Christopher Dickey writes: Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi mathematician, banker, schmoozer, spy and source of dubious intelligence provided to journalists and politicians alike, died today of an apparent heart attack in Baghdad at the age of 71. And at least one breaking news headline called him “the man who drove the U.S. to war in Iraq.”
That’s a common, and perhaps convenient, perception. But for my part, as someone who first met Chalabi 30 years ago, and stayed in close touch with him up to and through the first years of the disastrous American occupation of his homeland, I think the blame is misplaced.
George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and crew were hellbent on war with Saddam Hussein, and if they hadn’t had Chalabi supplying grist to their mill, they’d have found someone else. Their attachment to fantasies was infinitely greater than their attachment to facts, and, believing in American omnipotence, they wanted to make their dream of an utterly overhauled Middle East a reality. Chalabi played to their delusions and prejudices, but he didn’t create them.
Do you remember the ideas floating around Washington in those days? With a minimum of force, the United States would invade Iraq; the people would rise up; Saddam would fall; Iraq would recognize Israel (and Iraq’s Jews would return to Baghdad); Iran would be intimidated. The Middle East would be set on a path to democracy. Oh, and a grateful Iraq probably would give American companies great deals on Mesopotamian oil and gas.
Anyone who knew the region well, and there were many in the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department who knew it very well, realized that these were pipe dreams. But the top officials in the Bush administration systematically excluded those voices. [Continue reading…]
Grace Cason and Jim Lobe write: “Many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal,” President Obama observed August 5 at American University in perhaps his most forceful and aggressive speech in favor of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
There really is no question regarding the fundamental truth of that assertion. Virtually all of the political appointees who held foreign-policy posts under George W. Bush—from Elliott Abrams to Dov Zakheim, not to mention such leading lights as Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, Eric Edelman, and “Scooter” Libby—have all assailed the agreement as a sell-out and/or appeasement with varying degrees of vehemence, if not vituperation.
This is reminiscent of the curious Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), an organization established by the Bush White House in November 2002 to “mobilize U.S. and international support for policies aimed at ending the aggression of Saddam Hussein and freeing the Iraqi people from tyranny.” Indeed, Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), perhaps the most aggressive anti-Iran group over the past couple years, is based at the same offices as CLI was. Three of the CLI’s staff of four were associated with the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). CLI’s president, Randy Scheunemann, among other things, enjoyed an especially close relationship with Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC), and CLI and INC also seemed to share websites (as shown by the screen shot below.) A carefully chosen bipartisan group of 33 prominent individuals served on CLI’s advisory board. [Continue reading…]
Jonathan Bronitsky writes: If neoconservatism is to be classified, first and foremost, as a foreign-policy agenda comprised of preemption and democracy promotion, then Kristol was certainly not the “godfather.” Contrary to popular belief, he consistently subscribed to realpolitik. Throughout the Cold War, he supported détente and arms control. “Just for the record,” he told his friend Daniel Bell in 1986, “I believe American foreign policy is ideological in purpose, but should be realistic in strategy and tactics.” Kristol also resisted majestic plots to proliferate Western modes of commerce and governance abroad. “The prospect of the entire world evolving into a cheerless global Sweden, smug and unhappy, had no attraction for me,” he wrote in 1995.
For the most part, Kristol seldom commented on foreign policy and military affairs — even after inaugurating The National Interest in 1985. Indeed, the hazard of merely attempting to clarify his views pertaining to international relations is ascribing disproportionate weight to them. The vast majority of his corpus consists of essays of a philosophical disposition, mostly concerning the loci of virtue, morality and liberty. When neoconservatism became synonymous with a muscular foreign policy during George W. Bush’s administration, a small chorus arose, maintaining that Kristol was no progenitor of Middle Eastern imperial designs. “There is very little connection between those called ‘neoconservatives’ 30 years ago and neoconservatives today,” sociologist Nathan Glazer avowed in a New York Times letter to the editor in October 2003, seven months after the invasion of Iraq. Shortly after Kristol passed away in September 2009, Glazer, still trying to shield the legacy of his friend, “a realist and cautious on these matters,” declared that the term “neoconservatism” had been “hijacked” by those pushing a “vigorous and expansionist democracy-promoting military and foreign policy.” Around this time, historian Justin Vaïsse took an even bolder step in Foreign Policy, writing an article entitled “Was Irving Kristol a Neoconservative?” Like Glazer, he too lamented that “the ‘godfather’ of neoconservatism started a movement that moved away from him.”
