Danger! Legacy Ahead!

The Israelis are conducting not only a shooting war but also a propaganda war: if there is a way to "spin" the deaths of Lebanese civilians, the smashing of the infrastructure, and even the bombing of an anti-Hezbollah Christian-owned television station, then surely Israel’s skillful propagandists – here and in Israel proper – are bound to find it. The idea is to shape the narrative of the conflict so that Israel is portrayed as a reluctant warrior.

In America, this is easy: the "mainstream" media, always attentive to the powerful Israel lobby, refrains from showing pictures that might upset the carefully nurtured image of the Jewish state as a heroic David up against an Arab-Muslim giant. Whenever there is an "expert" to be consulted, half the time it’s an Israeli, or someone from Israel’s amen corner, who explains to the TV audience that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization along the lines of al-Qaeda – without mentioning that this is no guerrilla group, but a highly organized political party, which, as President Lahoud of Lebanon reminded us the other day, is "part of the government of Lebanon." The other day on MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, I had to laugh when Joe Scarborough announced the guests on an upcoming segment about the Lebanon crisis: Bibi Netanyahu, Mort Zuckerman, and Pat Buchanan.

If anyone else but Buchanan had been involved it would have been the onscreen equivalent of a mugging, but Pat acquitted himself quite well. The point, however, is that there is no question of "balance" when it comes to media portrayals of the July war, or of any topics having to do with Israel. It’s all pro-Israel, all the time, and it is nothing short of miraculous that a trenchant critic like Buchanan is allowed to give his opinion at all.

The U.S. government, therefore, has a lot of leeway when it comes to its relationship with Israel. It can get away with pursuing Israel’s interests, to the detriment of our own, simply on account of the blindness of most people to the nature of the "special relationship" – and its geopolitical and financial repercussions. Very few know, for example, that Israel gets over $3 billion a year from the U.S. in "foreign aid," and that we subsidize the Israeli military budget to the tune of some 20 percent. Any news that puts Israel in a bad light is downplayed, or else completely ignored. For example, the shocking charges against two lobbyists for Israel, AIPAC honcho Steve Rosen and the group’s Iran analyst, Keith Weissman – spying for Israel – should have generated front-page headlines; instead, the case has puttered along pretty much beneath the media radar.

In Europe, it is quite different: the pictures of the slaughter are getting through via the mass media, and people are less naïve about the true nature of the Israeli state. Even the British government broke with the Yanks on this one, as Foreign Office official Kim Howells looked askance at the rape of Lebanon:

"The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people: these have not been surgical strikes. If they are chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah. You don’t go for the entire Lebanese nation…. I very much hope that the Americans understand what’s happening to Lebanon."

The sheer brazenness of this operation, and the American complicity, is shocking – and here I thought nothing could shock me anymore. After all, Israel has invaded a sovereign nation, attacked communities that are hostile to Hezbollah (such as the Christian Maronites), bombed Lebanese army barracks, and tried to shut down the Lebanese media – all of which are roughly comparable to, say, Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. Not that any of this is surprising, coming from the Israelis – but the Americans have not caviled in the slightest. If anything, George W. Bush is more pro-Israel than many Israelis, and his support for the invasion has been unequivocal, even enthusiastic.

This enthusiasm is partly explained by the president’s fulsome support for the Jewish state: no American administration has been quite as pro-Israel as this one. Yet one could imagine that, behind the scenes, there would be tensions between the U.S. and Israel, at least over the timetable of the Lebanese incursion. The longer Israel stays in and keeps up the merciless bombardment, the more pressure Washington faces from its Arab allies in the region, who fear their populations’ outrage at the continuing carnage. U.S. support for the invasion is also having repercussions in Iraq, where the ruling Shi’ite coalition is not exactly friendly to Tel Aviv, Shi’ite radicals are up in arms, and the speaker of the Parliament is now calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The U.S. is provoking all sorts of negative reactions to its endorsement of Israeli brutality, and so why, one has to ask, are they doing it?

Aside from the usual reasons – this administration’s pro-Israel orientation, the hijacking of American foreign policy by the neoconservatives, and the support for Israel coming from important Republican constituencies, such as the evangelical Christians – the decisive factor is George W. Bush’s growing fixation on his legacy as president.

Every occupant of the White House who approaches the end of his second term has similar concerns, naturally enough: they all want to ensure that they not go down in the history books as a failure. But this president, who has had to endure a merciless mocking from the chattering classes over his relative lack of sophistication and general state of unpreparedness for the role of chief executive, has a lot more invested in this than most. He has prided himself on not taking the easy road, swimming against the tide in the hope that history will prove him right – and now, as the end of his reign approaches, he must take history by the throat or else forever lose the opportunity.

