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The neoconservative
smoke screen



The idea that the invasion of Iraq is aimed at aiding Israel and that the driving force consists of Likudnik neocons has started to penetrate the public consciousness, so neoconservatives have brought out heavy defensive artillery to silence all such talk by blasting it with the lethal charge of anti-Semitism.

To lend their defense greater credibility, neocon defenders have gleefully seized on the broad-brush charge of Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) that Jews were bringing about the war. But to transmute the argument that neocon Likudniks are the driving force of war into "the Jews are leading the United States into war" requires considerable sleight of hand. The defenders imply that in blaming neocons, the anti-war critics are using "neoconservative" as a code word for Jews. [1] Since people of various political outlooks and national origins — including such disparate figures as Chris Matthews, Georgie Anne Geyer, Robert Novak, Michael Kinsley, Robert Fisk, Eric Margolis, Scott McConnell, Jude Wanniski, Jim Lobe, Kathleen and Bill Christison, Joshua Micah Marshall, Dana Milbank, Justin Raimondo, Michael Lerner, Patrick Buchanan, and Robert Novak — have identified the pro-Likudnik neoconservatives as a leading force for the war, the neocon defenders are implying an anti-Semitic plot far vaster than Hillary Clinton's vast right-wing conspiracy, which after all was limited to only one end of the conventional political spectrum. [2]

But the fact is that in attacking the alleged claim that "the Jews" are behind the war, the neocon defenders are lambasting a claim that is simply not being made by the critics of the neoconservatives. The defenders, in short, are flailing at a straw demon of their own making.

Paul Gottfried, who is the preeminent historian of neoconservatism (and who happens to be Jewish), points out:

No one who is sane is claiming that all Jews are collaborating with Richard Perle and Bill Kristol. What is being correctly observed is a convergence of interests in which neoconservatives have played a pivotal role. At this point they control almost all Beltway "conservative" think tanks, the "conservative" TV channel, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and several major presses, together with just about every magazine that claims to be conservative. [3]


Neocon Denial

Beyond leveling the charge of anti-Semitism, defenders offer a number of distinct arguments to counter the contention that neocons were in the forefront of the move toward war. The defense begins with a semantic argument that there is no such thing as a neoconservative — that the people the critics brand as neoconservatives are simply conservatives and that they simply hold conventional conservative positions. [4] However, that neoconservatism actually exists is illustrated by a considerable literature, which the current defenders make no effort to refute. [5]

There is a (rather nasty) germ of truth in what the Neocon Deniers say. Knowledgeable observers know that the conservative movement was taken over by neoconservatives. As Gottfried puts it: "The neocons absorbed the Right." ("Goldberg Is Not the Worst") Thus, the conservatism of today hardly resembles conservatism as it existed prior to the neoconservative takeover. That is especially so in the realm of foreign policy. But today's conservatism does resemble the interventionist pro-Israeli foreign-policy views of the self-confessed neoconservatives in the 1970s.

In contrast to the global interventionism of current so-called conservatives, traditional conservatives tended to be noninterventionist, though believing that the United States had to stop what they saw as the Global Communist Conspiracy. Conservatives today have taken on the idea of forcibly establishing democracy around the world — an extremely radical agenda that is the polar opposite of conservatism. The notion of exporting democracy has always been anathema to traditional conservatives, even during the Cold War. In part, that opposition reflects the Burkean idea that societies are organic entities that cannot be radically improved by social engineering. It is incongruous that conservatives who were skeptical of schemes to remake American society should have come to believe that it is possible to remake the society of Iraq. Naturally, conservatives of a libertarian or limited-government mindset do not believe that governments have the right to remake societies in the United States, Iraq, or anywhere else.

What conservatism is today is different from what conservatism used to be but is very similar to what neoconservatism was in the 1970s, when everyone, neocons and their critics alike, agreed that there was such a thing as neoconservatism and that it was distinct from mainstream conservatism. [6]


Don't all God's children support Israel?

Neocon Max Boot begins his article, "What the Heck is a 'Neocon'?", by questioning the validity of the term "neoconservative" but then makes a 180-degree turn, using the term and even acknowledging that neoconservatives are pro-Israel. However, Boot argues that "support for Israel — a key tenet of neoconservatism — is hardly confined to Jews; its strongest constituency in America happens to be among evangelical Christians."

