Invading Iraq: Converging u.s. and Israeli Agendas
by Ronald Bleier
For a brief moment in early March the media was alive with the question of whether the U.S. is acting as Israel’s proxy by invading Iraq. On network TV, Tim Russert asked Richard Perle, a high profile advocate of removing Saddam Hussein, whether the proposed war would be serving U.S. interests, and specifically about the link to Israel. Similar issues were raised in a New York Times Op-ed by Bill Keller (“Is it Good for the Jews,” March 8, 2003) and in a Times news article on the subject (“Divide Among Jews Leads to Silence on Iraq War,” 3.15.03). Patrick Buchanan in The American Conservative (“Whose War?” March 24, 2003) and Stephen J. Sniegoski in Current Concern (“The War on Iraq: Conceived in Israel,” February 2003) published long articles arguing that this is a war on Israel’s behalf. Slate’s Michael Kinsley wrote a tongue in cheek article on the subject (J’Accuse, Sort Of, 3.12.03).
Activist Ali Abunimah lists three ways in which Israel could hope to gain by the Iraq war. First, it would eliminate Iraq as a potential rival. Second, by increasing “the already deep alienation between Arab and American societies, such a war [would be] good for Israel.” Third, the U.S. war against Iraq might give the government of Ariel Sharon cover to crack down even harder on the Palestinians, and perhaps even implement mass expulsions of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. (“Yearning for World War IV: The Israeli-Iraq connection,” October 3, 2000, The Electronic Intifada.)
Key people in Bush administration are on record as strong supporters of Israel and of regime change in Iraq, among them: Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Doug Feith, Under Secretary, Arms Control and International Security, John R. Bolton, senior director on Middle Eastern affairs on the National Security Council, Eliot Abrams.
These administration figures and others are promoters of Israel’s right wing Likud party in Israel and Israel’s superhawkish prime minister, Ariel Sharon. They advocate rolling back the territorial concessions Israel made under the now defunct Oslo accords (1993). Secretary Rumsfeld publicly referred to the “so called occupied territories” in August 2002 and implied that since Israel won them when it urged neighboring countries not to get involved in war, it has no obligation to return those territories.
The events of 9/11 provided administration hawks with the “Pearl Harbor” that allowed them to implement their long standing demand for regime change in Iraq. These plans go back to the neoconservatives who began promoting the removal of Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. Many of the neoconservatives were liberals
who drifted to the right when the Democratic Party moved to anti-war McGovernite left. And concern for Israel loomed large in their change. As political scientist, Benjamin Ginsberg puts it: ‘One major factor that drew them inexorably to the right was their attachment to Israel and their growing frustration during the 1960s with a Democratic party that was becoming increasingly opposed to American military preparedness and increasingly enamored of Third World causes [e.g., Palestinian rights]. In the Reaganite right’s hard-line anti-communism, commitment to American military strength, and willingness to intervene politically and militarily in the affairs of other nations …neocons found a political movement that would guarantee Israel’s security. (Stephen J. Sniegoski, op.cit.; For a similar analysis see Buchanan, op.cit.)
Thus support for Israel is at the root of the neoconservative movement which has risen to the top policy making echelon of the U.S. government. As far back as the end of the first Gulf War, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney urged the adoption of a military plan to invade Iraq but were blocked by Colin Powell (at that time, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and General Norman Schwartzkopf. In February 1998 Wolfowitz and a host of neocons signed an open letter to President Clinton which proposed bringing down Saddam Hussein. (Sniegoski, op cit.)
On the one hand it would seem to go against all logic that a tiny country like Israel, albeit with the with the world’s 7th, most powerful army and armed with nuclear weapons and delivery systems, could shape U.S. foreign policy. Nevertheless it shouldn’t be so surprising that this is the present case. We recall that the tiny Cuban lobby exercises powerful influence over Cuban policy even though they are at odds with the otherwise influential farm lobby. Similarly when it comes to Middle East issues, the extraordinary power of the Zionist lobby has been a fact of life for many years. On the other hand, the U.S. would not venture on such a war if its leadership didn’t see clear political and strategic gains for itself.
