Israel as a Factor (?) in the Iraq War; Beyond the Taboo

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 6/7/2004

Iraq, Israel, & Charges of "Anti-Semitism"

Dear friends,

Recently a US Senator, a leading general, and The Forward (the nearest thing to a national Jewish newspaper) have surfaced two questions:

Was concern for Israel at the root of the US decision to go to war against Iraq?

Is saying so taboo because it is evidence of anti-Semitism, with conspiracy-theory overtones?

On our Website in both the section on the Iraq war and the section on "War, Peace, & the Jewish Community" there are the key documents in full, as well as this, my own commentary.

Till recently, it has been taboo in polite US political circles to ask about the role of desire to protect Israel in bringing the US to war against Iraq.

Now, partly because The Forward has raised the question and shrugged off the taboo, we should be urging mainstream American media and mainstream Jewish organizations to ask —

What is the real place of Israel in the realpolitik of the Dominator Party that now controls our government?

Recently Senator "Fritz" Hollings of South Carolina, a six- term , pro-labor, pro-civil-liberties and pro-civil-rights Senator who is retiring this year, politically an heir of the New Deal and the Great Society, said he thought a desire to protect Israel was one of the main motives - perhaps the main one — of those who pressed for war against Iraq.

These were the "neo-conservatives" and theorists of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) who were urging the US to attack Iraq long before the beginning of the Bush II Administration, and who got key jobs under Rumsfeld and Cheney.

The Senator said he voted for the war originally because he believed Administration claims of deadly weapons in Iraq. Since he now knows this was false, he said he believed other means of protecting Israel would have been preferable, that military force never can alone bring peace, and that many in Congress are overawed by AIPAC's power and its insistence that the only policy for protecting Israel is the one it urges.

General Anthony Zinni was the special envoy sent by President Bush to try to shape a dtente between israel and the Palestinians. He failed, partly because Bush shied away from confronting the Sharon government in ways that might have made Zinnis efforts worthwhile.

Then Zinni headed all US forces in the Middle East region, till he said in public that if the US really wanted to occupy and control Iraq, it would take hundreds of thousands more troops than the Bush Administration was claiming. He was fired. He was right.

He also, in a recent television interview, said he thought one of the motives of the PNAC people who pressed for the Iraq War was protection of Israel.

Because of these comments, some Jews and some Bush supporters have accused the Senator and the General of anti-Semitism and being possessed by the dybbuk of "conspiracy theory."

How to assess these comments and these accusations?

I think that the Project for a New American Century was indeed at the heart of the Bush Administration's decision to attack Iraq.

PNAC's theorists became key actors in the Bush Administration, and their outlook became official US/ Bush policy. They are not really Republicans. They called themselves "the Vulcans." I call them the Dominator Party. War. Torture. Despoiling and poisoning the Earth. Invading human rights and civil liberties. Invading the privacy of citizens while hiding the acts of government. Stealing from the poor to enrich the super-rich. All policies of Domination.

Their decision for war had nothing to do with Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or Iraqi connections with Al Qaeda. Neither of those existed. Citing them was merely the way to win support from an America traumatized by 9/11.

And it had nothing to do with Saddam's being a brutal dictator. The US has worked with dozens of brutal dictators in the last 50 years, including Saddam Hussein himself when he was fighting Iran.

The Dominator Party focused on securing US domination of the world, including the power to prevent any other state/s from even beginning to challenge that domination.

To do that, the US would need to control the broader Middle East. It is the key source of the most crucial strategic commodity in the world — oil. And world oil reserves are tapering off. If you are not willing to pursue new means of powering the world like renewable energy, you had better control every source of oil there is.

When the Dominator Party talked about "democratizing" the Middle East, they meant installing governments "friendly" to the US. Supportive of, not to say subservient to, US policy. (Remember how enraged they were when democratic pressures in France, Germany, Turkey, and Spain brought their governments to oppose the US war against Iraq.)

And the closest US ally in the Middle East was Israel.

In Israel, not only the right-wing government but also many other Israelis saw Iraq looming as a long-range danger to Israel.

But Israel could not attack Iraq on its own, without inflaming even more hostility against Israel. So these Israelis saw an American attack on Iraq as good for Israel, and indeed Israel was the only nation in the world where an overwhelming proportion of the population supported the US war.

Many but not all of the Dominators ALSO had strong connections with Israeli right-wing politicians. For them, "supporting Israel" did not mean supporting the Israel of Rabin or Sarid or Aloni or Peace Now.

Their basic approach to life and politics — domination by military means — powered BOTH their support of right-wing Israeli policies toward the Palestinians and their support for US efforts to dominate the world.

At minimum, these two drives for domination worked in tandem, independent of each other — until they converged in policy toward Iraq.

It is also possible that the "Dominator Party" consciously believed that the two outlooks strengthened each other: that they supported US domination of the world and especially the Middle East as in part a boon to Israel, and supported Israel's direct occupation of the Palestinians and its military dominance over most of the Middle East as a boon to the US.

Outside Washington, the strongest American supporters of the right-wing Sharon government were the "Christian right," for its own theological reasons, and right-wing American Jews. They became strong supporters of a US attack on Iraq.

Even the many American Jews who supported middle-of-the-road Israeli thought and politics felt tugged toward the view that nullifying Iraq as a threat to Israel was a good idea. Some of them even hoped peace with the Palestinians would result.

It is not "conspiracy theory" to imagine that the unelected George W. Bush and Karl Rove took those voters into account as they thought about how to win crucial public support for a policy they already preferred.

So here is where motives and goals get tangled.