So why has the conventional wisdom remained pretty much undisturbed? [Continue reading…]
Peter Oborne writes: Mr Cameron’s views on foreign policy, and in particular the Middle East, are completely different to those he used to hold 10 or 15 years ago.
Back then he was conservative in the old-fashioned sense of the term. He was sceptical of foreign adventures and pretty well immune to popular clamours.
He only voted with reluctance for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, he permitted William Hague, his foreign affairs spokesman, to describe Israeli conduct as “disproportionate,” a sentiment which led to open revolt among some pro-Israeli supporters of the Conservative Party.
Today David Cameron is a neoconservative. Along with President Sarkozy of France, he led the way in the Western intervention in Libya four years ago. Eighteen months ago he wanted to intervene militarily against President Assad, and was only deterred by a parliamentary vote.
One mark of neoconservatism is uncritical support for the state of Israel. Mr Cameron has become the most vocal international backer of Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr Cameron has gone out of his way to repeatedly defend the conduct of Israeli forces during the Israeli invasion of Gaza last year.
Mr Cameron regularly seeks advice from Tony Blair. Mr Blair was one of the circle of advisors urging David Cameron to bomb Libya. In foreign policy terms, David Cameron should indeed be seen as a protege of the former prime minister. Both men have been steadfast supporters of the Gulf dictatorships and of Netanyahu’s Israel, and both men are unbendingly hostile to democratic movements within Islam, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood.
David Cameron has protected Tony Blair. Had Mr Cameron wanted, he could have insisted on the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War, which is expected to contain damning criticisms of Mr Blair.
This investigation was meant to publish its conclusions within 18 months of the British withdrawal from Iraq in 2007: it is disgraceful that eight years later, Sir John Chilcot is still at work.
Before the 2010 general election, David Cameron also promised an investigation into the very serious allegations that Britain was complicit in torture and extraordinary rendition during the Blair premiership. Instead the investigation has been suppressed.
So what happened to the foreign policy realist I used to talk to a decade and more ago? I believe that part of the explanation lies in David Cameron’s near total lack of knowledge of the world beyond Britain when he was elected prime minister. Beyond beach holidays in the Mediterranean it was negligible.
This ignorance created a vacuum which has been filled by the small, well-knit and very powerful clique of neoconservatives who surround the prime minister. [Continue reading…]
It’s generally understood that the construction of a nuclear weapon using uranium requires highly enriched uranium — enriched to 80% or greater.
Daniel Pipes writes:
[T]he American goal for the accord was that the Iranians not “advance their program” of building a uranium nuclear bomb (and perhaps a plutonium bomb too); the apparent deal exactly permits such advancement, plus sanctions relief to Tehran worth about US$9 billion.
Under the terms of the agreement, Iran will not be able to enrich uranium above 5% and its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium will be divided in two with half being available for the production of medical isotopes and the other half diluted down to 5%. There will be no remaining stockpile with the potential to be enriched to a level required for bomb making, yet Pipes asserts that such an advance remains possible.
Has he discovered something that no one else in the world knows about: how to make a nuclear weapon with low-enriched uranium?
The NSA better keep a close eye on Pipes. He could become the next A.Q. Khan.
Wayne Barrett writes: Casino king Sheldon Adelson’s multi-million-dollar cache of chips-on-the-table for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign has at last made him a household name outside of Las Vegas. But it isn’t just Adelson’s brand of pro-Israel, donor-driven saber-rattling that’s pushing Gingrich into far-out positions on virtually every Middle East-related question, from applauding the assassination of Iranian scientists to painting Palestinians as an historical concoction to requiring loyalty oaths from Muslim governmental appointees.
Since his days in the House, Gingrich has always attached himself to the most extreme neocon elements of American and Israeli politics. Adelson’s $18 million in contributions since 2006 only further fueled draft ducker Newt’s already chronic case of bombast. And as record-making as Adelson’s super PAC and other gifts to Newt are, they wouldn’t cover the cost of a single airstrike on a single Iranian facility. The price tag on what Gingrich calls “maximum covert operations” and possibly a full-scale war on Iran — both acceptable to Gingrich — would surely compete with the human and fiscal costs of the last conflagration he helped drag us into—the war in Iraq that has gone almost wholly unmentioned this primary season.
