Homage to Herzliya

Asked about a Senate resolution disapproving the “surge” of US troops going into Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney growled: “It won’t stop us.”

The Senate, the House, the Constitution, the American people voting in an election – nothing and no one in this country can stop the War Party. Are you one of the more than two-thirds of Americans who oppose this war, and totally disapprove of the “surge”? Don’t bother seeking redress from your elected representatives in Congress – they long ago abdicated their authority over the military and diplomatic branches of the national security bureaucracy.

In 1952, as the Korean war was raging, the Supreme Court stopped Harry Truman when he invoked “national security” in a bid to nationalize the nation’s steel mills. Congress was more accommodating. When the dwarfish little haberdasher sent troops to Korea without bothering to consult them, our Solons rolled over and purred, in anticipation of a pat on the stomach. Ever since then, the conduct of American foreign policy has been as far removed from popular control as the decrees of an absolute monarch. Every Congress has ceded more authority to the president – except for a brief, post-Vietnam interregnum – until the people’s representatives play only an advisory role when it comes to questions of war and peace.

Who, then, controls the foreign policy of this nation?

Well, there is the president, who has more power than any Roman Emperor ever dreamed of: Caligula only imagined himself to be Jupiter, while George W. Bush has more than a few thunderbolts in his quiver, and, thanks to our supine Congress, can hurl them at will.

There are the president’s courtiers, his advisors, his friends and confidantes. As in any royal court, the idea is to get in a position to whisper in the ear of the king, and there are multitudes of lobbyists vying for this spot. In the foreign policy realm, a great many foreign interests compete for American attention and largess. Of all these, the most successful by far has been the Israel lobby, or, as John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have dubbed it, simply the Lobby – in part, no doubt, because no other foreign interest or pressure group even begins to approach it in terms of Washington clout.

The Lobby used to be a forbidden topic, or, at least, one discussed in low whispers, using code words and knowing winks. We weren’t supposed to say, at least out loud, that Israel, like every other country of consequence, maintains an active lobby in Washington, one which also happens to be the most organized, well-financed, and powerful pressure group when it comes to foreign policy. This kind of clout is measured, in part, by the single largest foreign aid appropriation, allotted to Israel, $3.5 billion yearly. It is also measured in the campaign contributions coming from what Wesley Clark refers to as “the New York money people.”

Clark caused an uproar when he told Arianna Huffington why he was so worried about the prospect of war with Iran:

“When we asked him what made him so sure the Bush administration was headed in this direction, he replied: ‘You just have to read what’s in the Israeli press. The Jewish community is divided but there is so much pressure being channeled from the New York money people to the office seekers.'”

We have seen no more blogging by Gen. Clark at the Huffington Post, and that’s, no doubt, for the same reason I’ve been banished from the blog where Hollywood vapidity and DNC timidity meet and greet. “At one point,” The Huff continues,

“Melinda reminded him that she was taking down everything he said (a fact that would have been hard to miss, since she was taking notes on a not-inconspicuous legal pad). His response: ‘Yes, I know.” For Clark, this is the biggest foreign policy issue facing the US ‘I’m worried about the surge,’ he said. ‘But I’m worried about this even more.'”

Yes, comrade, we’re taking all this down: see you at GPU headquarters. Next stop, the gulag.

Tellingly, the usually voluble Arianna, who has an opinion on virtually every subject, had nothing to say about Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.

Attacked by all the usual suspects, Clark was ably defended by Matt Yglesias. Yglesias, a writer for the American Prospect whose blog is the go-to place for a sober, left-of-center (and pretty consistently noninterventionist) viewpoint, says that everything Clark said is true, and, what’s more, everybody knows it’s true:

“Most major American Jewish organizations cater to the views of extremely wealthy major donors whose political views are well to the right of the bulk of American Jews, one of the most liberal ethnic groups in the country. Furthermore, it’s true that major Jewish organizations are trying to push the country into war. And, last, it’s true that if you read the Israeli press you’ll see that right-wing Israeli politicians are anticipating a military confrontation with Iran.”

For evidence of the war hysteria now sweeping official Israeli circles, readers of the Israeli (and overseas) press will note the attention paid to the seventh annual Herzliya conference, an event attended by top Israeli – and American – leaders, including a surprising number of would-be occupants of the Oval Office. “There is no doubt that the war drums are beating pretty loudly here in Herzliya,” reports Gideon Rachman, the Financial Times foreign correspondent, who was struck by “the number of top Americans who have bothered to come over for the conference.” With US officials Gordon England and Nick Burns as the centerpieces, several serious presidential wannabes decorated the podium: Mitt Romney made a personal appearance, with John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and John Edwards addressing the conference by satellite. “I cannot think of any other country in the world that could summon up this level of American participation for a conference like this,” writes Rachman. “Certainly not Britain.”

Richard Perle, Jim Woolsey, and nutty Newt Gingrich rounded out the speakers list, adding their own notes of individualized hysteria to the chorus of warmongering. “A lot of these chaps,” avers Rachman, “were very prominent in the drive to go to war in Iraq. Now, flushed by their undoubted success there, they are turning their attention to Iran.”

That anyone, at this date, is advocating another war in the Middle East – this time against a country three times the size of Iraq, with a far larger population, and the will to fight – is astonishing. Yet each of these American politicians – major candidates for the highest office in the land – pledged at Herzliya that we would go to war, if necessary, in order to stop the alleged Iranian drive to acquire nukes. Former (and aspiring) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threw out the CIA’s assessment of 10 years before Tehran goes nuclear, and substituted his own: 1,000 days. The supposed imminence of an Iranian mushroom cloud looming over the Israeli skyline imparted a certain apocalyptic air to the proceedings, and the American candidates put on quite a show:

“US presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, John Edwards and John McCain, along with Newt Gingrich, were in Israel, seemingly competing to see who can be most strident in defense of the Jewish state during personal or video appearances at the conference here, just north of Tel Aviv.