I do not think the PNAC "Dominator Party" that became so crucial in the Bush Administration chose the war against Iraq simply to benefit Israel.

There is no evidence that the power-players who hired the PNAC people - Bush himself, Cheyney, Rumsfeld — gave a the worth of a dried-up Middle Eastern fig about Israel, pro or con. They had their eye on being the biggest Cowboys in history - riding the biggest horse in history.

In their radio fantasy, "Hiyo Silver" was the United States of America, to help them herd all those mooing cattle like a Cowboy can. Maybe Israel could have a bit role as Tonto.

Only the French, Germans, Russians, Chinese, Turks, and even Iraqis turned out not to be mere cattle. It just didn't work to sing, "Git along, little dogie, git along, git along; it's yer misfortune and none of my own."

The Dominators' attempt at a cattle drive was not only misfortunate for Iraqis but for the American people - and the Dominators themselves.

Both strands of their outlook flowed from their basic view that military power is trumps, that the world's one military superpower can control the world.

They were wrong. Their arrogance bred stupidity, because the arrogant ignore all versions of reality except the one that confirms their arrogance. The arrogant won't listen.

They thought Iraq was easily conquerable. They were wrong.

They ignored the central teaching of all spiritual traditions: Arrogance leads to self-destruction, whether in individuals or nations. Pharaoh's army is drownded. The Cross defeats and transforms the Empire. God and Mohammed triumph over the powerful bosses who drove him out of Mecca.

So I think Senator Hollings and General Zinni were correct in noticing that some of the PNAC Dominator Party were in part moved to favor attacking Iraq to protect Israel.

But to the degree they think the war was solely motivated by that desire, I think their assessment is incorrect.

Does that mean I think their assessment is anti-Semitic? No.

I am sure there are some anti-Semites who, now that the Iraq war turns out to have been a disaster born of arrogant self- delusion, are glad to blame it on "the Jews."

But that does not mean that it is anti-Semitic for someone to look at the evidence and see a desire to support Israel as a major reason for the war.

Once the Jewish people decided to create a Jewish nation-state and to enter the cock-fight of international politics, we took on the sour as well as the sweet.

It is no conspiracy theory, no purulent anti-Semitic eruption, to assess how US policy is shaped by the US alliance with Israel, and to assert that the US might have made a disastrous mistake by undertaking a war that Israel supported for its own reasons.

When Senator Hollings says that AIPAC and other Israel- oriented lobbies make a huge difference in US politics, I think he is correct. AIPAC itself boasts about its power. That is not alleging a "conspiracy." AIPAC's lobbying is legitimate. It does what various interest groups in the American polity are supposed to do.

But AIPAC, like any other interest-group lobbyist, can make a horrendous mistake about what will benefit the United States and even its own interest group. As AARP did about the Medicare bill. It is not "conspiracy theory" to say that AARP has a huge amount of clout in Congress, and that it took a position on Medicare that was bad for seniors and bad for the country — and that its support enabled a bad bill to win.

Some argue that Holliongs and Zinni may not have anti-Semitic intentions, but that the result of their critique will be making "the Jews" into scapegoats for this disastrous war.

That could happen. It need not.

The best way to prevent it is for the "official" Jewish leadership of the "mainstream" Jewish community to realize that it made a horrendous misjudgment about the Iraq war, in great part because it was misled into ignoring its ethical instincts for the sake of what looked like realpolitik.

This requires three actions:

First, publicly acknowledging that its silence and its support for the war was wrong, and that it now sees that US arrogance in going to war, setting up an occupation now indelibly tainted by torture, cannot be cured with still more arrogance in trying to impose democracy in Iraq; that the US cannot create democracy there; that the new puppet Iraq government cannot win legitimacy from the barrels of American guns; and that the US Army should leave so that Iraqis can work out with the UN the path of shaping self-government.

Secondly, Jewish officialdom must decide to cleanse itself of the kinds of behavior that led to its support or silence about the war: Its treating as saints (with big-dollar speaking gigs, official awards, etc) such rank opportunists as Richard Perle (who lied to Congress and who escaped prison only because judges ruled even lies were covered by the immunity he had been promised)and such military-obsessed Big Donors as Douglas Feith (who while working in the Reagan Administration bitterly opposed Reagans arms-control treaty with Gorbachev because it was pro-Communist).

Third, Jewish officialdom can decide to say out loud that AIPAC made a disastrous mistake not because "the Jewish vote" is illegitimate but because AIPAC got it wrong. Its obsession with military force as the only tool to save Israel and America was simply wrong.

AIPACS misdeeds have indeed been like those of AARP. AARP abandoned the millions of seniors who had been its base in favor of the millions of dollars it got from insurance-company commissions. AIPAC has ignored the real interests of millions of Jews in Israel , Europe, and America in favor of the short-sighted militarism of right-wing Israeli governments and Big Donor Americans.

The Dominator Party should be swept out of Jewish life by Jews. Not out of fear of anti-Semitism but out of respect for "Semitism" the deep practical and ethical wisdom of the Jewish people, reaching all the way back to the Dominator Party of Pharaoh.

Who played realpolitik until it drowned him.

There are only two reasons I can think of to accuse such statements as those of Senator Hollings and General Zinni of being anti-Semitic.

One is stark fear in the Jewish community. The most wounded nerve, now again suffering real twinges — synagogue bombings, for example — responds to any painful criticism as if it were anti-Semitism. I have compassion for such spasms of fear, but that does not mean we should surrender to them.

The other reason is sheer intimidation, to halt criticism of the Iraq war or the alliance between the Bush and Sharon right-wing governments.

For this I have no compassion.

Shalom, Arthur