A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
Israel and Judaism, Pages 42-43, 65
Sniegoski Book Examines Role of American Neocons in Taking the U.S. to War in Iraq
By Allan C. Brownfeld
FOR MANY Americans, the basis for the 2003 U.S. attack on Iraq remains something of a mystery. The reasons the Bush administration cited for going to war—that Iraq had ties with al-Qaeda, that it possessed weapons of mass destruction and that, somehow, it was involved in the terrorist attacks of 9/11—have all been proven to be false. It is, some argued, as if, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, we declared war on Mexico.
There were, however, a group of men and women in and out of government who had been proposing such an attack on Iraq even before 9/11. These were American neoconservatives—including such leading Bush administration officials as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and L. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. What exactly motivated these supporters of war with a country that never attacked us and posed little threat to the U.S.? This is the subject of the important book The Transparent Cabal by Stephen J. Sniegoski (available from the AET Book Club; see p. 57).
Dr. Sniegoski’s focus on the neoconservative involvement in U.S. foreign policy antedates the 9/11 terrorist attacks. His first major work on the subject, The War On Iraq: Conceived in Israel, was published Feb. 10, 2003—more than a month before the U.S. launched its “Shock and Awe” campaign.
His latest book, Sniegoski points out, “examines a controversial and in some respects taboo subject: the close relationship of the American neoconservatives with the Israeli Likudnik right, and their role as the fundamental drivers of the Bush administration’s militant American policy in the Middle East—a policy which inspired both the 2003 war in Iraq and the equally militant solutions contemplated since for other Middle East policy problems...[These] have their common origin in the orientation of the neoconservative policy towards service of the interests of Israel. This orientation is at the root of the explanation for why our policy does not seem to address or correspond with the genuine security needs of the U.S....Ideology and personal ties have blinded them to what most others clearly see as the foreign policy reality.”
“The overarching goal of both the neoconservatives and the Likudniks was to create an improved strategic environment for Israel,” Sniegoski notes. “This does not necessarily mean that the neoconservatives were deliberately promoting the interests of Israel at the expense of the U.S. Instead, they maintained that an identity of interests existed between the two countries—Israel’s enemies being ipso facto America’s enemies. However, it is apparent that the neocons viewed American foreign policy in the Middle East through the lens of Israeli interest, as Israeli interest was perceived by the Likudniks.”
The difference between neoconservative policies and those developed by the traditional foreign policy establishment was stark, according to Sniegoski: “In contrast to the traditional goal of stability, the neocons called for destabilizing existing regimes. Of course, the neocons couched their policy in terms of the eventual restabilization of the region on a democratic basis...Likudnik strategy saw the benefit of regional destabilization for its own sake—creating as it would an environment of weak, disunified states or statelets involved in internal and external conflicts that could be easily dominated by Israel...Thus, unlike a true ”˜cabal,’ characterized by secrecy, the neoconservatives’ was a ”˜transparent cabal’—oxymoronic as that term might be.”
During the 1990s—long before the 9/11 terrorist assault upon the U.S.—the neoconservatives were quite open about their goal of war in the Middle East to destabilize Iraq and other enemies of Israel. In Sniegoski’s view, “A clear illustration of the neocon thinking on this subject—and intimate connection with Israeli security—was a 1996 paper entitled ”˜A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing The Realm,’ published by an Israeli think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.”
Included in the study group that prepared the report for the incoming Likud government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were figures who would loom large in the George W. Bush administration’s war policy in the Middle East: Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser (who was then actually affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies). Perle was listed as head of the study group.
The “realm” that the study group sought to secure was Israel’s. The paper recommended that Netanyahu should “make a clean break” with the Oslo peace process and reassert Israel’s claim to the West Bank and Gaza, and presented a plan by which Israel would “shape its strategic environment”—beginning with the removal of Saddam Hussain and the installation of a Hashemite monarchy in Baghdad. Significantly, the report did not present Saddam’s Iraq as a major threat to Israel. Rather, Iraq was seen more as the weakest link among Israel’s enemies. By removing Saddam, the study argued, Israel would be in a strategic position to get at its more dangerous foes.
