Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tail wags dog

Stephen J. Sniegoski’s recent book “The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel” documents the campaign by the neocons, acting in the interest of the state of Israel, to involve the US in our disastrous Iraq War. In my blog posting “Proxy Wars” of August 7, 2006 I had earlier sketched the history of this undertaking, so damaging to our national interest. Therein I traced the inception of the trend to the “Clean Break” manifesto of 1996 I will shortly offer a review of the Sniegoski book, a great advance on the outlines that I and others had proffered.

One of my friends has demurred, saying that this subordinationist approach cannot be correct. In keeping with its sempiternal devotion to imperialist goals--so goes the general run of such thinking--the US must be acting mainly in its own perceived national interest in the Middle East. All else is secondary. The tail does not wag the dog, we are told.

I beg to differ. In this case it does.

For their part, the neocons insist that there is no problem, because the interests of the state of Israel and the US are always in perfect synch. There is no need for second thoughts. We can reliably assume that buttressing and abetting the aims of Israel, even as defined by the brute Netanyahu, is by definition in America’s national interest. This self-serving claim needs no further comment.

From the opposite camp stem the views advanced by some left-oriented observers who are reflexively inclined to blame America first. This tendency is also mistaken. The bad things that happen in the world do not always, or even principally originate in Washington, DC. Such a view of contemporary history is implausibly unipolar. It also disregards the immense capacity of third-world peoples to create their own mischief, as seen in Pakistan, India, the Congo, Sudan, and many other countries--not to mention the inclination of Moscow and Beijing to fish in trouble waters.

To return to the picturesque image, what about the tail wagging the dog with regard to our Middle East policy? This metaphor sidesteps some significant historical realities. In fact, there have been a number of efforts to bring about such seemingly unlikely subordinations, though none that have been nearly as successful as the one currently being conducted by our Israel-worshipping neocons--with the support of their not-so-silent Christianist partners.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Irish-Americans, incensed by British abuses in John Bull’s other island, sought to entice this country into conflict with Great Britain. Then, as World War I approached, some German-Americans, assisted by some clumsy support from Berlin, sought to achieve a similar object. A good example is the German-born American intellectual George Sylvester Viereck (1884-1962), He founded two publications, The International and The Fatherland, which argued the German cause during World War I. Later, Viereck became a well-known Nazi apologist, He was indicted for violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and was imprisoned from 1942 to 1947.

During the 1930s and 40s, American sympathizers with the USSR sought to shackle us to that foreign power. This trend culminated in the tragicomic campaign of Henry Wallace for the presidency in 1948. Lightly disguised as ideological, the effort by American Communist Party members and the fellow travelers associated with them was simply an effort to shackle American interests to those of a foreign power--or at the very least to neutralize our capacities so that Stalin could have his way.

This pro-Soviet campaign offers perhaps the closest analogy to the powerful effort by today’s neocons. Significantly, the origins of the neocons lie in the Marxist leanings of their 1930s forebears--and in some cases actual parents (witness Irving and William Kristol).

Campaigning as a third-party candidate, Wallace never had the slightest chance of becoming president. Concededly, he would have been had Roosevelt not dumped him from the ticket in 1944 in favor of then-Senator Harry Truman. That is one thing FDR got right.

Profiting from these earlier efforts, the supporters of Israel proposed a different strategy. They would not have dalliance with any third party, but instead seek to infiltrate both the mainstream parties. They also understood that it was important not to have their cause identified with any particular segment of America’s citizenry--even though it clearly was.

How has this sleight of hand been accomplished? First, we are subjected to specious proclamations that Israel is a democracy. Given the discrimination and harassment Palestinians constantly face, this claim is dubious, to say the least. But even if we grant that Israel is in fact a democracy, this status would offer no assurance that the two nations would not experience conflicts of interest--just as we sometimes have differences with France and Germany, both democracies.

Second, the media bombard us with reiterations of the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe. These atrocities were not perpetrated by Americans, so why must we feel guilt about them? And why is there a Holocaust Museum in Washington DC? Such museums are appropriate--mandatory in fact--for Germany, France, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and other European nations that were complicit in the Final Solution. But why in the US?

Finally, the pro-Israel faction has forged a de facto alliance with American evangelical protestants. This connection surely illustrates the truism that politics makes strange bedfellows. Most ordinary members of evangelical congregations probably have little interest in Israel, but typically their pastors are fervent cheerleaders in the cause. This phenomenon gives the pro-Israeli faction cover so that they can assert that our commitment to the state of Israel is not “just for the Jews.” Yet it clearly is.

Unfortunately, the November election has at best blunted the power of the Israel-worshipping neocons. In some respects, one might argue that they are more powerful than ever, since they are now able to operate outside of the limelight. Through a powerful presence in the media and almost endless reserves of cash, the Israel Lobby and its allies remain omnipresent.

We can be sure, though, that things will not remain just as they are. In the Middle East the actions of the Israelis and their government have now made the two-state solution impossible. That is a reality that must be recognized. Yet the Israeli authorities will not be able to have their way forever. Instead, in the middle term we will find the the territories of Israel-Palestine must move to a one-state solution. The new state will resemble South Africa today. That is to say that, if the best case scenario is realized, the Jewish citizens will remain and their vibrant culture will help to inform the identity of the new nation. “Jewish brains” will assure the economic success of the new polity. Tourism will continue to flourish. However, the Jews will be in a minority, and must accept this status.



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