The Downing Street memos have created such a stir that even Congress is rubbing its eyes and awakening from its long slumber to ask questions about the Iraq war: a hearing convened by antiwar Democrats, chaired by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), has created quite a lot of buzz, generating headlines and howls of outrage from all the usual suspects, as well as from the Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank and surprise, surprise! Howard “The Scream” Dean. Milbank snarks:
“In the Capitol basement yesterday, long-suffering House Democrats took a trip to the land of make-believe. They pretended a small conference room was the Judiciary Committee hearing room, draping white linens over folding tables to make them look like witness tables and bringing in cardboard name tags and extra flags to make the whole thing look official.”
It is “make believe” to act as if government officials can be held accountable by the people, or even some of their elected representatives. If it isn’t “official,” it isn’t real.
Milbank’s condescending tone speaks volumes about the arrogance of the Washington Establishment, a hauteur that permeates the Imperial City like the heavy scent of incense burning on the altar of Empire. It is, as Milbank’s piece confirms, bipartisan in nature. For example, the other day I called Rep. Nancy Pelosi‘s office and asked for a copy of Pelosi’s amendment to the military spending bill that would require the president to issue a report card, of sorts, on our “strategy for success” in Iraq. The woman I spoke to immediately adopted an imperious tone and informed me that “the public” doesn’t get to see these things until after they’re introduced and debated. The bipartisan Washington worldview draws a sharp line of demarcation between the rulers and the ruled. And when this snippy little intern informed me that, no, it was impossible, you could hear the triumph in her voice, as if to assert that even she, a lowly apparatchik, didn’t have to kowtow to “the public.” (The upshot of that incident: when I insisted, she switched me to Pelosi’s press office, where a brusque male assured me he’d be e-mailing the text of the amendment shortly. It never arrived.)
The same imperiousness permeates Milbank’s piece, which is shot through with words like “playmates,” and phrases such as “dress-up game,” but mixed in with the pink froth is a small, albeit potentially lethal, dose of poison:
“The session took an awkward turn when witness Ray McGovern, a former intelligence analyst, declared that the United States went to war in Iraq for oil, Israel and military bases craved by administration ‘neocons’ so ‘the United States and Israel could dominate that part of the world.’ He said that Israel should not be considered an ally and that Bush was doing the bidding of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
“‘Israel is not allowed to be brought up in polite conversation,’ McGovern said. ‘The last time I did this, the previous director of Central Intelligence called me anti-Semitic.’ Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), who prompted the question by wondering whether the true war motive was Iraq’s threat to Israel, thanked McGovern for his ‘candid answer.’
“At Democratic headquarters, where an overflow crowd watched the hearing on television, activists handed out documents repeating two accusations that an Israeli company had warning of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and that there was an ‘insider trading scam’ on 9/11 that previously has been used to suggest Israel was behind the attacks.”
Thanks to the Internet and the miracle of streaming video, we don’t have to depend on “reporters” of the Milbankian persuasion anymore to tell us what McGovern said: we can go see and hear for ourselves. So click on this link, go to about an hour and forty minutes into the hearing, and listen for yourself. There was nothing the least bit “awkward” in what McGovern said. Rep. Jim Moran asked him a perfectly reasonable question if it wasn’t about WMD, or links to al-Qaeda, then why did we go to war with Iraq?
McGovern, a former CIA analyst, came up with a perfectly reasonable answer: the “OIL” syndrome, or Oil, Israel, and the Logistical “base” that figures prominently in neoconservative [.pdf file] politico-military strategy for the “liberation” of the Middle East. The oil factor is not even debatable, and surely American military preeminence in the region, as well as the refusal of the U.S. to forswear any effort to build permanent bases in Iraq, lends credence to the “logistical” part of the equation. As for the role played by Israel and its American amen corner in ginning up this war, McGovern didn’t quote Goebbels, he cited Brent Scowcroft, who famously said of Bush:
“Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger. I think the president is mesmerized. When there is a suicide attack [followed by a reprisal] Sharon calls the president and says, ‘I’m on the front line of terrorism,’ and the president says, ‘Yes, you are ’ He [Sharon] has been nothing but trouble.”
