A Costly Friendship
The second, overlapping trend--overlapping because it involved many of the same people--was more narrowly focused on Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors. Right-wing Jewish neocons--and most prominent neocons are right-wing Jews--tend to be pro-Israel zealots who believe that American and Israeli interests are inseparable (much to the alarm of liberal, pro-peace Jews, whether in America, Europe or Israel itself). Friends of Ariel Sharon's Likud, they tend to loathe Arabs and Muslims. For them, the cause of "liberating" Iraq had little to do with the well-being of Iraqis, just as the cause of "liberating" Iran and ending its nuclear program--recently advocated by Shimon Peres in a Wall Street Journal editorial--has little to do with the well-being of Iranians. What they wished for was an improvement in Israel's military and strategic environment.
The Iraq crisis has made their names and organizations familiar to every newspaper and magazine reader: Wolfowitz and Feith, numbers 2 and 3 at the Pentagon; Richard Perle, former chairman and still a member of the influential Defense Policy Board, sometimes known as the neocons' political godfather and around whom a cloud of financial impropriety hangs; Elliott Abrams, senior director of Middle East affairs at the National Security Council, with a controversial background in Latin America and in the Iran/contra affair; and their many friends, relations and kindred spirits in the media, such as William Kristol and Robert Kagan of The Weekly Standard, and in the numerous pro-Israel think tanks, such as Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy, the American Enterprise Institute, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Project for the New American Century, the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (born out of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and many others. As has been observed by several commentators, 9/11 provided the neocons with a unique chance to harness (some would say hijack) America's Middle East policy--and America's military power--in Israel's interest by succeeding in getting the United States to apply the doctrine of pre-emptive war to Israel's enemies.
This trend rested on a mistaken, indeed willfully tendentious, analysis of the attacks that the United States had suffered--not just the body blow of 9/11 but also the numerous earlier wake-up calls such as the bombing of two US embassies in East Africa and the attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbor. The basic neocon argument was that terrorist attacks should not in any way be read as the response of angry, desperate men to what America and Israel were doing to the Arab and Muslim world, and especially to the Palestinians. Quite the contrary; America was attacked because the terrorists envied the American way of life. America was virtuous, America was "good." The real problem, the neocons argued, lay not with American policies but with the "sick" and "failed" Islamic societies from which the terrorists sprang, with their hate-driven educational system, with their inherently "violent" and "fanatical" religion. So, rather than correcting or changing its misguided policies, the United States was urged to "reform" and "democratize" Arab and Muslim societies--by force if necessary--so as to insure its own security and that of its allies. Wars of choice became official American policy.
Concerned to insure Israel's continued regional supremacy, and at odds with what they saw as distasteful opponents, such as Islamic militancy, Arab nationalism and Palestinian radicalism, the neocons argued that the aim of US policy in the Middle East should be the thorough political and ideological "restructuring" of the region. Exporting "democracy" would serve the interests of defending both the United States and Israel. A "reformed" Middle East could be made pro-American and pro-Israeli. All this seems to have amounted to an ambitious--perhaps over-reaching--program for Israeli regional dominance, driven by Israel's far right and its way-out American friends.
Iraq was the first candidate for a "democratic" cure, but the need for this doubtful medicine could just as well justify an assault on Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or wherever a "threat" is detected or America's reforming zeal directed. Immediately after 9/11, Wolfowitz clamored for the destruction of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. This was a cause he had advocated unsuccessfully throughout much of the 1990s. But the accession of the neocons to positions of power, the fear of more terrorist attacks and the President's combative instincts now made what had been a Dr. Strangelove scenario appear quite doable. No scrap of evidence, however, could be found linking Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden. Nor did Iraq pose an imminent threat to anyone, least of all to the United States or Britain. Exhausted by two wars, it had been starved by a dozen years of the most punitive sanctions in modern history. Hans Blix's UN arms inspectors had roamed all over the country and acquired a good grasp of its entire industrial capability. They had found no evidence that Saddam had rebuilt his WMD programs. They would have certainly liked more time to look further and make quite sure. This was the view of most European experts. Meanwhile, Arab leaders had buried the hatchet with Iraq at the Arab summit in Beirut in March 2002. All Iraq's neighbors wanted to trade with it, not make war on it. In the atmosphere of reconciliation that then prevailed, even Kuwait did not think it seemly to admit that it still longed for revenge for Saddam's 1990 invasion.
There were, however, plenty of reasons why Israel and its friends in Washington wanted Iraq "restructured." Saddam had dared fire Scuds at Israel during the 1991 war and, more recently, he had been bold enough to send money to the bereaved families of Palestinian suicide bombers, whose homes had been flattened by Israeli reprisals. These "crimes" had gone unpunished. Moreover, in spite of its evident weakness, Saddam's Iraq was the only Arab country that might in the long run pose a strategic challenge to Israel. Egypt's government had been neutralized and corrupted by American subsidies and by its peace treaty with Israel, while Syria was enfeebled by internal security squabbles, a faltering economy and a fossilized political system. The Iraqi leader had to be brought down. His fall, the neocons calculated, would change the political dynamics of the entire region. It would intimidate Teheran and Damascus, even Riyadh and Cairo, and tilt the balance of power decisively in Israel's favor, allowing it to impose on the hapless Palestinians the harsh terms of its choice. Some neocons were already envisioning an Israel-Iraq peace treaty as a bonus byproduct of the war.
These concerns, in addition to control of Iraq's oil resources, rather than Saddam's alleged WMDs, were the real aims of the war against Iraq. They were embraced by the United States to assuage its own fears and restore its sense of absolute power. But what made the attack possible--the motor behind it--was one overriding fact of American political life: the US-Israel alliance, as close a relationship between two states as any in the world today. The Iraq war was in fact the high-water mark of that alliance.