The Israeli invasion is one such opportunity. What was surprising about the American response to Tel Aviv’s untrammeled aggression was not that they wholeheartedly endorsed it, but how quickly and pointedly they used the occasion to turn up the heat on Damascus and score points against Tehran. Can they really be thinking about taking on Syria and Iran – even as the Iraqi "model" explodes in a maelstrom of sectarian strife?

Yes, they can, and it’s due, in large degree, to one man’s vanity. In George W. Bush’s case, this is one of his most striking characteristics, which, entwined with his arrogance and stubbornness, seems to define his personality. He doesn’t want to go down in history as George the Clueless: he dreams of being George the Conqueror, the man who had the vision to defy the experts, the media, and the American public, and "liberate" not only Iraq but the entire Middle East.

George W. Bush bears all the ominous hallmarks of a True Believer. Here is a president who, in his last inaugural address, proclaimed "the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Grandiosity doesn’t even begin to describe the presidential mindset – it is more like megalomania – and the abundant danger of such ambition on the part of such a man is all too apparent.

"By our efforts we have lit a fire as well, a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power; it burns those who fight its progress."

The neocons thrilled to those words as the president uttered them in his second inaugural address, but lately, it seemed, the fire had gone out of George. Before the Israelis unleashed their fury on the hapless civilians of Beirut, the War Party, you’ll remember, was in full retreat. Chastened by the failure of the Iraqi misadventure, beleaguered by legal and political problems on the home front – a few indictments, the growing unpopularity of the war – and weakened by defections from their own ranks, the neoconservatives were on the run. In the administration, they were getting out of government – Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith – and in the public square they were keeping a low profile.

Not anymore. A week or so before the invasion, Richard Perle attacked Condi Rice in the Washington Post, signaling neocon disaffection with an administration that seemed to have fallen prey to a paralyzing realism. Iran was being allowed to get away with thumbing its nose at U.S. demands that the mullahs dismantle their nascent nuclear industry. The regime-change campaign aimed at Syria seemed to have fizzled out. In short: the Revolution had been betrayed.

The Israelis changed all that when they started bombing Beirut. The regime-changers once again had their agenda front and center, and the prospect of a conflict with Syria and/or Iran gained instant momentum.

The Revolution, once badly stalled, is revving up its motors, and the War Party is back in its full fighting stance. What is appalling and frightening is that the Democrats are in many cases worse than the Republicans on the Lebanon invasion question: this means there will be no brake on the administration in taking this road to further "regime change" in the Middle East.

Iran is their ultimate goal, but the road to Tehran runs through Damascus, and the preparations for the Syrian campaign have been extensive and very well thought out. They succeeded in pinning the blame for the assassination of Rafik Hariri on the Syrians, even though the evidence seems to contradict this conclusion. The U.S.-Israeli campaign to get the Syrian army kicked out of Lebanon achieved its goal just over a year before the Israelis marched in. This could be serendipity, but here’s another "coincidence" – a week or so before the invasion, the Lebanese announced they had busted a cell of Israeli agents who had been carrying out assassinations in the country. One wonders what a full investigation of their activities would have revealed – if the war hadn’t delayed or obscured it. After all, someone killed Hariri…

The Israelis, in any case, are now destroying Hariri’s legacy – the Beirut he rebuilt after the ravages of the last Israeli assault – and they won’t stop until their masters in Washington start to get antsy. And maybe not even then. In the case of the "special relationship" between Washington and Tel Aviv, it is hard to tell, very often, who is the master and who is the slave. As Professor Paul W. Schroeder put it in The American Conservative, the Iraq war represented "something unique in history":

"It is common for great powers to try to fight wars by proxy, getting smaller powers to fight for their interests. This would be the first instance I know where a great power (in fact, a superpower) would do the fighting as the proxy of a small client state.”

Israel is doing its own fighting – for once – but don’t worry, relief is on the way. The American secretary of state has a plan for a "robust" international force that will take on the job of cleaning out Hezbollah and administering the occupation of a "buffer zone" within Lebanon. We are assured there will be no Americans in this force, but that seems highly improbable. If ever such a force comes into existence and is sent to police the mean streets of south Lebanon, then you can bet your bottom dollar the Yanks are coming, too.

In the meantime, it will take months to organize an international "peacekeeping" mission: this will give the Israelis plenty of time to continue their terror campaign, and perhaps come right to the gates of Beirut. The drama has yet to play itself out, but whatever the outcome, we can be sure that the script was written well in advance.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].