That some other people besides neocons support Israel is, of course, irrelevant. The relevant factor is the necons' special influence. Over and above their significant role in media and the culture in general, some of them serve in key foreign-policy advisory positions in the Bush administration. Boot even acknowledges that the national security strategy of the Bush administration "sounds as if it could have come straight from the pages of Commentary magazine, the neocon bible." Now, one might be forgiven for deducing that the neocon national-security bigwigs in the Bush regime must have had something to do with formulating its national-security strategy, which Boot, in fact, describes as neoconservative.

Jonah Goldberg, one of National Review's many neocons, also acknowledges the pro-Israel positions of the neoconservatives but pooh-poohs their significance. "I don't dispute that Jewish-American conservatives might see the world a bit differently than (sic), say, Irish-American ones," Goldberg opines. "Buchanan & co. giggle with excitement over their brave declaration that Jewish conservatives are pro-Israel. Well, who could deny such a thing?" [7] Goldberg's position on neocon support for Israel can be boiled down to, "It's true, but so what?" It is questionable whether Goldberg would draw the same conclusion if the influential individuals were Arab-Americans connected with Saudi Arabia.

After acknowledging the fact of the neocon identification with Israel, however, Goldberg brings out the anti-Semitic straw demon: "But they [the anti-war critics] don't say Jewish conservatives are in favor of war, they say 'the Jews' are in favor of war. They loudly invoke the hook-nosed roll call of Wolfowitz, Perle, Abrams, and — before he joined National Review — David Frum."


The sincerity plea

Once it is acknowledged that Jewish neoconservatives identify with Israeli interests, the defense shifts to the contention that neocons sincerely believe they are acting in behalf of American interests, and that only anti-Semitism could make anyone think otherwise. Goldberg writes: "But maybe instead of Richard Perle secretly receiving orders from Ariel Sharon, he might actually believe what he says. After all, if the 'Dark Prince' thinks it's in America's interest to risk American blood and treasure in defense of our Taiwanese or South Korean allies, is it so treasonous that he might think we should do it for our Israeli ones as well?"

Since we cannot really probe individual minds, we may grant that neoconservatives genuinely believe that their Middle East interventionist policies will help America — that eliminating all of Israel's enemies and making Israel supreme in the Middle East will actually aid the United States. While it is all conceivably true, it is not really relevant. Undoubtedly, the German and Irish anti-interventionists of 1917 believed that a policy of nonintervention would benefit the United States; undoubtedly many members of the German American Bund really believed that support for Nazi Germany would aid the United States. But the evident sincerity of such people does not prevent historians from concluding that their views were colored by their ethnic backgrounds and their identification with foreign countries.

Just as undoubtedly, those Cuban-Americans who want to see the embargo of Cuba continued until the fall of Castroism believe that such a policy will help the United States — but at the same time it is commonplace to attribute their views to their Cuban ethnicity. And when, in 1952, GM president Charles E. Wilson uttered the immortal line: "What is good for the country is good for General Motors, and what's good for General Motors is good for the country," sophisticated folk managed to deduce that his view was probably affected by his corporate position. (Wilson became secretary of defense under Eisenhower, so apparently dual loyalties are not too uncommon in that post.)

In an analogy to the Wilson case, some leading neocons associated with the Bush administration, namely Perle, David Wurmser, and Douglas Feith, not only have been longtime supporters of Israel and advocates of a war against Iraq but have even pushed the war policy as advisors to Benjamin Netanyahu. In short, just as Wilson was an employee of General Motors, Perle, Wurmser, and Feith were employees of the Israeli Likud. It is apparent that their identification with Likud policies goes far beyond the mere desire for monetary benefits — though Richard Perle, for one, is not averse to war profiteering. [8]

For neocon-defender Tony Blankley, who is 100 percent gentile, the don't-question-motives standard apparently applies exclusively to Jews: "And there is one other tradition being overturned: the inadmissibility in polite company of questioning the patriotism of Jews. This last tradition, born as the world saw the unspeakable business of the gas chambers and ovens of Auschwitz and Dachau, has for a half a century kept at bay the ancient, always-lurking wolf of anti-Semitism." [9] To Blankley the possible return of the gas chambers is a far graver danger than the impending holocaust in the Middle East. [Editor's note. Blankley can relax about the world's ever again seeing the unspeakable business of the gas chambers at Dachau, since even Establishment historians tell us that no extermination gas chamber ever operated at that camp. — NS]