If elected, Gingrich would be the first American president to emerge from the dark think-tank world born in the Reagan era that gave us the Iraq War and lusts now for an Iranian reprise. A Likudnik version of the Manchurian candidate, Newt has spent much of his post-Congress life in the grasp of warrior colonies like the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the think tank where he became a senior fellow two months after he stepped down as speaker in 1999, remained until he declared for president last May, and worked at times alongside Dick and Lynne Cheney, Richard Perle, John Bolton, Michael Ledeen, and Paul Wolfowitz, the first Bush battalion to euphemistically land in Baghdad, self-dispatched well before 9/11.
As if spending three times as much time at AEI than he did as speaker wasn’t enough bloodless abstraction for him, Gingrich simultaneously became a distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, where Don Rumsfeld was welcomed with open arms when George Bush finally had had enough of him and where Condoleezza Rice returned as a senior fellow after her eight years in the Bush administration. Gingrich was one of eight Hoover fellows to serve on the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, the official war incubator chaired by ringleader Perle, and he also signed on as a board member of the AEI-tied Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a front group recruited by the White House.
On its website (which I created) Conflicts Forum is referred to as “an international movement which engages with Islamist movements” — a partially correct but somewhat misleading statement.
Conflicts Forum does indeed engage Islamist movements — principally Hezbollah and Hamas. It does have an international element — evident in its advisory board. But by no stretch of the imagination can it accurately be described as an international movement.
It is an operation so small it can barely be described as an organization, let alone a movement. It serves first and foremost as an institutional identity for the former senior British intelligence officer, Alastair Crooke.
In his decades-long service for the British government, Crooke was deeply engaged with resistance movements across the globe, opening up vital dialogue leading to peace deals for which politicians and prime ministers would later eagerly take credit.
That work was prematurely cut short in 2003 because of pressure from an administration in Washington that refused to recognize that governments, however powerful, must sooner or later learn how to talk to their enemies.
Having been pushed out of his official role, Crooke attempted to continue what had become a personal mission through the creation of Conflicts Forum. The problem was: how much value can dialogue yield if only one side is willing to engage?
The outcome — perhaps inevitable — was that Conflicts Forum would be unable to effectively serve as a bridge between Islamists and Western governments and instead become an informal advocate for those movements and for the Middle Eastern governments whose backing they still enjoy.
In the summer of 2009 after Iranians from across the social spectrum took to the streets en masse to reject the outcome of the presidential election, Crooke rejected the idea that this was a “genuine popular uprising“; as for the significance of the unrest he said, somewhat dismissively: “plainly for some in north Tehran it was very real”.
Two and a half years later, Crooke and his partner Aisling Byrne are engaged in a similar effort to portray unrest in Syria, not as a popular uprising but instead as the result of America’s covert war against Iran for whom Syria remains a vital ally. The people on the streets are supposedly just pawns serving a neoconservative agenda: regime change in Damascus and Tehran.
The Guardian’s Brian Whitaker justifiably pours scorn on Conflict Forum’s conspiratorial missives and those on the left who have become Assad and Ahmadinejad’s useful idiots.
Denying the authenticity of the Syrian uprising is a central plank of the Assad regime’s propaganda message – that the whole thing, as the official news agency put it recently, is a "Zio-American" plot.
To anyone who has been following events in Syria closely since last March, the regime’s conspiracy claims are not only ridiculous but terribly insulting to the thousands of protesters who have risked (and often lost) their lives in the struggle against dictatorship. Even so, there’s a small chorus of westerners who seem to be echoing the Assad line.
“Arguably, the most important component in this struggle,” Aisling Byrne wrote in an article last week, “has been the deliberate construction of a largely false narrative that pits unarmed democracy demonstrators being killed in their hundreds and thousands as they protest peacefully against an oppressive, violent regime, a ‘killing machine’ led by the ‘monster’ Assad.”
Arguably, my foot. Information about the protests has sometimes been wrong – as always happens in conflicts, especially when media access is so severely restricted – but to suggest that this has led to a “largely false narrative” is utter nonsense.
Byrne’s article has been doing the rounds on the internet – Counterpunch, the Asia Times and Countercurrents – as well as being touted enthusiastically inside Syria by the Assad regime. Running to more than 4,700 words, it’s probably the fullest exposition yet of the grand international conspiracy theory.
