Prior to the attempt made on Paul Wolfowitz’s life in Baghdad on October 26, the deputy secretary of defense had already sat far more in the limelight than any of his predecessors. From Vanity Fair to PBS’s Charlie Rose, including a passing reference in Nobel Prize novelist Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein, Wolfowitz has proved his media savvies. Yet caught up in Bush’s refrains of how the “world is becoming a safer place”, repeated by America’s corporate press elite with THE contempt akin to a herd’s, few English-speaking readers will have noticed that Paul Wolfowitz was chosen on Rosh Hashanah (October 1) by the Jerusalem Post as Man of the (Jewish) Year.
With his associates in the Bush administration and media circle, Wolfowitz belongs to the ‘neoconservative’ camp. On the field, he is one of a group of policy hawks who have undermined internationalist diplomacy to serve the unilateral ends of the United States through war, covert action and nationalist/militarist propaganda. The neocons hold the key power positions in the Bush administration. When they don’t, as at the State department, they call the shots of what goes on from within the operational offices. Few if any of them have on-the-field military experience. As Rhett Butler would have said, they are the “stay-at-home speakers filling the ears too full with fine words of those who have to fight.”
The occupation of Iraq is, unfortunately, providing many of them with their basic military training. The administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, may have emerged from Kissinger’s civilian foreign analyst camp; he remains a neoconservative by proxy. As also does, notwithstanding political appearances, the candidate for the Democratic Party, retired General Wesley Clark. In its array of public figures, the neoconservative pedigree proudly represents America’s white heterosexual male elite. Yet their devotion to belligerence has garnered them the appellation of the War Party. As Bret Stephens from the Jerusalem Post wrote in celebration of their man of the year: “On September 15, 2001, at a meeting in Camp David, [it was Wolfowitz who] advised President George W. Bush to skip Kabul and train American guns on Baghdad.”
THROUGH A LOOKING GLASS
The neoconservative foreign policy agenda has by now been reported enough for most world citizens to understand its major aims and alliances. In the neoconservative press, it is especially easy to testify to the group’s frank commitment to Israel’s most rightwing expansionist vision. Long before 9/11, magazines such as the National Review, the Weekly Standard, or newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and the Canadian dailies of the Asper chain, were all marching in step to stir up misrepresentation of Arabs. Typically, the information manufacturers seek to demean the nature of a people by roughshod identification with their governments’ agendas.
Through a forced equation linking democracy with human goodness, the only worthy country in the Middle East would be Israel. For those who still remain incredulous about an infiltration of the American government by Israel’s Likud party, it is easy to blog on to how Richard Perle, the Pentagon strongman and former head of the commercial propaganda war machine known as the Defense Advisory Board, worked on policy analysis for Benjamin Netanyahu’s presidential campaign. It is even easier to thumb through the pages of Daniel Pipes’ book on “Islamism”. Then, turn to the pages of the Jerusalem Post, and notice how both Pipes and Perle are among its closest associates.
Brett Stephen’s article is instructive as well for celebrating the “transformative” nature of the foreign policy planning of the current American government. Transformative, that is, of the broader Middle East. As the reader scrolls, it grows very clear how the present concern of the Sharon cabinet is not so much the border and state conflict within the occupied territories it deems its own-to the condemnation of the international community and international law. As Stephens confirms, “Israel has long waited for an administration that understands that the principal problem in the Middle East is not the unsettled status of our borders.” Instead, the Israeli government is focusing on “the unsettling nature of Arab regimes – and of the bellicosity, fanaticism, and resentments to which they give rise.” Getting the US administration to act on that concern has been one of the leading policy tasks of the neoconservative camp.
Nothing in American law prevents close media and political ties with another State, provided it not be communist. Nor is there anything in American political science banning inference based on observation regarding the geopolitical stakes that may neatly lie tucked away behind international connections. The ties that bind the US and Israel are obviously not recent ones. Moreover, neocons, such as Dick Cheney, his chief of staff “Scooter” Libby and Donald Rumsfeld have all embraced Arab tyrants in older days when the enemy was communism. Although those winds may have changed, bureaucratic commitment to Israel’s most fanatical leaders has gone unchanged.
Never has it been as striking as it has now how-at least on the lands of the Middle East and the battleground of North American media-the American government is playing out Israel’s game. Once again: no problems to point out in principle. Just that this alliance is being done largely at the expense of world peace and the dignity and patience of the Arab people, to say nothing of the lives of Palestinians who live in a kind of daily horror few of us can fathom.
