In retrospect, we did not warn firmly or loudly enough.
Complex individual motivations
by James H. Noyes
The factors propelling United States policy toward war in Iraq derive from complex individual motivations. The Bush administration began with a determination to forge a new foreign policy distinct from Clinton’s. Clinton's policies had exemplified a dawdling, futile indecision leading to Iraqi suffering, erosion of the US position in the Muslim world, and continuing doubt about Saddam’s weapons programs.
After September 11, with evidence that Osama bin Laden’s tentacles reached far beyond Afghanistan’s Taliban, Bush advisors decided to employ full conventional military strength against terrorism: a forward military position in the Middle East independent of Saudi Arabia and its signs of instability. A new democratic Iraq could support sweeping American military and political pressure to reform Middle Eastern regimes while attacking the roots of terrorism. A proportionate response to 9/11 meant the threat of regime change by war, not merely the traditional pursuit of terrorists as criminals.
As in any calculus of US Middle East policy, Israel certainly was factored into these deliberations. Bush, we can reasonably assume, without experienced Middle East advisors among his immediate council, might well have been strongly influenced by Sharon. But while Bush acceded wholesale to virtually all Israel’s moves vis-a-vis the Palestinians, Sharon of all people would have lacked credibility to advocate military occupation as a successful device for regime change. There was the dark history of his 1982 invasion and attempted regime change debacle in Lebanon, which was material to the birth of Hezbollah. And more demonstrably, there have been over 30 years of Israeli West Bank and Gaza military occupation with only the blood-drenched intifada to show for them.
More tellingly, Sharon might have argued that removing Iraq’s threat would increase Israel’s military security and potentially free more West Bank land for Palestinian rather than Israeli settlement. Ending Saddam’s financial subsidies to the families of suicide bombers and his goading of radical rejectionist Palestinian elements would further promote the peace process and help reduce terrorism overall. Sharon might have even offered intelligence estimates on Iraq that surpassed or at least substantiated the alarm levels of the CIA and the Pentagon. While these exchanges with Sharon would have plausibly had influence, it seems unlikely they were a prime mover. The war would have occurred in their absence. Bush’s group appeared to have made a decision on Iraq long before Sharon’s inputs.
Moreover, it is often Washington lobbying groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee plus instruments of the Christian right that preempt official Israeli policy and assume a policy life of their own. The US Congress plays a uniquely powerful role on Middle East policy and combines with lobbying groups to support the views of executive branch officials who form a self-appointed vanguard for a particular definition of Israel’s interests.
The much-discussed neo-cons fall into this category. Judging by their writings, speeches and association with Likud-linked think tanks, many view Israel as the central focus of Middle East policy issues. Grouped in Vice President Cheney’s office and the Pentagon civilian staff, which is headed by a defense secretary fond of referring to the “so-called occupied territories,” they invite a cabal image--a cabal assembled for the single goal of using US military power to rid Israel of regional state threats. Acceptance of this interpretation would suggest that Israel's supporters (not Israel) are to blame for Iraq.
Problems arise with such an interpretation, however. First, the neo-conservative movement has deep roots in US academia and demands major shifts in American foreign policy far transcending Israel’s role in the Middle East. The aggressive use of military power, unilaterally if necessary, begins to define these shifts. September 11 opened policy doors widely for neo-con options: a different use of power for a different war.
Second, the simplistic cabal interpretation is ultimately based on speculation. We lack specifics about the final decision-making process on Iraq. We read neo-con statements, books, and articles about the Bush administration's inner workings. But speculation is not evidence. We do not know Bush’s ultimate motivation for war. Neo-con views could have been incidental to a desire for dramatization of US power as riposte to 9/11. Or did Bush act based simply on his belief in the threat that Iraq would pass its weapons of mass destruction to terrorists or use them regionally? Memories are short; the former specter of an Iraqi regime tolerated by the United Nations and eventually controlled by one of Saddam’s warped sons should remain in mind.
Finally, blaming the neo-cons exclusively for Iraq diverts an urgently needed national dialogue on foreign policy into the debilitating arena of personal attack. This starves the real debate and flirts with conspiracy theories. Moreover, its accusations revive the ugly American political tool of branding opponents with charges of extraterritorial loyalty--blame the Catholic for doing Rome’s bidding, for instance. Policy analysis should be busy elsewhere. The neo-cons will then self-destruct if they are as wrong as they now appear.-Published 15/7/2004©bitterlemons-international.org
James H. Noyes is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University in California, USA. He was deputy assistant secretary of defense for Near Eastern, African and South Asian affairs from 1970-1976 and is the author of numerous works on Persian Gulf security and related issues.