Surely Milbank recalls these remarks, since they were reported in his paper: but I guess he just forgot about it, just like he forgot to mention McGovern’s reference to Scowcroft. An even lower blow, however, is the reference to leafleting that might have been the work of anyone except the groups organizing the hearing.
This sort of juxtaposition is a shoddy rhetorical device, utilized to discredit anyone who challenges the conventional wisdom: to even mention this kind of tinfoil hattery in the same breath as the subject of the hearings, and McGovern’s remarks, is a cheap intellectual package deal. Israel’s role as one of the chief agitators behind the drive to war is not really in dispute: the neoconservatives and the Israeli lobby (or do I repeat myself?) were certainly pushing for war with Iraq long before 9/11, and this was noted not only by Pat Buchanan but also by Michael Kinsley, intelligence expert James Bamford, and retired General Anthony Zinni. Are all these people anti-Semites? Before a single shot had even been fired, Prime Minister Sharon was already nominating Syria and Iran as the next candidates up for “regime change,” albeit not too loudly. Should we pretend not to know this?
Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor and Publisher, takes offense at Milbank’s superciliousness in the face of so much human suffering brought on by this war and wonders how a hearing exposing the fantasy “intelligence” conjured by this administration could itself be characterized as “make believe.” In the Bizarro World moral universe of Washington, D.C., where war is peace and freedom is slavery, joviality is the response to 1,700-plus deaths and 40,000 wounded in the service of a lie.
“We disavow the anti-Semitic literature, and the Democratic National Committee stands in absolute disagreement with and condemns the allegations.”
What allegations? Who distributed the literature? There are no answers to these questions, apparently, at least none that are forthcoming. If he really thinks Republicans are the root of all evil, does he believe they would be above planting such leaflets as an attempt at disruption. The remarkably incurious Dean who has recently characterized Republicans as “pretty much a white Christian party,” and as people who “never worked a day in their lives” continued his hyperbolic streak by having this to say about Ray McGovern’s remarks at the hearing:
“As for any inferences that the United States went to war so Israel could ‘dominate’ the Middle East or that Israel was in any way behind the horrific September 11th attacks on America, let me say unequivocally that such statements are nothing but vile, anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
I don’t recall anybody at the hearing saying that Israel was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks: not that Dean ever let facts get in the way of his emotional outbursts, which are mostly calculated attempts at demagoguery that invariably fail. McGovern, it should be noted, was merely citing Brent Scowcroft: is Dean saying that, aside from being “white Christians” who “never worked a day in their lives,” Republicans in the Scowcroft mold are also neo-Nazis?
It looks like Dean’s tenure as DNC chairman is going to be one long Dean scream or maybe not that long, on second thought. He’s alienated the moderates, who don’t like the tone of his attacks on Republicans, and now he’s turning off his antiwar base, which mistakenly believes he’s some kind of a maverick. Is it too much to hope that he’ll soon be put out to pasture? It may be only a rumor that the Republicans are paying his salary, but if so he’s certainly earned a raise.
Rep. Conyers had his own response to the Milbank smear, and while a bit more spirited, focused, and accurate than Dean’s, nonetheless exhibited the same political cowardice when it came to Ray McGovern’s remarks:
“To give such emphasis to 100 seconds of a 3 hour and five minute hearing that included the powerful and sad testimony (hardly mentioned by Milbank) of a woman who lost her son in the Iraq war and now feels lied to as a result of the Downing Street Minutes, is incredibly misleading.”
Conyers furthermore describes McGovern’s comments as “making an anti-Semitic assertion” a grave accusation and a totally inaccurate statement, one that the congressman doesn’t even believe. If he does believe it, how come he didn’t point that out in the remaining hour and 20 minutes of the hearing? Instead, he just sat there and nodded agreement.
Yes, the Israeli lobby is powerful, and Conyers has every reason to fear it; but show a little courage, congressman: Mrs. Sheehan and all the other mothers who have lost sons and daughters in this seemingly inexplicable war deserve answers. They need to know why and how their beloved progeny were sacrificed on the altar of the war god. To collaborate in the smear of those who are giving honest answers does them and all of us a great disservice.