One wonders how Blankley accounts for Jewish commentators who publicly identify the neoconservative influence on American Iraq policy, including such figures as Robert Novak, Paul Gottfried, Jim Lobe, Stanley Heller, Michael Kinsley, Joshua Micah Marshall, and Michael Lerner. In fact, Rabbi Lerner, editor of the liberal Jewish publication Tikkun and guru of the Clintonistas, goes much further than most gentile commentators in branding Jews pro-war:

The State of Israel seems unequivocally committed to the war, the most prominent advocates of this war inside the administration have been Jews, the major sentiment being expressed inside the Orthodox synagogues is that of support for the war, and the voices of liberals who might normally be counted on to be raising questions are in fact silent. Isn't that enough reason for most people to feel that this is a war supported by the Jewish community, though in fact it is only the "organized community" and not most Jews who support it? [10]

Rabbi Lerner and the other Jewish writers presumably cannot be anti-Semites; but are they "self-hating Jews" preparing to plunge into some magically materializing Dachau gas chamber?


The hero president and glorious Democracy

Another tactic for deflecting criticism from the neocons is the claim that President Bush made the decision for war all by himself. Perle, for example, has rejected suggestions that neoconservative thinkers such as himself pushed Bush to attack Iraq, saying that the decision was "very much the product of the president's own thinking." [11]

"The president's own thinking" is a concept that one may be tempted to call an oxymoron, but one may wish to restrain oneself out of respect for the office.

Goldberg, for his part, ridicules the notion that neocon Jews interested in advancing the interests of Israel could possibly manipulate the country into war for that reason, opining:

"Neocons" are supposed to have one set of motives for war, which they keep secret, but they persuade the president, the vice president, the entire Cabinet, Tom Delay, Denny Hastert (not to mention Dick Gephardt and Tony Blair), the Republican party, the conservative establishment and the majority of American citizens with an entirely separate set of arguments? I know Jews are expert manipulators, but presumably they cannot create a whole separate case of facts. And, one hopes, our leaders are persuaded by the facts as they see them, not the Jedi mind-tricks of some cosmopolitan scribblers who eat smoked fish on Sundays. ("Jews and the War")

However, in explaining motives for war, historians don't look only at the reasons publicly stated by the regime and its servants. For example, historians of the First World War don't rely solely on the reasons for America's intervention that were officially advertised. They do not confine their research to a study of Woodrow Wilson's war message to Congress. Goldberg seems unaware of the vast number of historians who focus on underlying economic motives for war, often held by an influential minority but not publicly stated. Instead, he pontificates:

In a democratic system, private motives matter much less than public arguments. Nobody has been saying publicly, "Let's do it for Israel!" I haven't. No one at NR or NRO has. No Republican has. So presumably, the public hasn't been persuaded by that argument because nobody has made it.

"In a democratic system ..."! Since we know this utterance couldn't be the Jedi mind-trick of a cosmopolitan scribber, it must be the real thing. That is, the product of a childlike naiveté depending on a fairytale understanding of human history.

No one denies that the American people have been manipulated by a mass of war propaganda that has nothing to do with Israel. In fact, Americans hold beliefs more extreme than the official propaganda. According to a February 2003 Pew poll, two-thirds of those who support the war believe that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 terrorism. And, according to a recent Knight-Ridder poll, only 17 percent of Americans are aware that not one Iraqi was involved in 9/11. [12] Historians often point out that the public's reasons for supporting a war and their rulers' actual reasons for waging a war are very different. In fact, hard as it may be for some to believe, governments (including even Our Democratic Government) actually promote and disseminate false information to gear their populations up for war. We need not go all the way back to the "Belgian babies on bayonets" legend of 1914. It is sufficient to recall the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incident of 1965 or the alleged (but counterfactual) Iraqi incubator-baby murders of 1990.


Unpersuasive and untrue

The fact of the matter is that the publicly stated reasons for the attack on Iraq are not intellectually persuasive to anybody with an understanding of foreign policy and the situation in the Middle East; and their factual bases are largely just not true. For example, the Bush administration has claimed that Iraq was tied to the 9/11 atrocities and al Qaeda but has provided no evidence for that allegation. The administration has claimed that Iraq has been developing nuclear weapons but has offered no evidence for that, either. In reality, Iraq does not have the capability to hurt the United States. She does not have nuclear weapons. She does not have a long-range delivery system. Whether Saddam would attack the United States if he had the capability — a possibility sometimes raised by war supporters — is a question that cannot be answered. However, if that were really the standard, the United States would launch attacks on a dozen or more countries.

