy also implies out-of-control, and that is most certainly not what is occurring here: in the case of the neocons, we’re talking crazy like a fox .
Sure it was crazy to go into Iraq, with no credible plan, against the advice of senior military commanders, in a way that virtually ensured the disaster we are now seeing unfold in all its bloody, criminal futility. Powell and his realist confreres in the national security bureaucracy saw this early on. But what they didn’t see or didn’t let us in on at the time is that there’s a method to this madness.
The rationale for an increasingly costly and unpopular war has shifted with changing circumstances. As the official lies Iraq’s ever-elusive “weapons of mass destruction,” its alleged links to al-Qaeda and utterly fictitious connections to the 9/11 terrorist attacks have been debunked, the War Party has fallen back on other, more ideological arguments, which don’t require any basis in fact and can’t be tested: the spread of “democracy” throughout the Middle East, the “flytrap” theory, and any number of other makeshift mental constructs that are supposed to somehow comfort us with the knowledge that we’re doing the right thing, after all.
But as the war proceeds, and the War Party begins to direct our attention to new targets Iran, Syria, and Lebanon their real agenda is becoming so obvious that a dissident faction of officialdom is in open rebellion: As General Anthony Zinni, former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, put it to CBS News:
“Somebody has screwed up. And at this level and at this stage, it should be evident to everybody that they’ve screwed up. And whose heads are rolling on this? That’s what bothers me most.”
Although responsibility starts at the top Zinni clearly wants Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to be handed his walking papers he is also talking about the second- and-third-tier Pentagon officials, of the civilian “chickenhawk” variety:
“‘Certainly those in your ranks that foisted this strategy on us that is flawed. Certainly they ought to be gone and replaced.’
“Zinni is talking about a group of policymakers within the administration known as ‘the neo-conservatives’ who saw the invasion of Iraq as a way to stabilize American interests in the region and strengthen the position of Israel. Zinni believes they are political ideologues who have hijacked American policy in Iraq.
“‘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.'”
The AIPAC spy scandal has given this agenda a name, a focus, and an overarching explanation for a war strategy that seems bent on creating chaos on the Middle East.
What seemed, at first, a straightforward case of a mid-level Pentagon official, Lawrence A. Franklin, passing classified documents to Israel, has revealed the existence of a much larger investigation ongoing for at least two years into Israeli penetration of the U.S. government. As to what provoked this investigation to begin with, or what course it is presently taking, we are left largely in the dark although I have my own theories as to the former. But the point to be made here is that the AIPAC spy imbroglio has brought to the forefront the suspicion that U.S. foreign policy is being directed, not from Washington, but from Tel Aviv.
The belief that Israel exerts undue influence on American policy in the Middle East is increasingly widespread. This has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with the apparent inability of the United States to effectively combat a terrorist conspiracy against its very existence. Citing al-Qaeda’s contention that “the close link between America and the Zionist entity is in itself a curse for America” and a strategic mistake, the brilliant (albeit anonymous) author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror notes that this “does not seem too far off the mark.” The lack of daylight between American and Israeli policy in the Middle East “has turned the attack against America into an attack against the Zionist entity, and vice-versa,” in the words of al-Qaeda’s propagandists. This unites all Muslims in a supranational jihad directed against the “Crusaders and Jews,” as the Ladenites would have it. “Anonymous,” a currently serving CIA analyst, writes:
“One can only react to this stunning reality by giving all praise to Israel’s diplomats, politicians, intelligence services, U.S.-citizen spies, and the retired senior U.S. officials and wealthy Jewish-American organizations who lobby an always amenable Congress on Israel’s behalf. In an astounding and historically unprecedented manner, the Israelis have succeeded in lacing tight the ropes binding the American Gulliver to the tiny Jewish state and its policies; as Anatol Lieven has written, the Israelis have been so successful that Israeli nationalism ‘for many Americans has become deeply entwined with their American nationalism.'”