The Israeli connection to the Iraq war was highlighted by the furor over Virginia Congressman Jim Moran’s response in early March to a constituent question during a town hall meeting. He said: that “if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq we would not be doing this. The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going and I think they should.”
He would have been on safer ground had he limited his remarks to the leaders of the Jewish community. Jews, like all other groups, are split on the war. One poll taken shortly before the beginning of the war indicated that 59% of Jews supported the war, matching the rest of the country. But the congressman was correct and extraordinarily courageous in pointing to the leadership of the major Jewish organizations and suggesting that they could have blocked this war. As a 13-year veteran member of the House, Jim Moran has been around long enough to understand how political power on Middle East issues operates in Congress. War against Iraq has so isolated the United States and makes so little sense that were it not perceived as good for Israel it would have had a more difficult time arousing sufficient support. Much of the mainstream media which is also largely controlled by pro-Zionist Jews played an important role in allowing this extremist agenda to go forward without significant question or debate. (See appendixlisting Jewish leadership of much of the mainstream media,)
When Congressman Moran says that the leadership of the Jewish community is influential enough to change the direction of where this is going, he is stating a simple truth about the power of the Zionist lobby which helps to explain the silence and timidity of the Democrats. The power of Zionist interests explains in part why many high profile Democrats such as Senators John Kerry, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Charles Schumer, Barbara Boxer and others voted to give President Bush the authority for war in October 2002 despite the manifest recklessness of the venture. They understand that opposition to perceived Israeli interests might well have a dramatic impact on campaign contributions since Jewish sources reportedly donate 50% or more of the total receipts to the Democratic party. (See Mother Jones 400; http://www.motherjones.com/web_exclusives/special_reports/mojo_400/)
Support by the leadership of the Jewish community for war against Iraq represents a culmination of 50 years of U.S. support for Israel’s expansionist and oppressive rule. The passionate attachment to Israel, the dual loyalty felt by many Americans -whereby Israel’s interests are put on the same or higher level than U.S. interests — has come back to haunt the United States through the agency of a President willing to adopt the most extravagant dreams of right wing Israelis and pro-Israeli hawks. The result is that the full might of the world’s only super power has been dragged into Israel’s service despite the costs, and the dangers and the folly of such a policy. Attachment to Israel has come back to haunt America by enabling a decisive shift in U..S. policy away from helping to preserve the peace and security of the world and turning the U.S. into an aggressor nation, just as Israel has been and continues to be.
A measure of the influence of right-wing pro Israeli hawks in this administration is the way they have allowed Ariel Sharon free reign to apply extraordinary and unending pressure on the Palestinians and to destroy the possibility for Palestinian civil society. The Bush administration signaled their intention to leave the Palestinians to the tender mercies of the Israeli government as soon as they took office when they announced that they would allow the contending parties to settle their own differences. This ignored the disparity of power between the two sides and predictably the situation has deteriorated to its current awful level, ever spiraling downward with widening ripples into a hopeless future.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, it was recognized that the Israeli Palestinian conflict was at the heart of the Al-Qaeda attack and there was a fair amount of attention to the subject even in the United States. However, as time passed, the issue returned to its familiar marginalization, banished from the major media. But it is already clear that the war against Iraq will only exacerbate matters as Sharon continues to put more and more pressure on the Palestinians. As a result, the Muslim and Arab world are likely to be further inflamed, even more now as a longer than expected war is bound to inflict terrible suffering on many Iraqis. All the talk of a road map towards a Palestinian state is widely regarded as mere public relations from a Bush administration dead set against any concessions to the Palestinians.
