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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.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Enforced orthodoxies and Iran

(updated below)

On Thursday, the neoconservative New York Sun published a remarkable article reporting on an event to be held that night by AIPAC, at which Hillary Clinton was to deliver the keynote address and John Edwards was to appear at the pre-speech cocktail party. The article made several points which are typically deemed off-limits to opponents of neoconservatism -- ones which almost invariably provoke accusations of anti-semitism when made by others.

First, the Sun noted how important AIPAC's support and financial contributions are to presidential candidates:

"When it comes to important gatherings like this, there is going to be a lot of pressure on the major candidates to not let one of their competitors have the room to themselves," a Democratic strategist [and former Joe Lieberman aide], Daniel Gerstein, said.

Tonight's event is the first time any of the 2008 candidates have competed for attention in the same room since they launched their campaigns in earnest. It is also an important illustration of just how much stock all of the presidential candidates, Democrats and Republicans alike, will put in the pro- Israel community, particularly for campaign dollars.

Then, the Sun emphasized how vital it was for presidential candidates to attract contributions from New York Jewish groups generally, and how such contributions (as is true for all interest groups) are available only to those candidates who support those groups' so-called "pro-Israel" agenda:

A Democratic political consultant who worked on President Clinton 's re-election campaign, Hank Sheinkopf, noted that the Aipac dinner always draws a parade of politicians.

New York is the ATM for American politicians. Large amounts of money come from the Jewish community," he said. "If you're running for president and you want dollars from that group, you need to show that you're interested in the issue that matters most to them."

And, according to the Sun, what do presidential candidates have to do in order to ensure access to "the ATM for American politicians" -- the "large amounts of money from the Jewish community" in New York? What is the "issue that matters most to them"? Belligerence towards Iran:

Indeed, how to deal with Iran is likely to be the next majority foreign policy conundrum the 2008 presidential candidates face.

While Mr. Edwards and Mrs. Clinton have different positions on how to deal with the Iraq war, each has used harsh language on Iran.

The Sun also highlighted how vital (what it calls) "the circuit of influential Jewish donors" is to Hillary Clinton specifically:

Mrs. Clinton, who has opted out of the public campaign financing system, has tapped into the circuit of influential Jewish donors for years and has strong support in the community. A spokesman for Aipac, Joshua Block, said yesterday that the senator and former first lady has "an extremely consistent and strong record of support on issues that are important to the pro- Israel community."

"She is an extraordinary leader on those issues in the United States Senate," he said.

So, according to The New York Sun (and the sources it cites): (1) financial support from groups like AIPAC is indispensable for presidential candidates; (2) the New York Jewish community of "influential" donors is a key part of the "ATM for American politicians"; (3) the issue which they care about most is Iran; and (4) they want a hawkish, hard-line position taken against Iran. And the presidential candidates -- such as Clinton and Edwards -- are embracing AIPAC's anti-Iran position in order to curry favor with that group.

If any public figure made those same points, they would be excoriated, accused of all sorts of heinous crimes, and forced into repentance rituals (ask Wes Clark). But this is what the New York Sun reported on Thursday.

As expected, Sen. Clinton matched Edwards' hard-line anti-Iran rhetoric by including all sorts of hawkish threats in her AIPAC speech:

Calling Iran a danger to the U.S. and one of Israel's greatest threats, U.S. senator and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said "no option can be taken off the table" when dealing with that nation. . . . "We need to use every tool at our disposal, including diplomatic and economic in addition to the threat and use of military force," she said.

But according to the equally neoconservative New York Post, Clinton's speech was poorly received by many of the AIPAC members, because she committed the crime of suggesting that diplomacy (presumably as opposed to war) ought to be attempted first in order to resolve these issues with Iran:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton drew grumbles at a pro-Israel dinner in Times Square last night when she encouraged "engaging" with Iran before taking stronger action to keep it nuke-free. . . .

Clinton's remarks at the Marriott Marquis were met with little applause, and after she left the stage, several people said they were put off by the presidential candidate. "This is the wrong crowd to do that with," said one person at the dinner, noting the pro-Israel crowd wanted to hear tougher rhetoric.

Is there anything that Wes Clark said that is not included in these articles from the Sun and the Post? No, there is not. In fact, what Clark said is but a small subset of what these articles documented.

It is simply true that there are large and extremely influential Jewish donor groups which are agitating for a U.S. war against Iran, and that is the case because those groups are devoted to promoting Israel's interests and they perceive it to be in Israel's interests for the U.S. to militarily confront Iran. That is what the Sun and the Post have made clear.

There is just no point in denying that or pretending it is not the case, and in any event, the way in which these groups have ratcheted up their explicit anti-Iran advocacy has made it impossible for these facts to be concealed any longer (and, as I have noted before, neoconservatives have been increasingly arguing that American Jews of all political stripes are compelled to support the Bush administration because of its supposedly "pro-Israel" policies -- a claim grounded in the very "dual loyalty" theories which they claim to find so offensive and outrageous when advanced by others).

It goes without saying that there are other factions and motives behind the push for war with Iran besides right-wing Jewish groups. There is the generic warmongering, militarism and oil-driven expansionism represented by Dick Cheney. And there are the post-9/11 hysterics and bigots who crave ever-expanding warfare and slaughter of Muslims in the Middle East for reasons having nothing to do with Israel. There are evangelical Christians who crave more Middle Eastern war on religious and theological grounds, and there are some who just believe that the U.S. can and should wage war against whatever countries seem not like to us. And, it should also be noted, a huge portion of American Jews, if not the majority, do not share this agenda.

Nonetheless, the influence of self-proclaimed "pro-Israeli" American Jewish groups in helping to push the country into what looks more and more every day to be an inevitable conflict with Iran is very significant and cannot be ignored. Along those lines, I want to return to the David Brooks column which I wrote about on Thursday -- a column I criticized on the ground that Brooks falsely asserted, in essence, that "Americans" want continued U.S. military domination of the Middle East, and that the disaster of Iraq hasn't changed their views on that topic, even though polling data show precisely the opposite.

Despite all of that, Brooks did make a point which is both true and important -- namely, that among all of the leading presidential candidates, and within the dominant American political discourse, the only view that is really represented is the view that America should continue to militarily dominate the Middle East:

Americans are having a debate about how to proceed in Iraq, but we are not having a strategic debate about retracting American power and influence. What’s most important about this debate is what doesn’t need to be said. No major American leader doubts that America must remain, as Dean Acheson put it, the locomotive of the world.

Look at the leaders emerging amid this crisis. The two major Republican presidential contenders are John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, the most aggressive internationalists in a party that used to have an isolationist wing.

The Democrats, meanwhile, campaigned for Congress in 2006 by promising to increase the size of the military. The presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton, is the leader of the party’s hawkish wing and recently called for a surge of U.S. troops into Afghanistan. John Edwards, the most “leftward” major presidential contender, just delivered a bare-knuckled speech in which he castigated the Bush administration for not being tough enough with Iran. “To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep all options on the table,” Edwards warned.

Even though Americans do not support military intervention in the Middle East on behalf of Israel, and fewer and fewer support military adventurism in the Middle East generally, Brooks is right about the fact that all of the leading presidential candidates embrace the militaristic Middle East agenda shared by AIPAC and similar groups. Who are the candidates who reject it? Any who would are immediately marginalized and would be subjected to the Wes Clark treatment (i.e., demonized as an anti-semite unless and until they repented, appeared before Abe Foxman to request absolution, repudiated their views, and then took an oath of allegiance to that agenda). And they would be cut off from what Hank Sheinkopf called the "ATM for American politicians."

Thus, no leading presidential candidate seems able to articulate clear opposition to the militaristic, war-seeking posture we are obviously taking with regard to Iran. Instead, they are all spouting rhetoric which -- as Digby pointed out last night -- amounts to an endorsement, or at least a re-inforcement, of the Bush Doctrine: namely, that preemptive war is permissible in general and may be specifically necessarily against Iran. Regardless of whether there is merit in the abstract to the notion of "keeping all options on the table," this sort of talk now has the effect, as Digby argues, of enabling Bush's increasingly war-provoking moves towards Iran.

There is a real, and quite disturbing, discrepancy between the range of permissible views on these issues within our mainstream political discourse and the views of a large segment of the American public. The former almost completely excludes the latter.

That has to change and quickly. In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, we did not have a real debate in this country about whether that was wise or just. Cartoon images and bullying tactics supplanted rational discourse -- not only prior to the invasion but for several years after -- and we are paying the very heavy price for that now. That is simply not a luxury that the country can afford this time. It is genuinely difficult to imagine anything more cataclysmic for the United States than a military confrontation with Iran.

If part of our motivation in confronting Iran is that Iran is a threat to Israel, then we should declare that openly and debate whether that is wise. That topic cannot be rendered off-limits by toxic and manipulative anti-semitism accusations. All the time, Americans openly debate the influence which all sorts of interest groups have on government policy. There is nothing, in substance, different about this topic.

Just as is true for Iraq, we have been subjected to a carousel of ever-changing, unrelated "justifications" as to why Iran is our mortal enemy against whom war is necessary. First was the alarm-ringing over Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. Then, the President began featuring the (highly misleading) claim that Iran is the "leading sponsor of international terrorism." That was followed by an unrelenting emphasis on the ugly statements from Iran's President (but not its "leader"), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Now the emphasis has shifted to Iran's alleged (but entirely unproven and apparently overstated) fueling of the civil war in Iraq.

The only clear fact that emerges from this morass of war-fueling claims is that there are significant and influential factions within the country which want to drive the U.S. to wage war against Iran and change its government. What matters to them is that this goal is achieved. The "justifications" which enable it do not seem to matter at all. Whatever does the trick will be used. Candid and explicit debates over these issues -- and clear, emphatic opposition to the course the President is clearly pursuing with regard to Iran -- is urgently necessary.

If all we have are the type of delicate, fear-driven, partial "debates" which we had over Iraq and the muddled, ambivalent, politically fearful positions from our political leaders that preceded the Iraq invasion, then we will have the same result with Iran as we had with Iraq. And there just is no more pressing priority than ensuring that does not happen. But, at this point at least, one searches in vain for the political leaders who are committed to stopping it. The Wes Clark humiliation and punishment ritual was intended to deter exactly such opposition, and it seems to be achieving its objective rather well.

UPDATE: The very same New York Sun today publishes an article -- headlined Imagining a War with Iran -- that begins with this sentence: "With America heading toward a war with Iran, inadvertent or otherwise, the picture of how the conflict is likely to pan out is becoming clearer." The article then proceeds to describe how the war will play out.

On a related note, Powerline's Scott Johnson points to an article from Heather Robinson, who attended the AIPAC event and is angry over Hillary's suggestion that war with Iran may not be necessary:
"But while Hillary’s rhetoric of 'engagement' may sound good, the community of anti-terror activists and Israel-supporters must realize that, at the most basic level, engaging with people who wish your destruction–and are actively working to achieve it–means strengthening a pernicious enemy."

UPDATE II: The American Jewish Committee commissioned a poll late last year to ascertain the views of American Jews on various foreign policy matters, and found (h/t EJ):

Support among Jews for an American military strike against Iran has declined during the past year, according to an annual survey of American Jewish opinion released Monday.

The survey, commissioned by the American Jewish Committee, found that only 38% of American Jews support American military action, down from 49% last year.

And, of course, 3 out of 4 American Jews voted against George Bush in 2004, notwithstanding the fact that (or because) Bush's Middle East militarism was a predominant issue in the campaign. Despite their influence, Jewish neoconservatives and groups like AIPAC are highly unrepresentative of American Jews as a whole. Those facts only further undescore the baselessness and pure malice driving the attempt to equate opposition to their agenda with "anti-semitism."

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