Since the last U.S. citizen-spy for Israel was arrested in 1985, one tends to doubt that Mr. Anonymous is here referring to Jonathan Pollard. Did the author of Imperial Hubris, identified by the Boston Phoenix as Michael Scheuer, have some prior knowledge that the Franklin spy scandal was about to break or, more ominously, is the existence of a network of U.S.-citizen spies for Israel common knowledge in the U.S. intelligence community?
The neocons are in panic mode, as evidenced by a memo written by Michael Rubin, a former Coalition Provisional Authority official who fell out with Paul Bremer and now snipes from the sidelines from his perch at the American Enterprise Institute. The Forward cites Rubin’s memo, essentially a polemic against the Bushies:
“If there is any truth to any of the accusations, why doesn’t the White House demand that they bring on the evidence? On the record. There’s an increasing anti-Semitic witch hunt. I feel like I’m in Paris, not Washington. I’m disappointed at the lack of leadership that let things get where they are, and which is allowing these bureaucratics (sic) to spin out of control.”
But whose control are these “bureaucratics” spinning out of? Rubin doesn’t say. But playing the anti-Semite card isn’t going to win the neocons this hand. As American Prospect writer Matthew Yglesias quipped:
“Clearly, a rough time for the Jews. Although somehow we Jews who never worked within the Pentagon on dubious Iraq- and Iran-related matters are doing okay. No one’s arresting Ari Fleischer. Franklin, meanwhile, isn’t Jewish (but you know how unreasonable these anti-Semites are), and the only targeted Jews happen to be directly above him in the Department of Defense chain of command.”
It’s hard to believe that even a hard-line neocon ideologue like Rubin believes AIPAC ought to be allowed to act as a conduit for the passage of classified information from Washington to Tel Aviv. But a larger issue the decisive influence Israel’s operatives inside the U.S. government had and continue to have on the policymaking process is what’s really at stake here.
One rather expected Michael Ledeen to whine that AIPAC-gate amounts to the “criminalization” of differences over foreign policy. After all, he said the same sort of thing at the height of the last very similar scandal he was deeply involved with, the Iran-Contra affair. But to listen to Matthew Yglesias, a liberal, echo this same lame excuse-making, albeit from a different (pro-Kerry) angle, is a bit too much to bear:
“Whatever the facts of the Franklin matter, the wider inquiry he’s now cooperating with looks an awful lot like an effort to advance a policy agenda by means of the criminal justice and counterintelligence system. Either way, it’s hard to see how this reflects well on the Bush administration. Either the Pentagon is chock full of spies, or else the administration’s policy process is so screwed up that bureaucratic rivalries have become massive witch hunts centered around spurious allegations of criminality. Most likely the truth is that there’s some combination of the two going on.
“Now here’s the thing to consider. What if we had a president who didn’t disdain nuance, detail, policy, and book-learning? The sort of president who would resolve an Iran policy dispute by asking the various players to write up their arguments, read what both sides have to say, ask a few more questions, read a few more memos, make up his mind, and then tell everyone they either need to get with the program or leave his administration.”
But it doesn’t matter who’s president, at least in this context, because all of these embarrassments the outing of Valerie Plame, the Chalabi-Iranian intelligence connection, the Niger uranium forgeries, Abu Ghraib, Operation Copper Green were rogue operations, just like in Iran-Contra. As in Iran-Contra, the neocons’ foreign policy cadre didn’t just advocate neoconservative policy prescriptions, they broke the law. It’s no accident that the same characters who starred in that little docudrama are making a comeback in this latest production of “Hijacked! or, The Neocons’ Excellent Adventure.”
The neocons are really really good at writing up their arguments, and certainly can’t be accused of disdain for detail, policy, and, least of all, book-learning. Although one has to admit that nuance is not their forte, their entire philosophy the achievement of what one of them called “benevolent world hegemony” by the U.S. is a floating abstraction untethered to reality, or common sense.