Permanent War: A Separate U.S. Agenda
In addition to serving Israel, there is a separate and converging U.S. interest in waging war against Iraq: namely the Bush administration’s pursuit of an agenda of permanent war. Their policy of pre-emption represents a radical break with the past. The new National Security Strategy issued in September 2002, with its breathtaking justification of pre-emptive military action represents a revolutionary break with fifty years of American policy and raises questions about the government’s commitment to U.S. security. It’s true that the U.S. has engaged in pre-emptive military action in the past, but pre-emption has never before been invoked as an ongoing policy, nor has it ever been used so audaciously in the face of such widespread opposition. As many have noted, the war against Iraq seems destined to spur rather than deter terrorism and perhaps provoke another 9/11-style attack on the American homeland. For this and other reasons it suggests that the security of the American people is not a priority for this government. Their apparent lack of interest in national security might explain President Bush’s veto of $39 million for Port Container Security and cuts of more than $1 billion out of existing grants for local police/fire departments according to Democratic party sources. (See http://www.house.government.appropriations_democrats/caughtonfilm.htm)
How is it possible that the U.S. government could be disinterested, even antagonistic to the security of its people? The answer is that Americans already live in an Orwellian world where the leadership understands that another 9/11-style attack might very well advance their right wing domestic program and their international agenda of permanent war. In the climate of fear and revenge that such another attack would engender, the successor to the Patriot Act, already leaked to the press, would head up a list of Bush administration priorities that would almost certainly face little or no domestic opposition.
As noted above, the core of the neoconservative philosophy is the commitment to American military strength and the desire to use force as the chief option. Under President George W. Bush’s leadership the U.S. has worked to free itself from the restraints of multilateralism and seeks war after war. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman put it, the war against Iraq is merely “a pilot project,” (“Things to Come,” 3.18.03). If circumstances allow, they will seek to wage war against North Korea and Iran – the other wings of the axis of evil), and afterwards to pursue regime change in some or all of Israel’s other enemies, including Syria, Lebanon, and Libya. During the second week of the war, Secretary Rumsfeld complained publicly about Syrian shipments of military equipment including night goggles to Iraq, hinting that an attack on Syria might be a natural outgrowth the Iraq war. The White House did not gainsay his remarks.
In the view of those currently running the U.S. government, the unrivaled military power of the U.S. can operate to best advantage in an atmosphere of anarchy and conflict. U.S. policy in the George W. Bush era, is similar to the unprovoked aggression that the world observed in the days of Hilter, Napoleon, Alexander the Great, and other leaders who stepped onto the world stage with unrivalled military force. Characteristic of the Bush team’s brutal cynicism is their comparison of Saddam Hussein to Hitler when they are the ones who most resemble Hitler in their power, their ruthless determination for war at all costs and their threat to world peace and security.
The U.S. government is interested in war in part as a way of testing and employing their high tech military weaponry, including nuclear weapons. Since as far back as the Reagan administration they attempted to move nuclear weapons away from the sphere of deterrence to actual battlefield use. In the current administration, they have already moved to break down the administrative barriers to the use of nuclear weapons and to ease the way for their practical implementation. They have announced that if circumstances warrant they intend to use nuclear weapons even against countries that don’t possess them. (See “The Nuclear Option in Iraq: The U.S. has lowered the bar for using the ultimate weapon,” William M. Arkin, Los Angeles Times, 1.26.03 http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/wire/la-op-arkin26jan26.story)
The implications of the Bush agenda for permanent war go beyond rearranging the Middle East to Israel’s liking. The logical conclusion to their policy is eventually to make war against Russia and China whom they regard as potential rivals. In effect, they want to make war against the whole world. They want to fight World War V after they have won WW3, the war against terrorism, and WW4 the war against militant Islam. It remains to be seen how far the world will allow them to pursue their goals. Noam Chomsky has suggested that their desire to crush any perceived challenges to U.S. power “poses serious dangers” and could even lead to “extinction of the species.” (“Deep Concerns, March 20, 2003, distributed over the internet by Znet.) Extinction of the human species may actually be slightly ambitious even for these superhawks, but Chomsky’s concern is a serious one. The threats of global warming, resource scarcity and the political tensions they generate are indicators of extraordinary pressures on our modern technological civilization and the Bush regime’s prescription for global war can only hasten a day of reckoning.