The proposition that the purpose of the war is to liberate the Iraqi people and bring them the blessings of democracy would be too ridiculous for a reply, if cool reason were the only guide in public debate. It isn't, so I must point out that a mandate to export democracy by force is yet another awfully demanding standard, under which the United States would need to attack about 100 countries. Moreover, a truly democratic Middle East, if such a thing were possible, would be more anti-American and anti-Israeli than the existing collection of authoritarian states, and that would hardly be a result desired by American policymakers. [13]

We should understand, too, that Iraq's neighbors, which should be the most fearful of Saddam if he were truly a serious threat, don't support the war. In fact the public opinion in the entire world is overwhelmingly against the war. Sam Francis points out: "It should be clear that the president and vice president are not merely in error. It should be clear that they — and other administration officials — are lying, telling the American people our country is in danger when in fact it is not. Why did they lie to push us into war?" [14]

Since the publicly disseminated reasons for war do not stand up to even a cursory scrutiny — which is not to say that George W. Bush would be capable of such a level of analysis — there must be another reason (or reasons) for the administration's push to war. As compared to swallowing the official pabulum, it is far more rational to understand the war as one that is being waged in behalf of Israeli interests. The long-term Likudnik goal of the destruction of Iraq and the destabilization of other Middle Eastern countries seem likely to be among its results.

While their defenders vehemently deny the validity of ascribing hidden motives to the neocons (even when those motives are not very well hidden), they do not hesitate in imputing ulterior motives to the neocons' critics. Thus they infer that neoconservatism is a code word for "the Jews," though none of the critics has said that openly. Neocon David Frum, author of the phrase "Axis of Evil," finds paleocons to be exponents of hate, even hatred of the United States: "They began by hating the neoconservatives. They came to hate their party and this president. They have finished by hating their country." According to Frum, the paleoconservatives "are thinking about defeat, and wishing for it, and they will take pleasure in it if it should happen." [15]

None of the paleocons Frum is attacking has explicitly said that, but neocons are allowed to infer it. [16] In contrast, war critics are not even supposed to repeat what neocons say, much less analyze it. And one certainly can't point out that the very people calling antiwar conservatives hateful traitors are neoconservatives.


A driving force for war

To recapitulate, considerable evidence exists that the neocons are a driving force for war. It's not just that the defenders of the neocons have failed to refute the evidence. They actually tend to concur with it, albeit in a somewhat backhanded manner.

I detailed the evidence of neocon support for a war on Iraq and the Likudnik background of that program in my extended essay, "The war on Iraq: Conceived in Israel." First, as I showed in that series, the initiation of a Middle East war to solve Israeli security problems is an idea of long standing among Israeli rightist Likudniks. [17] Next, neocons have not simply been pro-Israel but have actually echoed the positions of the Likudnik right, with Perle, Wurmser, and Feith even advising Netanyahu in 1996 to make war on Iraq. Furthermore, Likudnik-oriented neoconservatives argued for American involvement in a war on Iraq prior to the atrocities of September 11, 2001. After 9/11, neocons took the lead in advocating such a war; and they hold influential positions in the Bush administration in the area of national-security affairs. Finally, and unsurprisingly, Bush administration policy mirrors their neocon thinking. About the only thing the neocons have not done is publicly proclaim that the purpose of the war on Iraq is to benefit Israel.

It is a reasonable conclusion that neoconservatives look upon Middle Eastern affairs through a Likudnik lens and that they are influential in shaping the foreign policy of the Bush administration. This analysis is far from being a "conspiracy theory" — the evidence for it is right out in the open. Incidentally, whether the war in Iraq will actually benefit Israel is beside the point. What is important is that such a view has long been held by Likudnik thinkers.

The idea that some Americans might be motivated by an attachment to a foreign country and that they could be influential in determining American foreign policy is not such an outlandish, unheard-of idea. It was a key point of George Washington's Farewell Address. [18] Washington warned about the dangers of "passionate attachment" to foreign countries. He held that foreign influence and "intrigue" were a very powerful force that could come to "tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils."

Washington proclaimed: "Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence ... the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government." The partisans of the foreign government were apt to be so successful that "real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests."

Washington hoped that his counsel would have some impact, but he did not expect that it would be honored sufficiently as to "prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations." Here, too, it would seem that our first president was quite right.

April 4, 2003

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