If we put Kerry in the White House, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen, or at least that’s what the usually perceptive Yglesias would have us believe. Partisan sentiments aside, however, I wonder how he can honestly guarantee that. Since the neocon method is to establish a parallel, or as Colin Powell characterized it to Bob Woodward in Plan of Attack “a separate government,” and launch rogue operations to achieve their objectives, the only way to stop it is by excluding the neocons entirely from administration councils. While Kerry would presumably clean house at the Pentagon, that would not necessarily result in a significant diminution of their considerable influence.
It’s not out of the question that the neocons or some of them could switch to the Democrats in desperation, especially if the White House is deaf to their entreaties to spike the investigation into the AIPAC spy nest. This “entryist” strategy derived from their Trotskyist heritage is yet another arrow in the neocons’ quiver, and one they have launched before with much success. While their influence might be reduced under a Kerry regime, it is unlikely to be entirely absent from Washington. Working in tandem with Israel’s intelligence apparatus, the Israeli lobby in the Democratic party would take up where Franklin, Feith, and Wolfowitz left off.
In any case, how weird is it that a major spy operation has been uncovered in the midst of the most hotly contested election since the Civil War era, and the challenger has not a word to say about it?
If “the Pentagon is chock full of spies,” as Yglesias puts it, then why oh why is the Democratic presidential candidate averting his eyes? John Kerry can read dozens of detailed policy reports, and listen to his learned advisors spin nuance after nuance all he wants, but if he is struck dumb by the sight of treason in the camp of his ostensible enemies, then what are we to make of him? As far as I’m concerned, his silence is complicity.
“Now AIPAC denied any involvement [in passing secrets to Israel], but I want to read you the language:
“‘Any allegation of criminal conduct by AIPAC or our employees is false and baseless. Neither AIPAC nor any of its employees has violated any laws or rules, nor has AIPAC or its employees ever received information they believed was secret or classified.’
“Does that sound like a categorical denial to you?
AMB. AYALON: “I think so. I cannot speak, of course, for AIPAC. I think it’s a very, very good American organization, and we very much appreciate its activity on behalf of the U.S. American strategic alliance. It is very important.”
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: “But is it not curious that there is wiggle room in that statement, and the operative words are ‘they believed was secret or classified?’ This puts the monkey on Mr. Franklin’s back. AIPAC doesn’t deny passing the information on to Israel; it denies that it did so knowing that the information was classified. They didn’t know it was classified. So are you putting are you putting Franklin out to dry?”
AIPAC is going to need plenty of wiggle room, as the results of a two-year investigation come down on their heads, but even the most strenuous wriggling isn’t going to do them much good, I am happy to report. Yglesias has argued that what AIPAC did may not even have been illegal, although, if the charges stick, the group may be finished as an effective force in Washington. It’s the leakers, not the leakees, who get the book thrown at them. But surely this cannot be the case: at the very least, AIPAC is guilty of acting as an unregistered foreign agent, a charge that, during wartime, is quite serious. It also seems to me that being an accomplice to espionage can land one in some fairly hot water, as Ethel Rosenberg discovered.
In any case, the neocons are going into overdrive, revving up their propaganda machine to cover up, or at best minimize the damage done by the AIPAC spy scandal. All the usual suspects are fulminating and frothing at the mouth, with Norman Podhoretz, David Frum, and even novelist Philip Roth enlisting in the mobilization. Roth’s new novel, The Plot Against America, excerpted in the Guardian, of all places, reads like a political pamphlet written by some monstrous amalgam of Morris Dees, Roy Carlson, and the Reverend Leon M. Birkhead. It’s an alternate history in which the U.S. stayed out of World War II: as the rise of “isolationist” (i.e., antiwar) sentiment propelled the old America First movement to power, it wasn’t long before a bunch of blonde Aryan-looking isolationists, waving “America First” flags, were goose-stepping down Madison Avenue. The supposedly evil Charles A. Lindbergh, the antiwar aviator and American hero, is demonized as a pro-Nazi fifth columnist: Roth’s fictional premise is that Lindbergh is elected president and undertakes you guessed it a pogrom against the Jewish people. Distortion of the historical record and poetic license are utilized unconvincingly, in my judgement to not only smear a man and a movement, but also to make a larger point: anyone who opposes wars of “liberation” is really a Nazi, a fascist-sympathizer, and a very very bad person.