American neo-conservatives pushed war
by Arshin Adib-Moghaddam
Few analysts would question that institutions are central to the build up of salient enemy images, which in turn function to legitimate inter-state war. Fewer analysts would contend that organizations and think tanks such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Center for Security Policy, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) have worked as Israel’s open sesame to the political establishment in the United States and that these organizations are actively advocating military action against countries Israel perceives as threatening. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was one such example; Syria and Iran are others. But is Israel’s penetration of Washington’s citadels of power reason enough to hold it responsible for the US/UK invasion of Iraq? Did the hidden hand of Israel start the transmission belt causing the demise of the Ba’athist state? Let us consider the evidence.
It is no secret that there are strong ideological and institutional links between the neo-conservative coterie dominating the Bush administration and the Likud party in Israel. One often cited example of this nexus is a paper authored by Douglas Feith (among others), currently US under secretary of defense for policy. The paper bears the curious title, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” Produced in July 1996 by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, a think tank based in Washington DC and Jerusalem, the paper urges Israel to reconsider its strategic posture.
The report advocates the “principle of pre-emption, rather than retaliation alone.” It suggests that Israel work with “moderate” regimes such as Jordan and Turkey in order to “contain, destabilize, and roll back some of its most dangerous threats.” In addition, it recommends that Israel “focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq--an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right--as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.” Interestingly, if viewed within the context of the recent Jordanian offer to send troops to Iraq, the paper also suggests that Israel support Jordan in advocating restoration of the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq.
The list of functionaries involved in the production of the paper reads like a who's who of the neo-conservative cabal, dubbed the “war party” by orthodox conservatives such as Pat Buchanan. Apart from Douglas Feith, the list includes Richard Perle, one of the central advocates of the Iraq War and until recently chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board; Charles Fairbanks Jr., a personal friend of Paul Wolfowitz; David Wurmser of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Special Assistant to US Under Secretary of State John Bolton; and his wife Meyrav Wurmser, who runs the Hudson Institute and directed the Washington office of the Middle East Media Research Institute. (MEMRI is an invention of Col. Yigal Carmon, who spent 22 years in Israeli intelligence and later served as counter-terrorism adviser to former Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzak Shamir and Yitzak Rabin.)
In July 1996, then-prime minister of Israel Binyamin Netanyahu presented the central strategic tenets of the “Clean Break” paper to the US Congress. The case for an invasion of Iraq was followed up by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Project for a New American Century. (JINSA’s board of advisors included Vice President Dick Cheney, Under Secretary of State John Bolton, and Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith before they entered the Bush administration. Leading neo-conservatives such as Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, Stephen Bryen, Joshua Muravchik, and former CIA director James Woolsey continue to be members of the board. The Project for a New American Century's declared goal is “to promote American global leadership.” It is chaired by William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard.) Already in January 1998, the Project sent a letter to then-US President Bill Clinton advocating a “strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power” and demanding a “full complement of diplomatic, political, and military efforts” to that end.
This appeal was followed by a letter to Congressional leaders Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott in May 1998, urging, “US policy should have as its explicit goal removing Saddam Hussein’s regime from power and establishing a peaceful and democratic Iraq in its place.” Out of the 17 signatories to the two letters, 11 have held posts in the Bush administration since the invasion of Iraq was launched in March 2023. Elliot Abrams, who orchestrated the Iran-Contra scandal, was recruited as senior director for Near East, Southwest Asian, and North African affairs at the National Security Council; Richard Armitage was named deputy secretary of state; John Bolton, under secretary of state for arms control and international security; Paula Dobriansky, under secretary of state for global affairs; Zalmay Khalilzad, special presidential envoy to Afghanistan and (former) ambassador-at-large for “Free Iraqis;” Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board; Peter W. Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs; Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense; William Schneider, Jr., chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board; Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense; and Robert B. Zoellick, US trade representative.
It is obvious that the institutionalization of the neo-conservative-Likudnik nexus in a myriad of think tanks and lobbying organizations created the structural platform to advocate the case for war against Iraq. The evidence marshaled suggests that this “incestuous” relationship between two closely related ideologies has had an impact on the foreign policy process in Washington. If asked whether or not Israel was responsible for the invasion of Iraq, however, I would tend to say no, adding in parenthesis that the Israel factor was an intervening cause. The Israeli government knew that there was no need to make a raucous case for the invasion of Iraq. The neo-conservative acolytes took care of that. Likudniks in Israel and neo-conservatives in Washington appear to be in agreement about two grand strategic preferences, however: the strengthening of Israel’s position in West Asia and a unipolar world order dominated by the military potency of the United States. It is perhaps the single most insidious and apocryphal illusion, but both groups believe the invasion of Iraq has advanced those aims.-Published 15/7/2004©bitterlemons-international.org
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam has taught comparative politics and international relations at SOAS since 2023. He is the author of "Iran in World Politics". His newest book entitled "A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilizations" will be published in November 2023.