The awakening of the American public, triggered by the Downing Street memos, is just the beginning of an educational process that is going to take us in precisely the direction that Chairman Dean and Rep. Conyers most fear. Now that the American people have woken up to the fact that they were lied into war, they naturally want to know: by whom? Who are the liars, and how did they manage to disguise their lies as “intelligence“?
The closer we get to the real answer, the louder and more hysterical the War Party becomes: charges of “anti-Semitism” cloud the issue, and that’s the whole point. As Americans begin to understand who was feeding the government false information about Iraqi WMD and Saddam’s nonexistent links to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and what their real motive was, both Dean and Conyers may begin to understand the dangers of defining “anti-Semitism” quite so broadly.
Israel is a nation, and as such it pursues its own unique national interests. In spite of Israeli propaganda that defines its objectives as synonymous with America’s, the recent rift in relations is hard to miss, and, in any case, the underlying disparity of interests is merely coming to the surface. The U.S. and Israel have been drifting apart since the end of the Cold War, and Ray McGovern’s denial that the U.S. and Israel are really allies is based on certain unpleasant facts that Milbank can verify simply by reading his own newspaper.
There is a very good reason why Israel conducts covert operations in the U.S. up to and including espionage. Israel’s survival depends on American financial, political, and military support. The symbiosis of the “special relationship” demands that the Israelis keep up a constant effort to influence U.S. foreign policy, and who could blame them if they launched an all-out effort to rope us into war with Iraq and now Syria and Iran? As the Israelis push into Kurdistan and use that nominal province of Iraq as a base to launch operations against Damascus and Tehran both rule restive Kurdish minorities it is difficult to deny that Tel Aviv is well on its way to dominating the Middle East. An acknowledgment of rising Israeli power, far from being “anti-Semitic,” is a tribute to the strength of the world’s only Jewish nation, its entry into the great power pantheon.
The question is: does this really serve American interests? It would seem Israel is the great exception to the hegemonist doctrine authored by Paul Wolfowitz, which avers that the U.S. must seek to prevent any other nation from achieving a position where they might challenge American dominance in any region of the world. However, the decline of neoconservative influence in this administration, due in part to the disastrous course of the war, may signal that this policy of putting Israel first is imperiled if not ended.
It is only natural for Israel’s American lobby to protest that opposition to this rather odd policy is “anti-Semitic.” After all, we live in a political culture where everyone hides behind their ethnic identity to claim special status as a victim. An entire class of Official Victims has been elevated, by law and now by custom, into an affirmative action aristocracy. As part of a privileged class, they don’t have to answer for their foibles or excesses: it’s all excused because, after all, they’ve suffered. They have the right to be unreasonable, to act out their “oppression,” and even to indulge in a little oppression of their own. If you object, you’re a “racist,” you’re the living incarnation of Hitler, and now they’re even reviving one of their favorite epithets with obscure historical references: Coughlinite!
I note in passing that the vocabulary of the neoconservatives is resonant with the rhetoric of the 1930s because most of them are unreconstructed leftists who look back to that time of “national unity” and a cozy alliance with the Soviet Union as a kind of Golden Age, when they could simply accuse their political enemies of being in league with Hitler and the Mikado and that was the end of the argument. It was an era of unparalleled state power heralding the rise of a mighty American empire precisely the goals projected by today’s neocons, with their “big government conservatism” and brazen neo-imperialism.
As investigators move in on several pending matters the Plame affair, the upcoming trial of Larry Franklin and the AIPAC defendants, the inquiry into who fed the U.S. with forged documents allegedly proving that Saddam had procured uranium from the African country of Niger the education of the American people will proceed apace. Israel’s role as the progenitor of this war, as the catalyst whose agents planted phony “evidence” of Iraqi WMD, even as they stole our secrets and passed them on to Tel Aviv, is becoming more apparent by the day. Neither the hysterical fulminations of a has-been presidential contender, nor the equally shrill and unreasonable accusations of “Coughlinism” coming from the neocons, will blunt the sharp question of federal prosecutors as they dig out the truth about a reckless cabal that committed several crimes including espionage [.pdf file] as they lured us with lies down the road to war.
I should also address Rep. Barney Frank’s objections to what Ray McGovern said on the panel. Barney says:
“The notion that United States foreign policy is somehow being manipulated by Israel is not only gravely mistaken, it is redolent of the sort of conspiracy theories imputing hidden powers to the Jews that have plagued the world for too long.”