As fiction, The Plot Against America is a flop, but entertainment, in this case, isn’t the point. Can it be a coincidence, however, that Roth gave his book the same title as a 1946 political potboiler written by a hack by the name of David George Kin, a.k.a. Plotkin, whose other works include Women Without Men: True Stories of Lesbian Love in Greenwich Village (1958)? Kin-Plotkin’s book was a polemic directed at antiwar Senator Burton K. Wheeler, a Montana Democrat, the last of the Midwestern populist progressives. Wheeler appears in Roth’s novel as Lindbergh’s scary vice president, and it could be that Roth is unaware of Kin’s tome, but, from the excerpts I have read, Roth’s book appears to have been modeled after it.
After the war, Wheeler was targeted by Communist-led labor unions for standing up to the centralizers of the New Deal, opposing Roosevelt’s drive to war, and dissing “Uncle Joe” Stalin. The Communists and their allies published The Plot Against America: Senator Wheeler and the Forces Behind Him, which was such a crude farrago of lies (complete with illustrations showing Wheeler in tow with Hitler) that the Saturday Review of Literature called it “a classic of the smear technique,” and Harper’s magazine declared it the worst book of the year a prize which, if there is any justice left in the world, Roth’s polemic would easily win hands down today.
In any case, the neocons may be in deep doo-doo, and may even be on their way out of power although I tend to doubt it but they aren’t going to go quietly. If the grand jury currently empaneled to examine the charges in the Franklin case indicts anyone, you can bet the howling that this is an “anti-Semitic” plot will grow louder, and shriller. Although Israel’s amen corner in Washington may take some comfort in the early release of the recently uncovered Israeli spy nest in New Zealand, where two Mossad agents convicted of identity theft trying to procure a New Zealand passport in the name of a paraplegic confined to home care are serving only three months of their six month sentence.
In New Zealand, at least they arrested them: not only that, but Prime Minister Helen Clark and her government publicized the case, denounced it as an outrage, downgraded diplomatic contacts, and demanded an apology (one was not forthcoming). If only our own government which is, after all, Israel’s sole means of support showed the same insistence on openly defending American sovereignty, secrets, and security from our grabby “friends” in Tel Aviv.
Michael Rubin complains that “I feel like I’m in Paris,” which we are supposed to think is equivalent to the Berlin of Weimar Germany, i.e., a hotbed of rising anti-Semitism. But the most celebrated recent case of an alleged “anti-Semitic” act in that city turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by a supposedly deluded woman and her boyfriend. The woman claimed to have been attacked on the subway, where hoodlums derided her for being a Jew she is not and no one would help her. A reenactment of the legend of Kitty Genovese, but with a distinctively political point this time around. The same theme is dramatized in Roth’s ridiculous novel: Hitlerism is on the march, always and forever. Lurking in the subways, and in the FBI, and the Justice Department: lurking in the hearts of evil men (and women) everywhere, but especially in the West, from Paris to Washington and everywhere in between: anti-Semitism is rising, a dark tsunami overwhelming the world.
What a bunch of malarkey.
The myth of rising anti-Semitism is good as a fundraising device, and I see that AIPAC is utilizing it to maximum effect: it is also a way of evading or downplaying the hard kernel of treason at the heart of the Franklin case. I doubt, however, that it will do much to improve the results of the campaign undertaken by the Israeli government to persuade Jews to move to Israel: I don’t see much of anyone, least of all Rubin, taking up Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s exhortation to the diaspora that the best way to support Israel is to make aliyah although that’s one way for at least some of the neocons to beat any charges that come out of AIPAC-gate.