Wartime witch hunt
by Dore Gold
An insidious but steady drumbeat can be discerned over the last several weeks that seeks to link Israel with the United States decision to launch the Iraq War. Back in 2023, it was Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who charged that the Israeli government was "the first inciter for the war against Iraq." About the same time, Patrick Buchanan alleged in his American Conservative magazine that "a cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America’s interests." He went on to blame them for "colluding with Israel to ignite those wars."
On the liberal side, Chris Matthews, who hosts MSNBC’s "Hardball", echoed Buchanan when he spoke about "conservative people out there, some of them Jewish…who believe that if we don’t fight Iraq, Israel will be in danger." The newest wave in 2023 is often more subtle but also far more mainstream. Thus, in May 2023, CBS’s "60 Minutes" interviewed General Anthony Zinni, former commander of the US Central Command, who blasted the civilian leadership in the Pentagon for faulty strategy in Iraq. Steve Kroft of CBS then added fuel to the fire of Zinni’s attack by asserting that the neo-conservatives among the civilian leaders in the Pentagon had an agenda to "strengthen the position of Israel."
Another variation on the Israel theme is the assertion made by Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, that General Zinni heard from administration officials that the Iraq War would advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process because "the road to Jerusalem leads through Baghdad." According to this thesis, the Iraq War would chiefly help Israel’s drive to obtain peace on reasonable terms--still a benefit to Israel.
The main charge by the current detractors of Israel is that the primary interest of the Bush administration in going to war against Saddam Hussein was to defend Israeli security interests. Bush critic Richard Clarke, who previously served in the administration, also mentions the Israel factor as one of five rationales of the Bush administration for the Iraq War, but at least he sets it aside as a main consideration, preferring instead to focus on the concern with finding a long-term alternative to Saudi Arabian oil.
For critics of President Bush in the heat of an election year, who reject the notion that the Iraq War was fought over weapons of mass destruction, the War on Terrorism, or over human rights and a promise of a democratic Iraq, the Israel factor is a useful instrument for bashing the administration by ascribing the war to alien considerations having nothing to do with US interests.
It is important to remember that Iraq is one of several Arab countries that have in the past constituted Israel’s "eastern front." Historically, they include Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. But whereas Syria devoted almost its entire ground order-of-battle to wars with Israel, Iraq sent only expeditionary forces that never exceeded one-third of its total army in 1948, 1967, and 1973. Further, by 2023, the Iraqi army had been severely degraded in both military manpower and equipment. Continuing UN sanctions made Iraqi rearmament difficult. The Iraqi missile threat was considered minimal. Thus Iraq was clearly not Israel’s primary concern.
In contrast, there was one state that threatened Israel about which Israeli statements were unmistakably clear: Iran. Israel used language with respect to Iran that it never used regarding Iraq. Thus, in 2023 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Iran "the main existential threat to Israel." Clearly, if Israel wanted to get into the business--which it did not--of prodding the US to go to war on its behalf, it would have chosen Iran and not Iraq.
The critics of the neo-conservatives in America charge that they constitute a cabal that dragged America into the Iraq War in order to serve the ideological agenda of the Israeli Likud party. Thus, Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi branded Elliot Abrams, who serves on the National Security Council, as "an American Likudnik." Maureen Dowd explained to the readers of the New York Times that the neo-conservatives seek to make sure that US foreign policy "is good for [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon," who heads the Likud party.
Like the charge that the Iraq War was promoted by Israel, the Likud connection has been shown to be groundless. For example, in November 2023, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz met with the authors of the Ayalon-Nusseibeh plan that envisions Israel withdrawing to the 1967 lines--a stand which is anathema to the Likud party. Writing with David Frum, Richard Perle proposed that the US use its influence to help broker the creation of a Palestinian mini-state "with its capital in part of Jerusalem." The redivision of Jerusalem is overwhelmingly opposed by most Israelis and certainly by the members of the Likud party. In contrast, the Pentagon’s Douglas Feith has criticized the concessions of former Likud Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the pages of Commentary. In short, there is no uniform neo-conservative position on Israel. Consequently, there is no set policy on Israel among neo-conservatives that has been coordinated with the leadership of the Likud party. The Likud/neo-conservative cabal is a myth.
