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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

American neocons, WMD Intelligence, and Israel: the Forbidden Topic

We are starting to see burgeoning reports that Lewis Libby’s now infamous July 10 call to Tim Russert was made in order for Libby to complain to Russert about MSNBC’s Chris Matthews’s anti-war commentaries, and specifically to complain that at least some of Matthews’ beliefs, and his mere use of the term “neocon,” were anti-Semitic. Libby apparently believed this -- or at least said he believed this -- because Matthews was openly questioning whether one of the motivations for the war was a desire on the part of the “neo-cons” to bolster the security of Israel by ridding the world of one of Israel's most threatening menaces, Saddam Hussein.

This report coincides with other newly emerging reports showing who the prime movers and shakers were when it came to creating, shaping and disseminating the pre-war WMD intelligence which we now know was false, and which played such a critical role in convincing American citizens to support the waging of war in Iraq. The vast preponderance of those in the Government and media at the heart of the WMD fiasco are exactly those individuals who are most zealous in their devotion to Israel and its security.

As Michael Kinsley long ago pointed out, the large white elephant in the room when it comes to in Iraq -- which causes people to tread very lightly, when they are brave enough to raise it at all -- is always Israel, and the role which that country and its most fervent American supporters played in selling this war to American citizens. But as the other rationales for this war are gradually (though inexorably) being discredited and washed away, and as public and Congressional scrutiny of pre-war intelligence fiascos is finally picking up steam, there is no way to avoid a frank discussion of this topic any longer, nor should we try to avoid it.

After all, if, as a clear majority of Americans now believes, the Administration knew that its pre-war WMD claims were false while they were making those claims, then the question naturally arises once again, now with greater urgency than ever: what was the real motivation behind the Administration's obviously urgent desire to wage war no matter what against Saddam Hussein? If it wasn’t to eliminate a regime on the verge of acquiring nuclear capabilities, then what accounted for the outright, bulging eagerness to fight this war?

Prior to the war, Chris Matthews was one of a tiny group of commentators brave enough to question whether a primary motivation for the war, at least among some prominent pro-war activists in government and media, was a desire to benefit Israel. Mickey Kaus has raised the same possibility, but only in order to say that he does not believe it (and to defend those who do believe it against charges of anti-Semitism). Commentators who have forecefully advanced this theory, led by Pat Buchanan, have been declared unfit to even participate in decent, mainstream dialogue.

The term which came to be used by Matthews, Kaus, Buchanan and others to describe this most zealous group of pro-war supporters is, of course, “neo-conservatives,” and this term has become the foundation for our collective unwillingness to explore this topic. We talk about it implicitly and in code, but almost never openly and frankly, and therefore almost never constructively.

What accounts for this climate of fear when it comes to discussing this issue is that the ranks of prominent, influential neo-conservatives, both in the Government and the media, are disproportionately Jewish. But what really defines this group is not that they are Jewish, which is merely incidental, but that they are zealous, fanatical, pro-Israeli crusaders -- crusaders for both that country generally and militarily aggressive Israeli political policies specifically. That is the tie that binds neo-conservatives when it comes to Israel, and it is that attribute, rather than their Jewishness, which compels a discussion of the motives of these most passionate pro-war advocates.

It is beyond dispute that for many of the most prominent and influential pro-war advocates in the Administration and the media -- as well as those at the heart of the pre-war creation and dissemination of the false WMD intelligence -- a substantial chunk of their their careers, and their world-view, is devoted to the security and prosperity of Israel. As Daniel Benjamin reported yesterday in Slate:

In fact, the bad intel came largely out of something called the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which reported to Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith. This group consisted of just two people: Michael Maloof, a controversial former aide to Richard Perle whose security clearances were eventually suspended, and David Wurmser, a longtime neoconservative advocate of toppling Saddam Hussein. (Since late 2003, Wurmser has worked in OVP.)
And after the “bad intel” was created and shaped, it was then packaged, disseminated and sold to the public through prominent pro-war zealots such as Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard, Charles Krauthammer at The Washington Post, and Judith Miller at The New York Times.

The individuals at the heart of the pre-war selling of the war have a deep emotional bond with Israel. For years before 9/11, many of them were vigorously and actively crusading to have war waged in order to get rid of Saddam. And there is simply no reasonable person who can dispute that getting rid of Saddam was one of the most pressing and important goals for Israeli national security. As historian Stanley Hoffman put it prior to the commencement of the war:
These analysts look at foreign policy through the lens of one dominant concern: Is it good or bad for Israel? Since that nation's founding in 1948, these thinkers have never been in very good odor at the State Department, but now they are well ensconced in the Pentagon, around such strategists as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith.

Under these circumstances, and in light of all of these facts, it is not only reasonable, but unavoidable, to ask whether these intensely pro-Israeli individuals became such zealous advocates of the war and played such a critical role in causing it to happen at least in part because that war would be so monumentally, even incomparably, beneficial to the security of Israel.

The alternative view -- that it was a complete but overwhelmingly lucky coincidence that they just happened to become the principal advocates and architects for an American war which (hey-what-do-you-know?) would result in incomparable benefits for Israel -- seems quite improbable, to put it mildly. At the very least, it is a question which on its face demands an examination. The question of what the true reasons are for why we went to war in Iraq is self-evidently important. And yet the glaringly obvious possibility that we did so, at least in part, to benefit Israel, has been all but placed off-limits.

That this is an extremely sensitive topic is understandable. Depicting Jews as creating secret cabals to covertly shape other nations’ policies for the good of international Jewry has long been a favorite weapon wielded by actual anti-Semites. And accusing prominent Jews in the government and media of wanting to spend America’s treasure and send its soldiers to die -- all for the good of Israel -- is about as explosive, and dangerous, as it gets.