If that is true, then Israel and its American amen corner should have thought of that before they launched an all-out campaign to bamboozle us into war. Why is the burden of this policy and its horrific consequences placed on its opponents instead of its authors?
Rep. Frank said the question by U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), “which gave prominence to the role of Israel as one of the possible major factors behind the invasion, and the answer by witness Raymond McGovern, which not only blamed Israel for the war in substantial part, but objected even to Congressman Moran’s citing Israel as an American ally, are both refuted by the evidence discussed at the hearing itself.”
Frank went on to say that “nothing in the Downing Street memo in any way supports the allegation that the war in Iraq was all an Israeli plot.” There is more than one “Downing Street memo,” as the congressman is doubtless aware, and in one of them [.pdf file], the British ambassador to the U.S. reports on a lunch with Paul Wolfowitz in which the former deputy secretary of defense and intellectual architect of this war argues that Saddam’s atrocities should be emphasized in the propaganda campaign preceding the invasion. “A lot of work” had been done on this during the reign of Bush I, said Wolfowitz. Meyer added: “Wolfowitz thought that this would go a long way to destroying any notion of moral equivalence between Iraq and Israel.”
America is preparing to invade the heart of the Middle East, conducting bombing raids and killing Iraqis in massive numbers, and Wolfowitz is worried about the moral opprobrium attached to Israel? If this doesn’t reveal Israel-centric tendencies at the highest levels of this administration, then one can only wonder what would.
Frank goes on to say that the war came about “not because of some secret deal with Israel, but because of the foreign policy worldview of those in charge of Bush administration national security who of course did not include the nominal Secretary of State, Colin Powell.” Frank apparently excludes the possibility that an important part of that worldview was and is that Israel’s interests must be pursued even at America’s expense. He points out that the U.S. is now seemingly imposing a solution to the Palestinian problem, ostensibly against Israel’s wishes: he doesn’t mention that Israel’s settlements remain largely intact, and that the “security wall” continues to divide Palestinian communities and encroach on Palestinian land.
“The latest step in the evolution of that policy was a decision by President Bush over the objections of many in Congress, which I did not share to provide direct aid to the Palestinian Authority. I believe this was a constructive measure by President Bush in pursuit of an overall peace, and it hardly fits the notion that Israel is the master string-puller of the United States government.”
The political fortunes of a manipulative cabal may change, but they did succeed in their mission: we are now in Iraq and not leaving anytime soon. Furthermore, the war seems to be spreading to Syria and perhaps even Iran. Certainly, a lot of activity points in that direction. No one is saying that the neoconservative faction in this administration is “the master string-puller” in the sense that they hold absolute power in Washington: recent reverses, as Frank underscores, are proof enough of that. However, if they could manage to pull the strings just long enough to get us into a war, that is another matter entirely.
The American people are beginning to wake up, even as myriad voices try to lull them back to sleep. Who lied us into war? Americans want to know. The evidence, as it accumulates, is the final judge, but Frank, Conyers (to some degree), and Dean want to rule out a certain verdict in advance. They won’t succeed. All the cries of feigned outrage, the smears, and the forced political correctness won’t prevent the American people from finally educating themselves and their alleged representatives and taking action. The ongoing spectacle of death in Iraq is generating a social and political backlash that is going to sweep away the hypocrisy and ideological biases that have dominated American politics for too long, including the political correctness that places Israel on a pedestal, as being somehow above criticism or, at the very least, subject to a different standard.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
By the way, the story about an Israeli company having a “warning” about 9/11 originated not in the fever swamps of the neo-Nazi movement, but with a respected Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, which ran a story saying that one or more New York employees of Odigo received instant messages about half an hour before the attacks. When I wrote to the reporter, Yuval Dror, expressing my extreme skepticism about this story, he assured me that the president of the company, a reputable businessman, stands behind Ha’aretz‘s reporting. My opinion: It looks like a planted story, put out there by the Israelis themselves for whatever reason. The “insider trading” story was run by the San Francisco Chronicle and other mainstream newspapers and later discounted, but what that has to do with Israel is not at all apparent, at least to me.