Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Joe Klein blows the whistle

Joe Klein is a respected mainstream journalist and columnist, best known for his novel “Primary Colors,” an anonymously-published roman à clef portraying Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. Currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Guggenheim Fellow, Klein is now a contributor to the Time Magazine news group.

In a recent column he has ventured to take on the neoconservatives, with special reference to their conflation of the national interest of Israel with the national interest of the United States. Here is some of what Klein had to say on Swampland, his blog on the Time website:

“There is a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who unsuccessfully tried to get Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, and then successfully helped provide the intellectual rationale for George Bush to do it in 2003... Happily, these people represent a very small sliver of the Jewish population in this country... I remain proud of my Jewish heritage, a strong supporter of Israel... But I am not willing to grant these ideologues the anonymity they seek... I believe there are [sic] a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who are pushing for war with Iran because they believe it is in America's long-term interests and because they believe Israel's existence is at stake. They are wrong and recent history tells us they are dangerous. They are also bullies and I'm not going to be intimidated by them.”

Needless to say, these observations provoked a flurry of angry rejoinders, some implying that Klein is a “self-hating Jew.” (I remark parenthetically that one should not have to declare one’s Jewishness to decry, as I do, the attempt by the neoconservatives to hijack American foreign policy to serve the interests of another country--for that is indeed what has been happening.)

In this matter there has been much self-censorship, motivated by fear of reprisals. Few have been willing to speak out. Fortunately, that era seems to be ending. Today there is an emerging consensus--at least among some commentators--on the following points. The implementation of the Bush administration policies in the Middle East has had disastrous consequences for the United States; Israel is also less secure as a result of these policies. Further, the neoconservative clique played an essential role in providing an ideological foundation for these policies. Within that neoconservative world there operates a prominent and tightly knit group of Jewish figures who are ideologically motivated by an old-school Likudist view of Israeli interests. In short, they are Israel Firsters.

Recent years have witnessed a failure within the mainstream, Jewish and non-Jewish, to acknowledge the presence of a particular Jewish neoconservative story line, and then to challenge that story line as being fundamentally flawed in its reading of both American and Israeli interests. One of the causes of that vacuum was the abuse of the term anti-Semitism. The mere threat of being so labeled has had a chilling effect. Commendably Joe Klein has stood up against this intimidation. Perhaps he should have added though that much of the problem stems from evangelical Christian allies of Likudism in this country.

In his Daily Dish blog Andrew Sullivan offers some shrewd comments, somewhat offset by his initial admission that he and Klein supported the war (though apparently Klein had more reservations). Sullivan goes on to say: “in the neocon mind, there is almost no area in which it is even possible to conceive of America's interest being different from Israel's.”

He goes on to note that many astute Israelis--and many American Jews--opposed Bush’s attack on Iraq. However, this point is not relevant to the neoconservative claim that the interests of Israel and the US are identical, and that this shared interest mandated an attack on Saddam Hussein. Too many people, including Andrew Sullivan, bought into this argument. I note parenthetically that at one time Sullivan was the editor of the New Republic, an openly Likudist weekly.

Still, let us follow him a bit further. “The salient question, to my mind, is therefore: is there any point in future policy toward the Middle East that we can conceive of America's interests not being identical with Israel's and so set up a conflict with the neocons in which this unhappy squabble could be salient? I can see one imminent--the desire to occupy Iraq for the indefinite future and use it as a military base for regional and global power, as [the columnist Charles] Krauthammer dreams of; and one looming--the prospect of a nuclear Iran. On the former, it's striking how virulently a man like [Senator] Lieberman wants to keep American troops policing the Muslim Middle East in perpetuity--especially given the brutal experiences of non-Muslim foreigners occupying the West Bank and Iraq. There are non-Israel-centric reasons for doing this, of course, but they are increasingly fragile when it comes to America's national interest... [W]hy on earth do we want to become a second Israel, occupying Muslim lands for ever? Israel may believe it has little choice on the West Bank. That does not apply to the US in Iraq.”

Andrew Sullivan further remarks, “[o]n the Iran question, there can be little doubt that waging a pre-emptive war on the Persian regime is now the principal policy objective of the neocon right. To elect McCain is almost certainly to endorse a new war with Iran within the next four years. Again, this could be justified on the grounds of America's interests and not Israel's. But again, the case is getting a little harder to make. The world and the West can live, after all, with a deterred and contained nuclear Iran. Israel cannot. McCain and Lieberman hold the [bellicose] Podhoretz position on Iran; Obama is a few pragmatic notches away. Those notches--minor to most observers--nonetheless render Obama unacceptable to the Jewish right. Even after his AIPAC speech.”

These are good points. Yet there is one important flaw in Sullivan’s argument, and that is his assumption that we should not look back, but only forward. If we don’t look back at the way we were manipulated into launching the unnecessary and disastrous Iraq War, how can we arm ourselves adequately against present and future manipulation?

There is an even more fundamental issue. Have the interests of the United States and Israel ever been fully and completely aligned? During World War II, Britain was our closest ally. Yet President Roosevelt and others in his administration recognized that in some ways the British were acting contrary to American interests. As we know from Lord Keynes’ mission to Washington, Churchill’s government operated under a similar assumption that mirrored the American one.

These days, however, we are asked to believe the fairy tale that the interests of the United States and Israel are always in perfect synch. Why should they be? It is glaringly obvious that this fairy tale, now coming under attack so late in the day, serves only the purposes of AIPAC and the Israel Lobby.


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