“The four politicians called for ways to prevent Iran’s government from acquiring nuclear weapons. While stressing the strong US-Israel ties, the presidential hopefuls all agreed that the US has to ratchet up sanctions on Iran and leave the possibility of a military attack ‘on the table’.”

Romney may have won the hyperbole contest, but the big surprise was Edwards, who came in second with his declaration that preventing Iran from getting nukes is “is the greatest challenge of our generation.” On the same day he ran an ad in Roll Call calling on Congress to oppose the “surge” in Iraq, he was telling the Herzliya conference that “All options are on the table to ensure that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon.”

“At a time when most Democrats in the United States are calling for less military involvement abroad,” notes the Jersusalem Post, “Edwards, of South Carolina, told the Seventh Annual Herzliya Conference on Monday that his country must do everything that it can to stop Iran from possessing nuclear weapons.” His position is that we need to negotiate – while tightening sanctions and never ceasing to threaten them. This marked Edwards as the “moderate” at the conference.

In spite of all the posturing tough talk, the Israelis don’t have the military capacity to take out all of Iran’s suspected nuclear sites in one fell swoop, or even half a dozen swoops: only the United States has the ability to do that. Unable to do it on their own, the Israelis must, somehow, cajole us into doing it for them.

The question is: how is it in American interests to go to war with Iran over this issue? The Iranian mullahs are not about to launch a nuclear first strike at Israel, for all of Bernard Lewis’s visions of a Shi’ite apocalypse. Yes, there is a millennialist mythology in Shi’ite Islam, a mirror image of the end-of-the-world-ism of born-again Christian Rapturists in the West. Both groups support powerful political parties in their respective countries, yet one can hardly conclude, from this, that either the US or Iran is about to attack the other with nuclear weapons.

In any case, there is no threat to America, per se, unless one counts radical “settlers” from Brooklyn squatting on Palestinian land. The “existential threat” – if it can be called that, as it was at the conference – is to Israel, not the US. Yet the Israelis’ hysterical response is way out of proportion to the alleged danger, even given the worst case scenario.

If and when the Iranians produce nuclear weapons, the result will be very similar to what occurred during the cold war, with both sides constrained by the prospect of mutual assured destruction. Professor Lewis to the contrary, the Iranians are not about to indulge in an act of collective suicide by raining nuclear death on Israeli cities. Retaliation would be swift, and merciless.

The Israelis already have nukes, and I don’t see them rushing to abide by – or even sign – the Nonproliferation Treaty. The significance of a nuclearized Iran isn’t the prospect of an Iranian first strike at Israel – highly unlikely is putting it mildly – but Israel’s loss of its regional nuclear monopoly. Iran is making its bid to reassert its historical role as the regional hegemon, or at least positioning to contend for the title with Israel and the US.

The campaign to provoke war with Iran is aimed at maintaining Israeli nuclear supremacy in the Middle East. Americans are supposed to support this because an Israeli first strike at Tehran, or elsewhere in the Arab world, is unthinkable – right? On the other hand, one can easily imagine Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordering the nuking of Tehran, Mecca, and Cairo.

The Lobby has a hard task, and one has to admire them for what they achieved: after all, it is so clearly not in America’s interest to be seen as Israel’s cat’s-paw in the region, yet they have managed to make it so anyway. As Mearsheimer and Walt put it:

“Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.”

When John Edwards, who poses as a peace candidate, declares that we will go to war with Iran before we’ll let them break Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, that should tell us something about how the power of the Lobby has distorted our foreign policy and deformed the American political process. In paying homage to Herzliya, Edwards and his fellow candidates are betraying and subverting American interests.

So why do they do it? Clark’s analysis of the pressure, including financial pressure, is quite accurate: it takes an enormous amount of money to run for president, and there are other pressures as well. Anyone who takes a stand against the Lobby is relentlessly smeared, as were professors Mearsheimer and Walt, and as Gen. Clark is being smeared now.

With a born-again Christian faction in the GOP theologically committed to putting Israeli interests over and above American interests, and big contributors to the Democratic party making unconditional support for Israel a litmus test for candidates, the two-party system keeps the Lobby in the saddle, and politically formidable – in spite of recent troubles having to do with possible violations of the Espionage Act.

Just as we attacked Iraq “motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure,” as Mearsheimer and Walt put it, so we’ll fight the next war – against Iran – for the same reason. The power of the Lobby is being mobilized, and not quietly. While there is some opposition, notably coming from Harry Reid and others who say that the war authorization for Iraq didn’t and doesn’t include Iran, Congress has yet to take any concrete action. In any event, as Dick Cheney put it, “It won’t stop us.”

We seem set on a course for catastrophe, and if there is any way to avoid it – given our rigged political system – the first step must be a public outcry. That’s why I’ve been pushing a measure introduced by Congressman Walter B. Jones, Republican of North Carolina, House Joint Resolution 14, which forbids an attack on Iran by US forces unless our troops or interests are directly attacked first.

Not surprisingly, the Democratic party is a major obstacle to the passage of the Jones resolution. I had a call in to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office last week asking about her position on H.J. Res. 14 – and still no answer. Maybe you can get an answer out of her, one way or the other. Call (2) 225-4965and tell her Justin Raimondo sent you ….

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].