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Israel's Latest Invasions and Neocon Plans for the Middle East

Cowboys Still in the Saddle

by GARY LEUPP

Just as Time was announcing the "End of Cowboy Diplomacy" if not the twilight of the neocons, Israel’s invasion of Gaza and Lebanon makes the neocons’ dreams closer to realization. They want to attack Iran and Syria. The Israeli government also wants the U.S. to attack Iran and Syria. It is so concerned about U.S. plans for Iran that it has engaged in espionage to learn exactly how Washington is viewing the issue. Key neocons such as Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser (now Cheney’s top Middle East advisor) urged the toppling of both these regimes plus Iraq in a paper written for the Israeli government in 1996. The administration has been gradually implementing the "Clean Break" strategy, employing the "pre-emptive self-defense" argument for aggression hitherto most used by the Israelis.

The administration has also been building the cases against Syria and Iran for years, using disinformation to shape public opinion, just as in the buildup to the Iraq invasion. It has probably convinced more Americans than not that Syria killed Lebanese politician Rafik Harari and that Iran is producing nuclear weapons in violation of international law. Bush has the corporate media on his side as he issues threats at targeted nations. In any matter pertaining to Israel, that media is incapable of providing any meaningful historical context other than to lugubriously mention "centuries-old" conflicts or hatreds. The current invasions are treated with sympathy, even though the devastation inflicted on Lebanon (although not Gaza) shows up on the screen. News editors do not allow meaningful analysis or risk controversy in this free country.

The Senate passed unanimously a resolution unconditionally supporting Israel even as it attacks Lebanon, killing hundreds of civilians and destroying infrastructure, knocking out Beirut International Airport. As the European leaders unanimously describe Israel’s attack on Lebanon as "disproportionate," sometimes "antiwar" Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin said he wasn’t going to second-guess whether Israel’s "response was exactly as it should be," that "Israel has not only a right but also a responsibility to respond to the Hezbollah attack," and that he stands "firmly with the people of Israel and their government as they defend themselves against these outrageous attacks." This is of course the mainstream bipartisan line upheld by almost the entire AIPAC-lobbied political class.

Years of preparation have produced this moment, this moment of truth for the neocons. They must take the current where it serves or lose their interests. State Department "realists" have delayed the planned attack on Iran due to Chinese and Russian opposition and have opted for multilateral negotiations with Iran. Syria’s compliance with the UN resolution requiring its military withdrawal from Lebanon has made it more difficult to justify an attack. But Perle has called for more Israeli strikes against Syria, and has been conferring with the Chalabi-like Farid Ghadry about regime change in Damascus.

So these delays worry the neo-cons, in and out of government. Danielle Pletka, a vice president at the American Enterprise Institute, says the administration’s less aggressive stance "is Topic A of every single conversation. I don’t have a friend in the administration," she told the Washington Post, "on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration." "Faster, Please!" Michael Ledeen groans on the pages on National Review. Perle writes in the Washington Post that Condoleezza Rice "is now in the midst of — and increasingly represents — a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries." Just two and a half years to go to fulfill the "Clean Break" agenda, and Condi and her "realists" are blowing it!

But no! The Israelis through their heroic actions will force the president’s hand. They will provoke actions that will serve as pretexts for the planned regime changes. A New Middle East—no, New Greater Middle East, a contiguous string of Israel-friendly U.S. client-states from the Mediterranean to Central Asia—will be George W. Bush’s legacy. This surely must be the expectation in the Vice President’s office, and in that curious office set up last March called the "Office of Iranian Affairs." Laura Rozen of the Los Angeles Times points out that this is a reincarnation of the Office of Special Plans under Douglas Feith that stove-piped the cherry-picked intelligence rejected by the CIA to the Oval Office as well as the press.

The OSP is supposed to be investigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee for its "use or misuse of intelligence" before the Iraq War but that has been postponed, perhaps until after the new Office achieves its own disinformational mission. Established within the State rather than Defense Department this time, it’s headed by the very same Abram Shulsky, neocon academic (specialist on Leo Strauss and the application of his thought to intelligence), who headed up the OSP under Donald Feith. He’s reporting directly to Cheney’s daughter Elizabeth, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Yes, this is really happening.

Imagine the discussion in that office these days.

"How can we use these Israeli invasions?"

"We could try to provoke Iran into doing something that would justify putting our plans for Iran into effect."

"Something that would give us a UNSC resolution. Something Russia and China couldn’t veto."

"Even if they did The public and Congress are totally pro-Israel."

"We could even say it was to protect Israel."

"In part. We shouldn’t overdo the Israel thing. Not with Iran. If things go bad, we don’t want people saying—"

"Well, the nukes going to terrorist thing."

"Hey, that’s it."

"What?"

"Israel finds Iranian WMD in Lebanon."

"Okay, that’s one option. What about nuclear weapons?"

"No, no, no. Who’d believe that?"

"Sarin, then? How should we approach this?"

Actually, the neocons know that people will believe a lot of nonsense. "Gotta love ‘em," they think as they read the recent Harris poll revealing that 50% of Americans think Saddam Hussein had WMD when the U.S. invaded in 2003-up from 36% in February 2005. (The increase is attributed to an intelligence report describing 500 shells containing unusable mustard gas or sarin manufactured before 1991 and found since 2003, hyped by the ultra-reactionary Pennsylvania Republican buffoon Sen. Rick Santorum at a press conference June 21 as "an incredibly significant finding" proving "false" the claim that Iraq had no WMD at the time of invasion.)

Or when they read that 64% (the same as in Feb. 2005) believe that Saddam had strong ties to al-Qaeda. This despite the 9-11 Commission’s June 2004 report stating there is "no credible evidence" for an "operational relationship" between al-Qaeda and Iraq and intelligence experts’ unanimous opinion that Saddam and bin Laden hate one another. Or when they read that 72% believe that the Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam Hussein (down from 76%). This despite a growing number of reports in the mainstream press to the contrary.

This after all is a country in which over 60% of the people believe the Bible account of creation "literally true." The neo-cons have exploited the ignorance and religiosity with great skill. And what better opportunity to bring in the sheaves than now. Christian Zionists will solidly support any actions against Syria and Iran depicted as necessary for Israel’s security. The Democrats and Republicans of the political class, for whom knee-jerk support for Israel is a basic given of their professional lives, will bow to the president’s judgment in taking military action. It doesn’t matter that duplicity has been exposed again and again, even in the mainstream press, if the press avoids critical historical analysis. The Harris poll figures show that very well.

So the axis of regime change, spanning Washington and Israel, will redouble rather than back away from its efforts to cow Israel’s foes. "Cowboy diplomacy" is not at an end-not while Condi alone among western foreign ministers declares the time premature for a ceasefire in Lebanon. Not when Bush’s in the saddle, cockily telling Tony Blair that what the UN needs "to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit," since "Syria could cut out all that shit." Cowboy gun slinging, along with a poisonous package of religious fundamentalism, fear and bigotry can still produce a hellish mess half a world away. Knowing this the neocons must feel optimistic.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu