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, July 15, 2006

Is Israel's war also "our war"?

(updated below - updated again)

A very significant development is occurring in how neoconservatives are discussing America's responsibilities in the Middle East: they are now expressly advocating, far more openly than ever before, that Israel's enemies are America's enemies, and that the war which Israel is now fighting is also America's war -- one in which America should immediately intervene. I will write my own reactions to this view later, but for now, I want to simply document the emergence of this argument in very influential circles.

In the past, neoconservatives have danced delicately around the notion that Israel's conflicts should be viewed by the U.S. as its own conflicts. But, to his credit, Bill Kristol yesterday came right out and candidly put his views on the table. In the Weekly Standard, Kristol's column -- entitled "This is Our War" (by "Our" he means the U.S.) -- argues explicitly what many have contended for some time is an unstated belief of neoconservatives: that the U.S. should view the threats to Israel as threats to the U.S., because the enemy is the same, and should join Israel in the destruction of these enemies. Kristol actually argues that President Bush should immediately abandon the G-8 summit in Russia and fly to Jerusalem in order to stand by Israel, in "our" new war, which should be waged against Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, for starters. This article is very significant and I am quoting from it at length:

What's happening in the Middle East, then, isn't just another chapter in the Arab-Israeli conflict. What's happening is an Islamist-Israeli war. You might even say this is part of the Islamist war on the West--but is India part of the West? Better to say that what's under attack is liberal democratic civilization, whose leading representative right now happens to be the United States. . . .

The war against radical Islamism is likely to be a long one. Radical Islamism isn't going away anytime soon. But it will make a big difference how strong the state sponsors, harborers, and financiers of radical Islamism are. Thus, our focus should be less on Hamas and Hezbollah, and more on their paymasters and real commanders--Syria and Iran. And our focus should be not only on the regional war in the Middle East, but also on the global struggle against radical Islamism.

For while Syria and Iran are enemies of Israel, they are also enemies of the United States. We have done a poor job of standing up to them and weakening them. They are now testing us more boldly than one would have thought possible a few years ago. Weakness is provocative. We have been too weak, and have allowed ourselves to be perceived as weak. . . .

The right response is renewed strength--in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel, and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran. For that matter, we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait?

But such a military strike would take a while to organize. In the meantime, perhaps President Bush can fly from the silly G8 summit in St. Petersburg--a summit that will most likely convey a message of moral confusion and political indecision--to Jerusalem, the capital of a nation that stands with us, and is willing to fight with us, against our common enemies. This is our war, too.

Bill Kristol is one of the most influential neonconservative pundits in the country, if not the most influential, and the fact that he is openly advocating this world-view means that we will be seeing much more of it from the neoconservative precincts which led us into the invasion of Iraq. Already, John Podhoretz in National Review is excitedly celebrating Kristol's argument, and Michael Ledeen is already complaining that the Administration hasn't yet thrown the U.S. militarily into this new war, where we have whole new enemies -- Iran and Syria -- waiting to be attacked:

But we have not heard anything about "seizing the moment." We hear lawyer talk and diplotalk, surrender talk and appeasement talk, and there is no action whatsoever. Is this not the time to go after the terrorist training camps in Syria and Iran? What in the world are we waiting for?

And finally, if we dither through this one, the next one will be worse. Maybe much worse. It's not going away. Stability is a mirage. Chamberlain had a choice between dishonor and war. He chose war and got dishonor. You too, Mr. President. It's the way it works.

And then, from John Hinderaker at Powerline, where the excitement over this conflict is palpable -- they really think this is, finally, our big chance to expand our war beyond Iraq, where things are going really well, into Syria and Iran -- we find this:

Robert Satloff's analysis in the new issue of the Weekly Standard anticipates the direct Iranian involvement in the conflict: . . . .

Defeat for Israel--either on the battlefield or via coerced compromises to achieve flawed cease-fires--is a defeat for U.S. interests; it will inspire radicals of every stripe, release Iran and Syria to spread more mayhem inside Iraq, and make more likely our own eventual confrontation with this emboldened alliance of extremists.

It should go without saying that one can believe that Israel is within its rights to defend itself against Hezbollah without also believing that the U.S. should become involved in this extraordinarily flammable conflict. But these neoconservatives don't recognize that distinction. As they are now expressly arguing, Israel's enemies are America's enemies, and this war being waged by Israel ought to become America's war -- and the sooner the better.

I believe it is obvious to most Americans, who have turned completely on the war in Iraq, that it is sheer lunacy to expand that failed war effort to now include American war on even more countries -- including more powerful ones with more powerful allies, such as Iran -- let alone to do so as part of, and in the middle of, an Arab-Israeli war. But if there is one lesson that we ought to have learned over the past several years, it is that there is no militaristic proposal too crazed or extremist to be undertaken by this administration. And anyone who thinks that these neoconservatives now lack real influence within the Bush administration is sorely mistaken.

UPDATE: At Obsidian Wings, Hilzoy has a thoughtful and lengthy analysis of the new war in the Middle East. Without endorsing all of its particulars, she presents a balanced and rational view of what is motivating each party, something which is quite difficult to do for most people when writing about that region.

UPDATE II: I also read this analysis of the Middle East conflict by Billmon yesterday and meant to link to it, because it is superb (again, without necessarily agreeing with each of its claims), and was just reminded to do so by someone who mentioned it in Comments. And I equally recommend Billmon's second post from yesterday on the surprising military adeptness of Hezbollah thus far and what that means for Israel and the region.

UPDATE III: Nobody should take comfort in thinking that a desire for the U.S. to intervene in Israel's war is confined to extremist neoconservative circles. Here is Bush 41 Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger -- generally considered a grown-up foreign policy adult -- with Wolf Blitzer yesterday (h/t Elton Beard via e-mail):

EAGLEBURGER: Finally, I would say so long as the Iranians can put arms into -- into Hezbollah through Syria, I think we have a continuing problem. And I, for a long time have felt we had to get much tougher with the Syrians than we are now. It may be that the Iraq issue has made it more difficult for us to get tough. But the Syrians...

BLITZER: What does that mean, Mr. Secretary...

EAGLEBURGER: Well, what it means to me is that we, for one thing, ought to be putting real pressure on their border with Iraq more than we are, and I think putting economic pressure on them. And frankly, I don't care as well, if we go in along with the Israelis and drop a few bombs on them.

The mindless casualness with which such people blithely advocate starting a new war -- like it's no different that deciding what one will eat for dinner tomorrow -- is breathtaking. There is an influential and determined minority out there craving U.S. intervention in this war. They are searching for any means to expand the war in Iraq to additional countries, all as part of our Epic War of Civilizations, and given their past success in inducing the U.S. to invade Iraq, I think it's a mistake to assume that what they are advocating is too extreme and self-evidently disastrous to become a reality.

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