Of course, it’s true lots of countries have been reacting to the uprising in Syria and some are certainly trying to influence the outcome. Given Syria’s strategic importance, that is to be expected. Reacting to events, though, is not the same as orchestrating things according to some pre-conceived plan – which is what the Assad regime claims is happening, and what Byrne also seems to imply:
“What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime ‘more compatible’ with US interests in the region.
“The blueprint for this project is essentially a report produced by the neo-conservative Brookings Institute for regime change in Iran in 2009.”
There’s no harm in discussing or criticising what foreign powers may be up to with regard to Syria, even if Byrne draws some rather fanciful conclusions. Any attempts to prevent the Syrian people from making their own choices ought to be resisted, too. The overall effect of such articles, though, is to delegitimise the popular struggle – which is unfair to the protesters and also plays into the hands of the regime.
But what of the article’s author, Aisling Byrne? She is projects co-ordinator for the Conflicts Forum, based in Beirut. Its director is Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer who until a few years ago was heavily involved in British and European diplomacy relating to Israel/Palestine. Among many other things, he took part in clandestine meetings with Hamas.
Crooke left his government job and founded the Conflicts Forum in 2004 “to open a new relationship between the west and the Muslim world”, mainly through promoting dialogue with Islamist movements – something that western governments have often been reluctant to do. Members of the forum’s advisory board include Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee, and Azzam Tamimi, regarded as an unofficial voice for Hamas in Britain.
“While facing increasingly intractable problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan and elsewhere,” Conflicts Forum says on its website, “we [ie western governments] immobilise ourselves by turning away from the homegrown political forces that have the power to resolve these crises.”
Judging by Byrne’s article and another by Crooke himself in the Guardian last November, though, Conflicts Forum seems oddly reluctant to engage with the “homegrown political forces” in Syria.
There’s an inconsistency and selectivity here that is also apparent among sections of the more traditionalist left. Pro-western dictators like Ben Ali and Mubarak are considered fair game, but when it comes to toppling contrarian dictators like Gaddafi and Assad there’s lingering sympathy for them.
In Syria’s case this is further complicated by viewing the uprising through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For instance, a briefing paper on Conflicts Forum’s website examining Hizbullah’s continuing support for the Assad regime says:
“Just as Hizbullah viewed the 2009 protests in Iran as a ‘bid to destabilise the country’s Islamic regime’ by means of a US-orchestrated ‘velvet revolution’, the protests in Syria are branded a form of ‘collusion’ with outside powers who seek to replace Asad’s rule with ‘another regime similar to the moderate Arab regimes that are ready to sign any capitulation agreement with Israel’…
“Echoing Hizbullah’s stance on the Iran protests is Nasrallah’s characterisation of the US role in the Syrian uprising as an extension of the July War and the Gaza War. Since the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine had foiled the ‘New Middle East’ scheme in both these military aggressions, Washington was ‘trying to reintroduce [it] through other gates,’ such as Syria.
“With this in mind, attempts to overthrow the Assad regime are considered a ‘service’ to American and Israeli interests.”
Such views are not confined to Hizbullah, however. But how realistic are they? Many neocons hoped the invasion of Iraq would deliver a pro-Israel government there. It didn’t, and instead it strengthened Iran.
Tunisia is no more favourably disposed towards Israel than it was under Ben Ali. Nor is Libya. Nor is Egypt – if anything, less so. And a democratic Syria would still have the same territorial issues with Israel – the occupied Golan Heights, etc – that it has now. In any case Israel seems an odd reason for denying Syrians a chance to determine their own future.
Matt Duss writes: This month, after almost nine years that left 4,484 American soldiers and well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, the U.S. war in Iraq came to an end. As the troubling recent reports indicate, the new Iraq will continue to struggle with enduring political tensions and serious security challenges for years to come.
As my colleague Peter Juul and I noted in our recent report on the war’s costs, The Iraq War Ledger, the end of former Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime represents a considerable global good, and a nascent democratic Iraqi republic partnered with the United States could potentially yield benefits in the future. But when weighing those possible benefits against the costs of the Iraq intervention, there is simply no conceivable calculus by which Operation Iraqi Freedom can be judged to have been a successful or worthwhile policy.
While these questions will doubtless continue to be debated into the future, the holiday season and the New Year are an appropriate time to move beyond the rifts that so divided our country over this war.
