Monday, August 07, 2006

Proxy wars

It is sometimes said that America is using Israel to fight a proxy war. Anthony Cordesman, the respected military analyst, denies this piece of conventional wisdom. In today’s NY Times (Aug. 5, 2006) Cordesman is quoted as follows:

”Far from Israel being the American proxy in a war against Iran, we’ve become Israel’s proxy in a war against Hezbollah. “Israel’s miscalculations have been so serious that its only hope for victory is to have the United States and the international community do for Israel what it can’t do militarily, which is to defeat Hezbollah, assemble an international force in Lebanon and bring some sort of endgame to all this.”

This analysis deserves to be taken farther. Arguably, in Iraq the US is fighting a proxy war for Israel. Some months ago, in a piece in these pages, I traced the origins of the war to a 1996 paper “A Clean Break.” Now Sidney Blumenthal has independently confirmed this analysis in a piece in Salon. Here is a brief excerpt.

“In order to try to understand the neoconservative road map, senior national security professionals have begun circulating among themselves a 1996 neocon manifesto against the Middle East peace process. Titled 'A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,' its half-dozen authors included neoconservatives highly influential with the Bush administration--Richard Perle, first-term chairman of the Defense Policy Board; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense; and David Wurmser, Cheney's chief Middle East aide.

"'A Clean Break' was written at the request of incoming Likud Party Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and intended to provide 'a new set of ideas' for jettisoning the policies of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Instead of trading 'land for peace,' the neocons advocated tossing aside the Oslo agreements that established negotiations and demanding unconditional Palestinian acceptance of Likud's terms, 'peace for peace.' Rather than negotiations with Syria, they proposed 'weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria.' They also advanced a wild scenario to 'redefine Iraq.' Then King Hussein of Jordan would somehow become its ruler; and somehow this Sunni monarch would gain 'control' of the Iraqi Shiites, and through them 'wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria.'"

Having correctly pinpointed the origin of today’s failed policies in the “A Clean Break” paper a decade ago, Blumenthal goes on to observe, “Netanyahu, at first, attempted to follow the ‘clean break’ strategy, but under persistent pressure from the Clinton administration he felt compelled to enter into U.S.-led negotiations with the Palestinians. In the 1998 Wye River accords, concluded through the personal involvement of President Clinton and a dying King Hussein, the Palestinians agreed to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel and Netanyahu agreed to withdraw from a portion of the occupied West Bank. Further negotiations, conducted by his successor Ehud Barak, . . . potentially set the stage for new ones.

Then we fast forward to the new millennium. “At his first National Security Council meeting, President George W. Bush stunned his first secretary of state, Colin Powell, by rejecting any effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. When Powell warned that ‘the consequences of that could be dire, especially for the Palestinians,’ Bush snapped, "Sometimes a show for force by one side can really clarify things." He was making a ‘clean break’ not only with his immediate predecessor but also with the policies of his father.”

Thus Blumenthal. His pinpointing of the fons et origo in the 1996 “Clean Break” report is accurate. Unfortunately, he elides some of the intermediate steps. See my earlier contribution in these pages.

Why do I say that our efforts in Iraq are more in the interests of the state of Israel than our own? Unlike the United States, Israel had real grievances with Saddam Hussein. During the Gulf War Iraq had aimed its clumsy Scud missiles at Israeli territory. These failed, but surely Saddam would create a more effective ones if he were allowed to do so. Moreover, Saddam provided a bounty of $25,000 to every family that produced a suicide bomber. Israel had good reason to work to having its hostile neighbor neutralized. It was a neat trick to get its sponsor to do the job. Who, we may remark parenthetically, is sponsoring whom?

The outbreak of the hostilities that we are now witnessing in Lebanon seemed unexpected. But was it? I suspect that much worse is coming. We will come to look back on the 1989-2003 period as a halcyon era. I used to love to travel. Today the Islamic countries are out. The list of nations where I feel welcome is shortening. This situation cannot be favorable to our nation and our people.

A valuable reality check appears in the work of Tony Judt, a professor of history at NYU. Judt, a former kibbutznik, has recently been harshly critical of the state of Israel. In 2003 he published a controversial article in the New York Review of Books, in which he warns that Israel is on its way to becoming a "belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno- state." To avoid this result, he called for the conversion of "Israel from a Jewish state to binational one" with equal rights for all Jews and Arabs living in Israel and the Palestinian territories. This article drew strong criticism from those who saw this solution as tantamount to the dismantling of the Jewish State. Indeed Judt went so far as to suggest that if there were no significant change Israelis could suffer the fate of another settler group, the French pied noirs who were forced to leave Algeria.

Three years later, Judt intervened in the controversy around the March 2006 paper by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt entitled “The Israeli Lobby and the U.S. Foreign Policy” with an op-ed in The NY Times, Judt held that "[in] spite of [the paper's] provocative title, the [Mearsheimer-Walt essay] draws on a wide variety of standard sources and is mostly uncontentious." He goes on to ask "[does] the Israel Lobby affect our foreign policy choices? Of course — that is one of its goals. . . . But does pressure to support Israel distort American decisions? That's a matter of judgment." He concludes his remarks as follows: "this essay, by two 'realist' political scientists with no interest whatsoever in the Palestinians, is a straw in the wind." Moreover, "it will not be self-evident to future generations of Americans why the imperial might and international reputation of the United States are so closely aligned with one small, controversial Mediterranean client state."

In May of 2006 Judt resumed, publishing a feature-length piece titled "The Country That Woudn't Grow Up" for the respected Israeli newspaper Haaretz. In the article he reviews Israel's short history, describing what he sees as loss of credibility that began with the Six-Day War in 1967 and comparing rhetorically the length of time that the state of Israel has existed --58 years--to the expected maturity of a human being of that same age, which he feels Israel lacks.

This immaturity seems evident in the Israeli aggression that is devastating Lebanon today. The Israelis seem to think that they can do whatever they want, and George Bush is cheering them on.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis. "The Israelis seem to think that they can do whatever they want, and George Bush is cheering them on." George Bush, however, is not merely cheering, he's joining. He, too, thinks he can do whatever he wants, and has. Israeli arrogance is well known, but Presidential arrogance, while always possible (e.g., LBJ, Nixon), usually is "checked-and-balanced." That Bush is not under this scrutiny by any party, save courts that he hasn't appointed, is a good argument for increasing the separation of powers.

8:17 AM  

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