Some of the milestones of the US/Israeli alliance are replete with nostalgia. Others, such as the bombing of USS Liberty in 1967, fester under cover-ups. Many of the neocons have sung the ditching of the Oslo peace accords in a waltz led by Sharon. In the backrooms, Cheney and his clan have reportedly felt the need to block any attempt by Bush to meet with Chairman Arafat, as if Bush’s Christian fundamentalist credentials were more fragile, more on the “Venus” side of the neo-cons’ “Mars” rational cynicism.
In Bush’s eyes, the world may well appear to be a less dangerous place, but only when put into contrast with the law of the jungle dictating the inner operations of the neocons’ world. One might like to question CIA head George Tenet, hardly the dove he is portrayed to be by his neocon foes in this doublespeak world, after the public castration he was made to bear for failing to provide credible information proving Iraq’s threat. Recall the irony: behind all the ‘son trying to correct harm done to the father’ stories, here son stealthily slides a knife into the agency’s back that his father once ran. One of the jobs the neocons set out to execute, well documented for that matter in a New Yorker report by Seymour Hersch on May 5 2003, was to establish a more powerful intelligence agency from within the Pentagon itself. The task of setting up the Office of Special Plans, a parallel and counter CIA, was overseen by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. Their job: built the tale of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and propel their “man”, Ahmed Chalabi, of the Iraqi National Congress, into power in Iraq.
On a broader level, the neoconservative contribution can be succinctly put in the following terms. Maintain the power of the American economy by securing the future of its wealthiest components: oil and weapons manufacturers. Do this by drawing up a new enemy. Attack any form of resistance by brandishing it as terrorist. Step by step, the neocons have taken apart the modern democratic world from within the US structure itself. To the public at home, they present foreign dictatorships as corrupt and evil, but only after having partaken in bending the Middle East to their advantage. Now they have sent in American troops to clean up the mess made by their mentors. It often seems that the democratic world has twisted back into clan or even family warfare, with University of Chicago PhDs providing the mental fodder.
The explicit tie between American foreign policy and Israel/Likud interests will surely not dissuade the gun-ho salivating posse who frame any criticism of Israel into latent or tacit anti-Semitism. “In this year when anti-Semitism is once again a fact of life, the name ‘Wolfowitz’ has become its lightning rod,” is the most convincing line Brett Stephens could muster in an attempt to fend off criticism against Sharon. It remains that the terms of the Jerusalem Post award and what it confirms about neocon/Likud machinations must be subjected to the minutest scrutiny. For as Ran Hacohen recently wrote, “People abusing the taboo [of anti-Semitism] in order to support Israel’s racist and genocidal policy towards the Palestinians do nothing less than desecrate the memory of those Jewish victims, whose death, from a humanistic perspective, is meaningful only inasmuch as it serves as an eternal warning to the human kind against all kinds of discrimination, racism, and genocide.”
RATIONALIZING THE REAL
Ultimately, the Post article does nothing less that place the policy doctrines of the American Enterprise Institute, the neoconservatives’ think tank, into layman’s words. The AEI has been providing the clearest policy initiatives for the Bush administration, and was doing so well before the Clinton years. Some of their stripes are familiar: a capacity to fight on two different fronts; transforming the nuclear arsenal into conventional war use; the brandishing of rogue states in a move to define a new united enemy, protecting “free” markets, etc. On the domestic front, one stumbles against the clear advantage given to the country’s military industrial and oil elite, from Columbine to the Alaskan tar sands.
What the Post homage adds is Israel’s specific take on the issue, that is, Likud’s take-issues most often downplayed back home in the US, and veiled under spurious accusations of anti-Semitism. Strutting out of the piece into four dimensions is how the Hebrew State is not merely one among many players in the region. Stephens’ elegy confirms all suspicions that Israel, far from being the US’s main ally, is the main player in and through which American foreign policy has been crafted. It is dubious whether the term “alliance” is appropriate to describe this tandem, the vector of which leaves from Tel Aviv, heads on to Washington prior to returning in computerized metal explosive form to Baghdad, Damascus, and who knows, Riyadh.