The elimination of Saddam was presented as a first step toward reconfiguring the entire Middle East for the benefit of Israel. “Israel can shape its strategic environment in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing and even rolling back Syria,” the study maintained. “This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussain from power in Iraq—an important strategic objective in its own right-—as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.”
The study urged Israel to abandon any thought of trading land for peace with the Palestinians which it depicted as a “cultural, economic, political, diplomatic and military retreat.” Incredibly for a group of Americans, the study referred to “Our claim to the land—to which we have clung with hope for 2,000 years—is legitimate and noble. Only the unconditional acceptance by Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimension, ”˜peace for peace’ is a solid basis for the future.” For Americans to use the phrase “our” in describing the claims of a foreign government is indeed revealing.
As Craig Unger wrote in the March 2007 issue of Vanity Fair: “Ten years later, ”˜A Clean Break’ looks like nothing less than a playbook for U.S.-Israeli foreign policy during the Bush-Cheney era. Many of the initiatives outlined in the paper have been implemented—removing Saddam from power, setting aside the ”˜land for peace’ formula to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon—all with disastrous results.”
Sniegoski provides this assessment: “It was highly noteworthy that Americans would advise the Israeli government how to induce the U.S. to support Israeli interests and how to avoid having to follow the policies of the U.S. government...the ”˜Clean Break’ study was an astounding document that has been given insufficient attention by the mainstream American media. Though written to advance the interests of a foreign country, it appears to be a rough blueprint for actual Bush administration policy, with which some of the ”˜Clean Break’ authors—Perle, Feith and Wurmser—were intimately involved. The question that immediately arises concerns the loyalty and the motives of the three authors.”
Key Bush Administration Players
When George W. Bush assumed the presidency in 2000, neoconservatives would fill key positions in the administration involving defense and national security policy. Paul Wolfowitz became Deputy Defense Secretary, Douglas Feith became Under Secretary for Policy. In Vice President Cheney’s office, the principal neoconservatives included chief of staff L. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Eric Edelman and John Hannah. David Wurmser would come aboard, replacing Edelman in 2003. Elliott Abrams was a member of the National Security Council who in December 2002 would be put in charge of Near East policy.
As Robert Dreyfuss described it in The American Prospect: “A high water mark of neocon power, when coalition forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, the vice president’s office was the command center for a web of like-minded officials in the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, often described by former officials as ”˜Dick Cheney’s spies.’”
The extremism of these individuals has been largely ignored by the mainstream media. (Beginning as early as 2002, however, the Washington Report began running its “Neocon Corner” series of articles profiling these Israel-firsters. ) Douglas Feith, for example, was the third most senior executive at the Pentagon. He was closely associated with the right-wing Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which opposed the Oslo peace process and calls for Israel to maintain total control over the West Bank.
Living in Poland during the 1930s, Feith’s father, Dalck Feith, was active in Betar, the youth wing of the right-wing Revisionist Zionist movement founded by Ze’ev Jabotsinky. In 1996, Feith and his father were guests of honor at the ZOA’s 100th anniversary dinner. Douglas Feith received the prestigious Louis D. Brandeis Award. Feith, who co-founded One Jerusalem, a group whose objective was “saving a united Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel,” was quite open about the Jewish exclusivism of the Israeli state. In an address he delivered in Jerusalem in 1997 entitled “Reflections on Liberalism, Democracy and Zionism,” Feith denounced those Israelis who “contend that Israel like America should not be an ethnic state.”
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, was well aware of Feith’s Israeli orientation, stating in regard to him and his associate David Wurmser: “A lot of these guys, including Wurmser, I looked at as card-carrying members of the Likud Party, as I did with Feith...I often wondered if their primary allegiance was to their own country or to Israel. That was the thing that troubled me, because there was so much that they said and did that looked like it was more reflective of Israel’s interest than our own.”