But before we do, let’s take a moment to remember some of the people who got the Iraq War completely wrong. This is important not only as a historical matter, but also because many of these same people are now calling for escalation against Iran, from the same perches and sinecures whence they helped get our country into Iraq. And, as former general Anthony Zinni said in regard to the consequences of a war with Iran, “If you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’re gonna love Iran.”
It’s worth noting that a lot of people got various things wrong about Iraq at various times. This writer is no exception. But the following critics are particularly notable not only because they were completely and catastrophically wrong about the costs and benefits of the Iraq War, and more generally about the capacity of American military power to determine outcomes, but also because they tended to go about it in the most condescending way possible. They have also suffered no apparent penalty for it. Going forward, our country will be safer and more secure in inverse proportion to the amount of influence these people have. [Continue reading…]
In a CNN interview Newt Gingrich volunteers to capitulate to Israeli nuclear blackmail: “I would rather plan a joint operation [against Iran] conventionally, than push the Israelis to the point where they go nuclear.”
Gingrich told The Jewish Channel that Palestinians are not a genuine nation.
M.J. Rosenberg writes: Any doubt we might have that the Israeli right has lost its mind should be eliminated by the latest column from one of its most prominent media figures, Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post.
Glick, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, has flipped out over some remarks (which we’ll get to later) made last week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman. And here is how she explains those remarks.
Her first explanation is that “the Obama administration is an ideological echo chamber in which only certain positions are permitted.”
Restrained by ideological thought police that outlaw critical thought about the dominant forces in the Islamic world today, US officials have little choice but to place all the blame for everything that goes wrong on the one society they are free to criticize — Israel.
That, in itself, borders on hilarious.
Anyone who pays even a modicum of attention to the Middle East knows that rather than “place all the blame for everything” on Israel, the Obama administration blames Israel for nothing while providing more foreign aid to Israel than to any other country, supporting it on every issue at the United Nations — often against America’s own interests — and never, ever attaching any conditions to our aid or support (as we do with every other country in the world).
The only thing President Obama has asked of Israel during his entire term is for a three-month settlement freeze, to which Israel said no. (Prime Minister Netanyahu himself says Obama has earned a “badge of honor” for his uncritical support for Israel.)
M.J. Rosenberg writes: Suddenly the struggle to stop Iran is not about saving Israel from nuclear annihilation. After a decade of scare-mongering about the second coming of Nazi Germany, the Iran hawks are admitting that they have other reasons for wanting to take out Iran, and saving Israeli lives may not be one of them. Suddenly the neoconservatives have discovered the concept of truth-telling, although, no doubt, the shift will be ephemeral.
The shift in the rationale for war was kicked off this week when Danielle Pletka, head of the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) foreign policy shop and one of the most prominent neoconservatives in Washington, explained what the current obsession with Iran’s nuclear program is all about.
The biggest problem for the United States is not Iran getting a nuclear weapon and testing it, it’s Iran getting a nuclear weapon and not using it. Because the second that they have one and they don’t do anything bad, all of the naysayers are going to come back and say, “See, we told you Iran is a responsible power. We told you Iran wasn’t getting nuclear weapons in order to use them immediately.” … And they will eventually define Iran with nuclear weapons as not a problem.
Hold on. The “biggest problem” with Iran getting a nuclear weapon is not that Iranians will use it but that they won’t use it and that they might behave like a “responsible power”? But what about the hysteria about a second Holocaust? What about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertion that this is 1938 and Hitler is on the march? What about all of these pronouncements that Iran must be prevented from developing a nuclear weapons because the apocalyptic mullahs would happily commit national suicide in order to destroy Israel? And what about AIPAC and its satellites, which produce one sanctions bill after another (all dutifully passed by Congress) because of the “existential threat” that Iran poses to Israel? Did Pletka lose her talking points?
Pletka’s “never mind” about the imminent danger of an Iranian bomb seems to be the new line from the bastion of neoconservativism.
Mondoweiss interviews the founder of Adbusters: When the Occupy Wall Street protests began to attract attention in the fall, everyone wanted to know where the idea to set up a permanent protest at the heart of Manhattan’s financial district came from. The answer was the mind of Kalle Lasn, the co-editor (along with Micah White) of the anti-consumerist “culture jamming” magazine Adbusters. It was Adbusters, calling for an American “Tahrir moment,” that originally put out the call to occupy Wall Street on September 17.