It is no longer a rhetorical question to bewildering ask what other response Israelis could have imagined to Sharon’s state-sponsored terror strikes but the fiercest wave of equally terrorist suicide bombings in the conflict’s history? The grave of Yitzhak Rabin has been desecrated over and over since his assassination by the Israeli far-right eight years ago.
For many outside the US, refutations of the neoconservative conception of democracy are building momentum. Yet no one should be overly optimistic. Having already assumed power through a long thought-out process of filling the Supreme Court with rightwing conservative fanatics, the very same court that overruled the Florida vote recount and, de facto, named Bush president, the unfolding of the 2004 elections remains highly preoccupying. In the next step of a plan that seems to have no end, a further neoconservative bureaucrat was named as Middle East advisor to Vice-President Dick Cheney on October 21.
Said to be a long-time protégé of Richard Perle, and a signatory of the various American Enterprise Institute/Project for a New American Century policy drafts, David Wurmser is also known to have called for a joint US-Israeli attack of Damascus. Perle, who has called Syria “a terroristic (sic) organization,” was himself reported to have been in Jerusalem recently to receive an award from the “Jerusalem Summit,” an international group of right-wing Jews and Christian Zionists who describe themselves as defenders of “civilization” against “Islamic fundamentalism”. Wurmser’s appointment has all the looks of increased planning toward implementing the next step in Bush’s wars, especially now that his administration will have no choice but to declare extraordinary circumstances in order for him to be re-elected in 2004.
To be sure, no one should consider that Wurmser’s marriage to an Israeli policy analyst at the rightwing Hudson Foundation should stir up concerns. After all, it was no less of a credible agency than the US Department of Defense and General Accounting Office that, in April 1996, had issued cases of Israeli espionage within the US as well as illegal technology retransferring. This was at a time when the neocons were not in the executive. So, focusing on the man himself should be enough, for Wurmser is reported to have argued against the US’s policy to form alliances with secular-nationalist Arab republics in a bid to fight against terrorism. Just as with the American Enterprise documents, there is little if anything in the papers he has co-signed that indicates vision and constructive partnerships with the diverse players currently residing in the region, let alone with nationalist democrats there.
What stands out in his position is how powerful a tool policy rationalism can be to dilute extremist hatred of things Arab and Muslim. The exception lies when the latter involves non-Arabs and non-Persians, like Turkey and Pakistan especially, two fine flowers from which the neocons love to breathe the scent of democracy. While media back home has put the spotlight on resistance to Turkish ‘assistance’ in Iraq as coming from the Kurds, not one outlet considered it useful to mention that few Iraqi want to see the return of the Turkish army that dominated their lands for centuries.
With the mounting criticism of the hyper-bellicose actions of two otherwise respected world democracies, the neocons are playing the anti-Semitism card with scant remorse. It can be felt as far as in Brazil, in which there is little if any religious or ethnic tension to speak of. In a special report written for the October 26 Folha de Sao Paulo, Nelson Ascher insisted that European condemnation of Sharon’s far-right Zionism is nothing but old-school anti-Semitism in metrosexual new dress. Ascher’s job was to stifle any referral to European anger toward Israel as possibly, just possibly, resulting from the demolition of the Palestinian Authority infrastructure. After all, it had largely been funded with European tax payers’ money. Nor did Ascher see it fit to refer to the Arab-phobia spreading throughout Europe. This hysteria is far more out of control than any anti-Semitism he terms as “courageously denounced” by new breed State-strong conservative liberal intellectuals, like Bernard Henry Levy and Alan Finkielkraut. These writers, among others, have never hidden their contempt for all ‘extremism’, save for Israel and America’s both apriori cleansed of such human, all too human folly.
Amidst a degree of unheralded violence which threatened to lead to a dictatorship in West Germany in the course of the 1970s, several of that country’s internationally-acclaimed cinematographers took to making a collective documentary, Deutschland im Herbst (Germany in Autumn). The President of Mercedes Benz, Hanss Martin Schleyer had just been executed in a mock popular tribunal, and the leaders of the Red Army Faction were claimed that have committed suicide while under detention at Stammheim maximum security penitentiary. The film opened on these words: “When violence exceeds all sense, it no longer matters who started; the task is only to stop.” The world impatiently awaits such a film from Israeli and Palestinian artists alike.
NORMAN MADARASZ is Canadian and a philosopher. He writes from Rio de Janeiro, welcoming comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.