Taking what might be considered the moderate neocon position on the Israel/Hezbollah war, the editors of The New Republic demand that the Bush Administration “move ruthlessly to prevent Iran from acquiring the deadliest arsenal of all,” while their contributor Michael Oren calls only for an Israeli, rather than an American, attack on Syria. Next door at The Weekly Standard, William Kristol sees no point in playing coy. Having already called for an American attack on Syria twenty months ago, he is now beating his bongo for an immediate “military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.” Concerned about retaliation against American citizens in the form of terrorist attacks around the world? Don’t worry. Any and all “repercussions,” he promises, “would be healthy ones.” Kristol even imagines that such an attack could cause the Iranian people “to reconsider whether they really want to have this regime in power,” as if the natural reaction of people who see their country attacked, their families killed and their property destroyed is to side with the people who are bombing them (just like in, um… Iraq).
To borrow from both Beyoncé and Yogi Berra, it really is déjà vu all over again. Roughly four years, 2,600 American deaths, $1 trillion and one murderous civil war ago, the same William Kristol predicted that a US invasion of Iraq would inspire “the principles of liberty and justice in the Islamic world.” Richard Perle, his comrade in armchair warfare, suggested that the impending US invasion would “transform the thinking of people around the world about the potential for democracy, even in Arab countries.”
Today, despite the lack of available troops owing to these delusional predictions, neocons are looking to Israel’s war in Lebanon as an excuse for attacks on Syria and Iran–coincidentally, also Israel’s enemies. Also coincidentally, four years ago many neocons were looking to exploit an attack on America as an excuse to attack Israel’s enemies. Writing in the Wall Street Journal in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Seth Lipsky called for US attacks “from Afghanistan to Iran to Iraq to Syria to the Palestinian Authority.” Echoes of today’s war cries go back even further. Kristol insists that Israel’s problems with Lebanon demonstrate that “what’s under attack is liberal democratic civilization.” Twenty-four years ago, in a now infamous Commentary essay titled “J’Accuse,” Norman Podhoretz accused those who dissented from Israel’s catastrophic invasion of Lebanon “of faithlessness to the interests of the United States and indeed to the values of Western civilization as a whole.”
One does not need to take a position on the wisdom–or lack thereof–of Israel’s current invasion of Lebanon to question whether Israel’s interests are in fact identical to America’s. Kristol can title his editorial “It’s Our War,” but Hezbollah was not shooting missiles into Manhattan. And while we may not like its sponsor, Iran, last I checked we were not at war with that nation either. (In fact, we’re doing its dirty work, destabilizing antagonist Iraq and preparing the way for a Shiite ascendancy led by an Iranian cleric.) But whenever one raises the issue of just how large Israel’s perceived well-being looms in the minds of those who seek to risk America’s blood and treasure for actions that happen to be at the top of AIPAC’s wish list, one is immediately accused of either anti-Semitism or, as the case may be, self-hatred. New York Times columnist David Brooks, for example, has argued that those who use the very term “neoconservative” are anti-Semites, “full-mooners” living on “Planet Chomsky.” TNR senior editor (and William Kristol’s writing partner) Lawrence Kaplan claims that “invoking the specter of dual loyalty to quiet criticism and debate amounts to more than the everyday pollution of public discourse.”
Things can become a little confusing when the same neocons who insist it is ipso facto anti-Semitic to ask what role Israel plays in their calculations instruct American Jews that they are paying too much attention to their own country’s best interests and not enough to Israel’s. Writing in–of all places–The Weekly Standard, David Gelernter attacks American Jews for their “self-destructive nihilism” in remaining “fervent supporters of an American left that is increasingly unable or unwilling to say why Israel must exist.” (This is nonsense about the vast majority of the left, of course, but ignore that for a moment.) Gelernter argues that “grassroots Democrats are increasingly dangerous to the Jewish state (not to mention the American state).” Note that the question of the “American state” is literally a mere parenthetical to Gelernter’s principal concern–the well-being of Israel. Over at National Review‘s “The Corner,” Mona Charen can be found making the same sneering argument. She calls American Jews “stubborn and downright stupid” because they “despise George W. Bush and will donate time and money to any Democrat in 2008, while Bush is indisputably the most pro-Israel president in the history of the United States.” Again, it’s highly “disputable,” but never mind that. More to the point is the fact that Bush’s presidency–a complete and utter failure by virtually any empirical measurement–is also deemed irrelevant. It’s Israel alone that matters, according to these anti-American conservatives. (And woe unto American Jews when Christian America starts paying attention to their unpatriotic perfidy.)
What’s most immediately worrisome about the neocons’ long march through our institutions of government is the possibility that they may succeed a second time. According to Sidney Blumenthal’s reporting in Salon, neocon staffers for Dick Cheney and the NSC’s point man on the Middle East, Elliott Abrams (Norman Podhoretz’s son-in-law), “have discussed Syrian and Iranian supply activities as a potential pretext for Israeli bombing of both countries.” They are looking, according to this NSC source, “to widen the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war.”
Four wars simultaneously? Led by this crew? After what we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is it me, or are the people who run this country dangerously out of their minds?