But not all the attention Lasn and his magazine received was positive, though. It was the New York Times coverage of Adbusters and Lasn’s role in the Occupy movement that caused him the most grief by smearing them as anti-Semitic.
“For me, the New York Times is really important right now, because it was one of the most ugly experiences of my year, where they took a couple of quick swipes at my magazine and me personally,” Lasn told Mondoweiss in a recent phone interview. “I have such huge respect for the New York Times and I subscribe to it and I’ve been reading it every morning for the last ten years of my life.”
Now, Lasn is speaking out about the New York Times‘ refusal to print his response to two articles in the newspaper that alleged Adbusters was anti-Semitic. (Read more about the controversy here, and read this New Yorker article on the origins and future of Occupy Wall Street for more about Lasn and White.)
Mondoweiss recently caught up with Lasn for an extended interview with the sixty-nine year old activist to discuss Occupy Wall Street, Palestine, the Israel lobby and more. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times also features an article on Lasn today which includes this line: “In 2004, Adbusters published an article claiming that a large percentage of neoconservatives behind American foreign policy were Jewish.” This is a classic example of the way the New York Times subtly distorts the truth.
Lasn’s article did indeed make that claim, but to call it a claim is to suspend judgement on whether it has a factual basis. It is to say that Lasn made such an assertion but the journalist reporting it was in no position to verify or refute its validity. If there was a disputable claim it was that the 50 individuals Lasn named were indeed the most influential among the neoconservative — though Lasn himself attached the caveat that “neoconservative” is for some a badge of honor while for others an unwanted label and thus identifying who is and who is not a neoconservative is not that easy. But among those 50, Lasn pointed out that half of them are Jewish.
Now if he was pointing this out because he was conducting some kind of “Jew watch”, then he could reasonably be accused of being antisemtic. But far from doing that, he was instead asserting that the centrality that many neoconservatives give to Israel’s interests is not just coincidentally related to the fact that a disproportionate number of neoconservatives are Jews. The fact that he got attacked for pointing out a fairly obvious connection, rather than indicating that he must have had an insidious motive, much more strongly indicates how easily the neoconservatives feel threatened by anyone who highlights their ties to Israel.
Gary Kamiya writes: We’ve been through this before. As one of the most disastrous wars in our history is coming to an inglorious end, the same neoconservative hawks who dreamed it up are agitating for a new war that would make Iraq look like the invasion of Grenada — and using the ultimate trump card in American politics to silence debate over it.
When hawks begin beating the drums for war in the Middle East, Israel is usually a big reason why. That was true in the run-up to the war in Iraq, and it is doubly true with the current hysteria over Iran. Despite disingenuous claims to the contrary, the only reason the U.S. is even talking about war with Iran is Israel. As the invaluable M.J. Rosenberg, who knows the working of the Israel lobby as only a former card-carrying member can, notes, “It is impossible to find a single politician or journalist advocating war with Iran who is not a neocon or an AIPAC cutout. (They’re often both.)”
Ever since the International Atomic Energy Agency released its overhyped, old-news report on Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s amen corner in the U.S. has been loudly calling for war.
If American politics did not contain an enormous blind spot, no one would pay any attention to what these discredited ideologues have to say. The Iraq war they championed turned out to be one of the biggest foreign-policy disasters in U.S. history. Their ignorant and Islamophobic view of the Middle East is as breathtaking as their bland willingness to commit America to yet another ruinous war against a Muslim country, this time one four times larger than Iraq and with more than twice as many people. They have a demonstrated track record of complete failure.
Yet these incompetent militarists are still taken seriously. And the reason is simple: They purport to be supporters of Israel. In American politics, you can get away with even the most cracked war-mongering as long as you claim to be “pro-Israel.” And the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card for anything having to do with Israel is the Holocaust.
Here’s the post that got this story rolling. It’s written by Rachel Abrams and appears on her blog, Bad Rachel, and is her bloodcurdling response to the release of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, on October 18:
He’s free and he’s home in the bosom of his family and his country.
Celebrate, Israel, with all the joyous gratitude that fills your hearts, as we all do along with you.
