A Tragedy of Errors | The Nation


A Tragedy of Errors

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Unlike Brooks, Douglas Feith does not lie about the nature of Israeli nationalism. In an address he delivered in Jerusalem in 1997 titled "Reflections on Liberalism, Democracy and Zionism," written before he became the third-most-powerful official in the Pentagon, Feith denounced "those Israelis" who "contend that Israel like America should not be an ethnic state--a Jewish state--but rather a 'state of its citizens.'" Feith argued that "there is a place in the world for non-ethnic nations and there is a place for ethnic nations." Feith's theory, unlike that of Brooks, permits pro-Likud neocons to preach postethnic universalism for the United States and blood-and-soil nationalism for Israel. While solving one problem for the neoconservative movement, Feith creates others. He legitimizes identity politics, which the neocons despise--how can one justify Israel-centered Jewish ethnoracial nationalism while denouncing Afrocentrism or the sinister neo-Nazi idea of an "Aryan-German" or "Nordic" diaspora in the United States? Even worse, Feith's theory seems to endorse the false claim of anti-Semites that Jews are essentially foreigners in the nations in which they are born or reside. Indeed, according to the Jabotinskyite ideology shared by Sharon, Netanyahu and many (not all) of their neocon allies, there are only two kinds of Jews in the world: Israelis and potential Israelis. For generations, many if not most Jewish Americans have rejected this illiberal conception.

About the Author

Michael Lind
Michael Lind, the Whitehead Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of The American Way of Strategy...

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A related contradiction is the ever-deepening alliance of the neocons with the Likud's major supporters in the American electorate, the Protestant ayatollahs of the Bible Belt, which inspired Irving Kristol, William Kristol and Norman Podhoretz to open their magazines to religious-right tirades against abortion rights, gay rights, gun control and--my personal favorite--"Darwinism." This apertura to Southern Christian fundamentalism--the opposite of everything that neoconservatism defined as "paleoliberalism" once stood for--led to my departure and that of several other former neoconservatives. We thought we had joined an antitotalitarian liberal movement, not an alliance of American Likudniks and born-again Baptist creationists brought together to support the colonization of "Samaria" and "Judea" by right-wing Jewish settlers.

Neoconservatism--that is, hawkish paleoliberalism--was hijacked by elite American supporters of the Likud, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and their Christian allies, long before the neocons, temporarily, perhaps, hijacked US foreign policy under the second Bush. I can attest that there are neoconservatives, including Jewish neoconservatives, who don't share a love affair with the Likud, but if they said so in public their careers in the movement would end.

The warping of an ideological movement by the ethnic, religious or regional biases of its leaders is not uncommon. For example, there was nothing innately Catholic or even Christian about William F. Buckley Jr.'s "movement conservatism," which attracted many Protestants, Jews and secularists. Nevertheless, the Buckley circle was heavily Catholic and included his brother-in-law Brent Bozell, an American follower of Spanish Carlism (the Carlists were the Catholic answer to the American Likudniks). In the same way that criticizing the Likud Party is a bad career move if you are a contemporary Jewish or non-Jewish neoconservative who doesn't see why Israel shouldn't be a "state of all its citizens" like the United States, so it was not a good idea in the 1950s and '60s to criticize General Franco's Spain if you were a National Review conservative.

The cynical way in which the Bush Administration lied to Congress and the American people to justify an invasion of Iraq planned years before September 11, 2001, by Wolfowitz and many of his PNAC allies came as no surprise to me, a former neocon. In an anthology titled The Fettered Presidency published by the American Enterprise Institute in 1989, Irving Kristol wrote that "if the president goes to the American people and wraps himself in the American flag and lets Congress wrap itself in the white flag of surrender, the president will win.... The American people had never heard of Grenada. There was no reason why they should have. The reason we gave for the intervention--the risk to American medical students there--was phony but the reaction of the American people was absolutely and overwhelmingly favorable. They had no idea what was going on, but they backed the president. They always will."

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