And here, the question is even thornier than that, because many of these individuals were not only among the most prominent advocates of the war, but were the central figures in disseminating, both inside the Administration and ultimately to the American people, the false WMD intelligence which convinced Americans to support this war.

The issue, then, is not just whether they advocated an American war for the benefit of Israel, but whether they did so by deliberately misleading and deceiving Americans, and perhaps even its President, into fighting this war by manufacturing intelligence which we know now was false.

In one sense, this picture is an anti-Semite’s dream. It comports perfectly, disturbingly so, with one of the most toxic and destructive smears historically used by anti-Semites to turn citizens against their nation’s Jews. This fact is, to be sure, one of the reasons why there is such a great and understandable reluctance, really a great fear, to discuss this issue at all.

Nonetheless, the fact that a stereotype is false and offensive standing alone as a generalization does not mean that the accusation underlying it cannot be applied accurately and fairly in specific cases.

To assert as a generality that black males are criminal is false and offensive; to assert that a particular black male who rapes and kills is a criminal is simply true. To assert as a generality that Muslims are violent terrorists is false and offensive; to accuse specific Muslims who blow up buildings of engaging in terrorism because of their devotion to radical Islam is simply true.

Thus, the use by anti-Semites of the “secret cabal” stereotype against Jews should not and must not prevent us from asking whether particular individuals at the highest levels of our Government and in the most influential positions in our media were motivated by a desire to benefit Israel when advocating and enabling this American war. The existence of an odious stereotype which is false and offensive as a generalization does not and should preclude accusations against specific individuals where the evidence warrants those accusations.

Notably, many of the same people who are demanding that the riots in Paris be expressly attributed to the Islamic political views of the rioters are the same ones insisting that it is wrong and offensive to attribute pro-Iraq-war advocacy to the pro-Israeli views of the war advocates.

The real scandal here is that the very people whose pre-war conduct has been called into question have tried to exploit this sensitivity by making it impossible for anyone to discuss the topic openly. They have even gone so far as to try to impose a virtual ban on the mere discussion of “neo-conservatives” by outrageously accusing anyone who even utters the phrase of being guilty of anti-Semitism.

It is not only outrageous, but also quite revealing, that there has been such a concerted effort to create a climate where open discussion of this quite pressing issue cannot take place because people are too afraid of being labeled a bigot if they talk about it. Apparently, Lewis Libby actively engaged this tactic, believing that anyone who even uttered the term “neo-conservative” is an anti-Semite.

And now, according to reports, we have Libby, an extremely senior and powerful Government official, calling Russert, the bureau chief of a national television news network, for the purpose of trying to silence an Administration critic by calling his criticism anti-Semitic, all in order to prevent that critic from even mentioning the existence of neo-conservatives and/or the role which pro-Israeli sentiments played in the Administration’s decision to wage this war. That strikes me as being at least as scandalous as -- and far more consequential than -- the obstruction and perjury offenses for which Libby has now been indicted. Isn't it rather disturbing that a top government official is calling a network news bureau chief to complain about anti-war opinions being expressed on the ground that those opinions are anti-Semitic?

Neo-conservatives have largely attempted to diffuse the issue not by engaging the debate but by suppressing it in advance, through a combination of the precise methods of intimidation and name-calling which those on the Right routinely (and rightfully) condemn when used against them. Neo-conservatives have created a climate whereby to even raise the issue of their pro-Israeli motives is to inevitably provoke harsh accusations of anti-Semitism. Is it really any surprise that no real discussion of this facially important issue has occurred?

The few who do seek to engage and refute this idea almost invariably do so by blatantly distorting the issue and then arguing against the obvious straw-men they create. Yes, there were and are vigorous pro-war advocates, both in the Government and media, who are not Jewish. And yes, there were certainly other reasons why people thought this war was a good idea. And yes, it is quite possible, and even likely, that many of the war supporters motivated by pro-Israeli sentiments had others reasons for supporting the war as well, including noble reasons such as a genuine belief that the war was necessary for U.S. national security.

But none of those assertions negates, or even undermines, the notion that pro-Israeli objectives were an important cause in the Administration waging this war. Nobody is suggesting that the only advocates of the war were Jews seeking to benefit Israel or that there were no other cited reasons to wage this war beyond a desire to bolster Israeli security. The question being raised is whether a desire to bolster Israeli national security was a substantial factor motivating the architects and advocates of this war.

As the ostensible rationale for this war becomes more and more discredited; as more Americans are dying and more American treasure is being squandered in Iraq for reasons that are less and less clear every day; and as the integrity and honesty (rather than merely the judgment) of the war advocates are increasingly called into question, it is not only reasonable, but necessary, that Americans understand the real motives behind this war and the real reasons why its advocates wanted this war so badly.

To obtain that understanding, a free and frank discussion must be permitted to flourish, and no reasonable possibilities should be off-limits. One simply cannot avoid observing that so many of the most influential Administration officials responsible for the false WMD claims have also long had at the top of their agenda the perpetuation of policies designed to help Israel. Nor can one avoid observing that the most vocal True Believers of the war in the media have a similar agenda.

Given these facts, it is long past time that the prohibition on a discussion of this issue be lifted. The intelligence behind this war was created and then sold to the American people (and perhaps to the President), in large part, by a group of government officials and media pundits who openly have the protection and advancement of Israeli interests at the top of their agenda. In attempting to understand why we waged war and how Americans were convinced to support it, this is a discussion which can no longer be suppressed.

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