Then round up his captors, the slaughtering, death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages who dip their hands in blood and use women—those who aren’t strapping bombs to their own devils’ spawn and sending them out to meet their seventy-two virgins by taking the lives of the school-bus-riding, heart-drawing, Transformer-doodling, homework-losing children of Others—and their offspring—those who haven’t already been pimped out by their mothers to the murder god—as shields, hiding behind their burkas and cradles like the unmanned animals they are, and throw them not into your prisons, where they can bide until they’re traded by the thousands for another child of Israel, but into the sea, to float there, food for sharks, stargazers, and whatever other oceanic carnivores God has put there for the purpose.
And here’s how the Washington Post got involved: Their right wing, pro-Israel, blogger, Jennifer Rubin, gave Abrams the thumbs up when she retweeted a tweet in which Abrams was promoting her post.
The Post‘s ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton says “Rubin should not have retweeted Abrams’s tweet.”
He concludes: “Rubin is not responsible for the offensive words; Abrams is. But in agreeing with the sentiment, and in spreading it to her 7,000 Twitter followers who know her as a Washington Post blogger, Rubin did damage to The Post and the credibility that keeps it afloat.”
Pexton’s analysis of Abrams’ post is less than exact. He writes:
Abrams’s post is so full of dashes it’s hard to follow, but the subject of her run-on sentence does appear to be “captors” not Palestinians in general. The language is so over the top, though —“child-sacrificing savages,” “devil’s spawn,” “pimped out by their mothers,” “unmanned animals” — it’s easy to how some people might see it as an endorsement of genocide.
The mangled sentence is indeed difficult to decipher, but this call for vengeance is not simply directed at Shalit’s captors — it includes “their offspring.” Presumably Abrams shares the view of many right wing Zionists that the children of terrorists are baby terrorists and thus she hopes for their preemptive slaughter.
Having said all that, some observers may wonder why a blogger like Abrams could garner so much attention. Pexton merely identifies her as “an independent blogger and board member of the conservative Emergency Committee for Israel” — a group so extreme that it has drawn criticism from the pro-Israel American Jewish establishment.
The context the Post‘s ombudsman failed to provide was this:
Her spouse, Elliott Abrams is a veteran of both the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations who was convicted (and later pardoned) for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal; her mother, Midge Decter, is on the board of the Center for Security Policy and was a founding member of the Project for the New American Century and the Reagan-era Committee for the Free World, which she co-directed with Donald Rumsfeld; her step-father, Norman Podhoretz, is a former editor of the neoconservative flagship magazine Commentary and a widely recognized trailblazer of the neoconservative “tendency” (Norman’s son from another marriage, John Podhoretz, is currently editor of Commentary); and her sister, Ruthie Blum Leibowitz, is a columnist for the conservative Israeli daily, the Jerusalem Post.
Back in 2006, when Elliot Abrams backed an armed uprising in Gaza in an effort to overthrow the democratically elected government, what kind of encouragement was he getting from his wife? Was she also then sharing visions of mass slaughter with President Bush’s Deputy National Security Adviser who at that time was arguably the most influential Middle East policymaker inside the administration?
Ali Gharib reports:
On Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced a $200,000 grant to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Middle East media watchdog closely aligned with U.S. neoconservatives and Israel’s hawkish security establishment and rightist Likud Party. The grant was awarded “to conduct a project that documents anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and Holocaust glorification in the Middle East.” The announcement continues:
This grant will enable MEMRI to expand its efforts to monitor the media, translate materials into ten languages, analyze trends in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial and glorification, and increase distribution of materials through its website and other outlets.
Finding examples of anti-Semitism is already a robust MEMRI project and one wonders why exactly they needed the cash: According to publicly available tax filings, MEMRI had nearly $5 million in revenue in 2007 and more than $4.5 million in revenue in 2008.
What’s more troubling, MEMRI has faced accusations of mistranslating items and cherry-picking incendiary sources to portray regional media and attitudes in an overly-negative fashion. One of the most common issues has been with MEMRI’s mistranslations which appear to show anti-Semitism on thin evidence. In 2007, CNN correspondent Atika Shubert checked MEMRI’s translations of a Palestinian children’s program against those provided by the cable news channel’s own interpreters:
Media watchdog MEMRI translates one caller as saying – quote – ‘We will annihilate the Jews.’ But, according to several Arabic speakers used by CNN, the caller actually says ‘The Jews are killing us.’ MEMRI told us it stood by its translation.
In other instances, MEMRI has been accused of twisting translations to portray criticisms of Israel and its driving ideology, Zionism, as anti-Semitic..