Richard Perle not only expounded Zionist views but also had close connections with Israel, being a board member of the Jerusalem Post and having worked as a lobbyist for the Israeli weapons manufacturer Soltam. According to author Seymour Hersh, while Perle was a congressional aide to the late Sen. Henry Jackson (D-WA), FBI wiretaps had picked up Perle providing classified information from the National Security Council to the Israeli Embassy (see “Where Are They Now? A Rogues’ Gallery of American Israel-Firsters,” Sept./Oct. 2008 Washington Report, p. 14). In 1983 Perle was the subject of a New York Times investigation into a charge that he recommended a weapons purchase from an Israeli company whose owners had paid him a consultancy fee of $50,000 two years earlier. In 1987, he was investigated for possible ties to the Israeli espionage case involving Jonathan Pollard. Though not accused of any crime, Perle resigned from the government.
According to Richard Clarke, who was a counter-terrorism adviser early in the Bush administration, Wolfowitz and other neocons in the administration were fixated on Iraq as the greatest terrorist threat to the U.S. When, in April 2001, the White House convened a top-level meeting to discuss terrorism, Wolfowitz expressed the view that Saddam Hussain was a far more important subject than al-Qaeda, which had been Clarke’s focus. According to Clarke, Wolfowitz said he could not “understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden. The real threat, Wolfowitz insisted, was state-sponsored terrorism orchestrated by Saddam.”
“Immediately after the 9/11 attacks,” Sniegoski reports, “the neocons found the perfect climate to publicly push for a wider war on terrorism that would immediately deal with Israel’s enemies, starting with Iraq. ”˜At the beginning of the administration, people were talking about Iraq but it wasn’t doable. There was no heft,’ observed neocon Kenneth Adelman. ”˜That changed with Sept. 11 because then people were willing to confront the reality of an international terrorist network, and terrorism states such as Iraq’...The morass that the U.S. would find in Iraq, a quagmire that was easy to predict, would not enhance American global domination. It would, however, bring about the destabilization of the Middle East sought by the neocons and the Israeli Likudniks.”
Sniegoski shows how, when the CIA rejected claims of Iraq’s involvement in terrorism and possession of WMDs, a separate intelligence group was created in the Pentagon by Douglas Feith which provided the “intelligence” needed to promote the war against Iraq.
According to Sniegoski, the neocons “had from the outset, a much more ambitious agenda that went far beyond Iraq. They openly advocated the forceful reconfiguration of the entire Middle East.” As leading neocon Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute declared: “Creative destruction is our middle name.” In 2002, Ledeen responded to the fears of former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft that an attack on Iraq would turn the whole Middle East into a “cauldron” in the following terms: “One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please.”
In The Transparant Cabal, Sniegoski has provided an in-depth, scholarly analysis of the role the neoconservatives played in taking this country to war. Frequently, those who point to these facts are accused of “anti-Semitism.” Sniegoski makes clear that the vast majority of Jewish Americans reject the neoconservative position, along with that of Israel’s right-wing. Indeed, some of the most articulate critics of the neoconservatives are Jewish. Whereas the general American population, according to a Gallup Poll conducted in February 2007, opposed the Iraq war by a margin of 56 to 42 percent Jewish opposition was as high as 77 percent.
A 2007 study by terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank found that, “The Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of the al-Qaeda ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks.” Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman declares that, “Al-Qaeda is more dangerous than it was on 9/11.” And today, the neocons are promoting a pre-emptive war against Iran.
Stephen Sniegoski has performed a notable service in explaining the role neoconservatives played in taking us to war in Iraq—a war which, in the end, may have served the interests neither of our own country nor of Israel. Hopefully, Americans will learn important lessons from this story.
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute for Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.