Many neo-isolationist critics of the Iraq War do not understand why America is fighting wars all of a sudden in the distant Middle East. Partly for that reason, they think America’s War on Terrorism was caused by considerations related to Israel. During most of the twentieth century, the main threats to US national security emanated from the European continent, as evidenced by the decisions of past American administrations to enter World Wars I and II, and to extend the US military umbrella over Europe during the Cold War.
Given the global pattern of non-conventional weapons proliferation, the spread of long-range delivery systems, and the sources of the current wave of international terrorism, the Middle East has replaced Europe as the region that poses the greatest threat to the American heartland. That fact has nothing to do with the purported lobbying efforts of a group of American citizens that has been singled out by irresponsible commentators. In the late 1930s, a group of racists charged President Roosevelt, the British, and the Jews with forcing America into war. Their intellectual offspring are doing the same 70 years later.-Published 15/7/2004©bitterlemons-international.org
Dore Gold is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is the author of Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism (Regnery, 2023) and Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos (New York: Crown Forum, forthcoming November 2023).
What friends are for
by Yossi Alpher
The United States went to war in Iraq because President George W. Bush, backed by Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and National Security Adviser Rice--all non-Jews, all far more pro-Saudi than pro-Israel--wanted to. The Israeli intelligence input to the war concerning Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities was no more flawed than that of the United Kingdom or even France. Pro-Israel Jews are no more influential in the current US administration than they were in previous ones. There was no Israeli plot at work in the Iraq War. Israel's influence, for better or for worse, was minor.
But that doesn't wholly exonerate Israel of harboring cost-benefit calculations of its own regarding the war and its aftermath, and acting accordingly in its relationship with the United States.
Nor was any sort of an Israeli role necessarily a bad thing. On the positive side, Israel plainly recognized that it as well as others in the region would benefit strategically from US post-9/11 policies, and it has. The destruction of Iraq's regime and armed forces means that, for the first time in 56 years, Israel does not face any threat of conventional war by a hostile Arab coalition. It also releases Iraq's immediate neighbors from a hostile military threat. American post-war pressures on states caught developing or proliferating nuclear capabilities--Iran, Libya, and Pakistan--have benefited not only Israel but the entire region. The same can be said for the US war against radical Islamic terrorism. Israel has no reason to apologize for supporting this US effort or for aiding it through intelligence and operational know-how.
But there is also a negative side. One of the ideological underpinnings for the war was advocated by Rumsfeld's neo-conservative advisers, many of whom are Jewish and are known for their pro-Israel views. This approach holds that America's most pressing problem in the Middle East is that much of the Arab and Muslim worlds is dysfunctional and exports Muslim extremism that targets the US; that dealing with this threat is far more important than trying to solve the Arab-Israel conflict; and that after the occupation of Iraq, America can remake the entire Middle East in a democratic mode that will encourage peace and human rights and, by-the-by, benefit Israel. This point of view has been shared and advocated for a number of years by prominent Israeli hawks like Binyamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky. (It is not shared by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, if only because he apparently does not believe in the possibility of peace with Arabs at all, under any circumstances.)
This approach was not the main reason the US went to war in Iraq. But it was there, and its advocates did not hide their belief that an Arab world democratized by the US would be easier for Israel to make peace with, and that this was an American interest. Many Israeli strategic thinkers on the left and the right knew from bitter experience prior to the war in Iraq that foreign occupation of an Arab country is counterproductive to the occupier's interests. So obvious is this lesson from our occupations in Lebanon and Palestine that Israeli contingency war plans today aspire to avoid prolonged occupation of enemy territory.
Many Israeli Middle East and security experts, this writer among them, warned the administration publicly that the Iraq War was ill conceived; that it would be easy to go into Iraq but hard to get out; and that post-war Iraq would not behave like post-World War II Germany and Japan. (Indeed, half of Israel's public opposed the war altogether.) In other words, we sought to disassociate Israel from the misbegotten pro-Israel neo-con camp in the administration--but, in retrospect, we did not warn firmly enough.
And our government did not warn the US at all. Caught between Arab and European opposition to the war on the one hand and, on the other, the American request that we assist here and there but avoid displays of overt support for the war lest we further alienate Arab opinion, our government remained largely silent in public, too supportive in private. It preferred the instant benefits the war would provide, alongside Washington's seeming benevolent neglect of Israel's settlement policies and war-fighting tactics against the Palestinians, to any attempt to calculate and share with the US just where the occupation of Iraq would leave Israel's ally and what this could mean for Israel in the long term.
America's mistake was not that it fought back against Arab terrorists, murderous dictators, and WMD proliferators. The mistake was occupying and trying to reform Iraq. Israel is not to blame for this, but it knew better. It should have said so more loudly. That's what real friends are for.-Published 15/7/2004©bitterlemons-international.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.