By John Robertson, War in Context, July 11, 2011
Once again, from one of those worthies privileged to call themselves “fellows” of the Council on Foreign Relations, a call for America to suck it up, be strong, hammer those bad guys into submission (and not a word about how much it costs, or how little the US can afford it).
Days ago, it was Max Boot, pounding on the guilt button of America’s supposed humiliation in Somalia, and imploring Obama to steer our military and economy more deeply into the black hole that is nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan. (For my take on that, I invite you to read this.) Now we have Elliot Abrams, another “expert” hailing from the so-called mainstream of the public diplomacy establishment, who is shocked – SHOCKED – by the deaths of US soldiers at the hands of Shii militias in Iraq, and intent on shaming Obama into doing something about it – by killing Iranians, those nefarious evil-doing people who surely are behind it all.
Here’s his historical context:
There must be very few times in American history when a foreign government is accused of killing American troops, and absolutely nothing is done about it.
Every school kid used to learn lines like “Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead,” or “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.” The War of 1812 was fought in large part due to the “impressment” of American sailors by the British, a similar example of denial of freedom that fell far short of actually killing American sailors.
Are you serious, Mr. Abrams? For those who don’t know, Mrs. Perdicaris and children were, in perspective, a minor incident; they were held captive by a local sheikh in northern Africa and were rescued, unharmed, when Teddy Roosevelt sent in a small force. There was no danger of instigating a horrific war. British impressment of American sailors did contribute to starting the War of 1812, which soon entailed a British invasion of US territory and a real threat to the American republic.
The deaths of a few US soldiers in Iraq at the hands of Shii militias with ties to – and supplied by – Iran is deplorable, but it bears absolutely no real comparison to either of these two incidents. Abrams would have us believe that any Iranian involvement in the killing of US soldiers in Iraq is unprovoked. You want to cite history, Mr. Abrams? Try this out:
- Even as US forces were rolling into Baghdad in 2003, the word among the neocon set was that “real men go to Tehran.” This, after the Khatami government had cooperated with the US post-9/11 and had been reaching out to the US during the Clinton administration – only to be rewarded with the idiocy of Bush’s “axis of evil” SoU address in 2002.
- Between 1980 and 1988, the US provided huge support to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq after his unprovoked invasion of Iran. The war cost as many as 1 million Iranian lives, and featured attacks by the US navy on Iranian oil installations and naval forces in the Persian Gulf. It also featured Iraqi use of poison gas against Iranian troops – a horrific violation of international law, at which the Reagan administration essentially winked and looked the other way. And, it also featured the incident of a US warship (the USS Vincennes) launching anti-aircraft rockets that destroyed an Iranian passenger plane, killing 200 passengers – an incident the Iranian government commemorated only a few days ago.
- Speaking of the Reagan administration, and history – under Reagan, the US secretly facilitated the illegal sale of weapons to Iran and then (again, illegally) funneled the profits to anti-communist CONTRA movement in Nicaragua. When it was discovered, this bit of chicanery brought us the Iran-CONTRA scandal, which came close to trashing the Reagan administration and led to the censure and convicting of some Reagan officials, including . . .
- Elliot Abrams! Gee, you don’t remember that, Elliot? You don’t remember that there was once a time when you were up to your neck in unseemly dealings with Iran?
Outraged by Iran now, Abrams is calling for retaliation. Want some more historical context for that?
- An article at the time of Iran-CONTRA also noted that on his office wall, Abrams proudly featured a Likud Party poster.
- Anyone who reads Abrams’ stuff over the last several years knows that he is one of Israeli hard-right’s most ardent defenders in the press as well as the foreign-policy mainstream. He completely backs Netanyahu/Lieberman on the issue of West Bank settlements (i.e., Israel should keep them all, and anyone who raises the issue of settlements is simply trying to distract us from the issues of Palestinian/Islamist/Iranian perfidy).
- He would love nothing better than to see the US either back Israel’s play in a proposed military strike against Iran or launch its own such strike.
So now, Abrams conjures up the ghosts of 1812 and Teddy Roosevelt to bang the war-drum for retaliation against Iran. He says, it’s to salvage American honor.
I betcha that Bibi – that great promoter of American honor – is smiling.
John Robertson is a professor of Middle East history at Central Michigan University and has his own blog, Chippshots.