Clearly the neoconservative war plans are rife with contradictions and ultimately suicidal, not to say reckless and irresponsible. But the important thing to note is that any policy has winners and losers and our task is to look at some of the consequences of a permanent war agenda. First of all, it is a highly promising avenue to re-election and permanent power. Just as the buildup to the Iraq war dominated the 2002 elections, so the Iraq war continues to obscure many other pressing domestic and economic issues that might otherwise be prominent. War divides the opposition and puts it on the defensive. Moreover when the country is at war, it greases the wheels of the right wing domestic agenda. A bloated military budget has already been passed with much more for the military on the way. We have already seen a curtailment of social spending, huge tax cuts for the wealthy, derailment of environmental controls, and an attack on civil liberties. If the war party manages to enact permanent war, it could result in permanent rule, an end to democracy, an end to the republic.
War for oil or war for imperialism? Not really
While Iraq’s immense oil reserves are very important and already one of the contracts to rebuild the Iraqi oil infrastructure has gone to a Halliburton subsidiary and undoubtedly more such contracts will flow to American firms, nevertheless it’s a misunderstanding to think that this is a “war for oil.” The numbers tell a good part of the story. Although its oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia’s, Iraq represents merely 3% of the world’s pumping capacity. It would take ten years and an estimated $40 billion to bring Iraqi output to 6 million barrels a day (double its pre 1991 pumping level). Over the ten year post-war period, total revenue from Iraqi oil exports have been estimated at $300 billion, short of the estimated $350 billion that the war plus five years of peacekeeping is expected to cost the United States. The costs of rebuilding Iraq over the next ten years are estimated at $400 billion. In the current atmosphere it’s more than likely that the bulk of Iraq’s oil revenue will go towards rebuilding Iraq, rather than reimbursing the U.S. treasury for the costs of the war. (Donald F. Hepburn, “Is It a War for Oil,” Middle East Policy, Vol X, No. 1 Spring 2003; see also “Iraq oil, the reality,” Dilip Hiro, Middle East International, 10 January 2003)
Similarly the argument that this is a war for oil misses the point that such a war, however immoral would at least have a rational basis in attempting to secure important resources. Yet, before embarking on war, the U.S. was getting all the oil it wanted from Iraq and war has only curtailed these supplies, and could conceivably threaten other oil suppliers. The best way to secure Middle East oil would have been to seriously grapple with the Israeli Palestinian conflict and avoid war with Iraq at all costs. Paul Wolfowitz, chief architect of this war has been quoted as saying: “If we’re not true to our principles, we’re not serving our national interest.” He believes that war on Iraq will engender more democracy in the Middle East and “the tendency toward successful representative self-government works for the benefit of the United States.” (“First Stop Iraq,” Time Magazine, 3.31.03) It’s difficult to see how the reputedly brilliant Wolfowitz can actually believe this rubbish since everybody knows that a democratic Middle East would work against Israel’s interests. Perhaps such talk is the way policy makers convince themselves of the justice of their cause. But in any event it should be clear that the Bush war policy is not a rational solution to the problem of scarce and valuable resources and has little to do with real world problem solving. Rather it is an ideological and messianic vision of pursuing a permanent war agenda by way of destroying Israel’s enemies.
Similarly, the charge that this is a war to further U.S. imperialist aims misses the point that the U.S. already dominates the world, politically, militarily and economically. It is already a hyper-imperialist power.
The historical record shows that in the real world, hegemony never has been a winning grand strategy. The reason is simple: The primary aim of states in international politics is to survive and maintain their sovereignty. And when one state becomes too powerful – becomes a hegemon – the imbalance of power in its favor is a menace to the security of all other states. So throughout modern international political history, the rise of a would-be hegemon always has triggered the formation of counter-hegemonic alliances by other states. (Sniegoski, op cit.)
As an imperialist power there is little more that the United States could wish for aside from redrawing the Middle East map in order to eliminate Israel’s enemies. But Israel has enemies because it dominates and represses Arab peoples in order to consolidate a Jewish state in the former Palestine. It’s possible that the enormous military power of U.S. can help to enforce the most grandiose Israeli expansion plans, but this is an uncertain prospect for the long term. By opting for unprovoked aggression against Israel’s enemies, the U.S. is embarking on a project beyond imperialism, and moving toward world war and Armageddon.