In examining some of the bad thinking that caused the U.S. to invade Iraq, Time‘s Joe Klein wrote “the fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives — people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary — plumped for this war, and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties: using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel.”
This elicited a response from Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman, who accused Klein of trafficking in anti-Semitic canards, insisting that “whether or not one feels that America’s war on Iraq was justified, the charge that it is being fought by the United States on behalf of Israel is both offensive and categorically false.”
Klein responded, “I have never said that Jewish neocons were the primary reason we went to war in Iraq”:
The reason we went to war was that George Bush was foolish and uninformed, and his primary advisors were even more foolishly bellicose. But Jewish neoconservatives certainly played a subsidiary role in providing an intellectual rationale for the war. In a 2003 column, I called their arguments “the casus belli that dare not speak its name.” The notion of a “benign domino theory”–benign, that is, for the interests of Israel—was certainly abroad in the community during that time.
The “benign domino theory” is rooted in The Clean Break Strategy, a national security proposal written for Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu by a committee chaired by Richard Perle, and which also included Doug Feith and David Wurmser, along some other hardline pro-Likud think tankers.
To call the Clean Break “nutty” is to commit felony understatement. Indeed, the paper seems to have been written while on a peyote-fueled vision quest out in the middle of the Negev desert. For one example, it advocated replacing Saddam Hussein’s regime with a Hashemite monarchy. That’s right, not content with merely figuratively repeating the mistakes of the past, this gang of geniuses wanted to literally repeat the mistakes of the past.
Fortunately for Israel, Netanyahu was encouraged by the Clinton administration to ignore the Clean Break recommendations. Unfortunately for the United States — and, it turns out, for Israel — George W. Bush incorporated many of the paper’s ideas into the post-9/11 U.S. national security strategy for the Middle East.
Israel as the “the casus belli that dare not speak its name” is revealed in comments that Philip Zelikow made at a 2002 September 11 memorial symposium, where he dealt with the question of whether Iraq represented an “imminent threat” :
I’ll tell you what I think the real threat is, and actually has been since 1990. It’s the threat against Israel. And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don’t care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it’s not a popular sell.
Obviously, threats against American allies like Israel should rightly concern all Americans. But Zelikow’s comments reveal that he himself understood that, whatever threat Saddam may have posed to the U.S. in the future, in 2002 Saddam was primarily a threat to Israel, not the United States. And thus benefits for a war against Iraq would primarily accrue to Israel, not the United States.
As to the question of “divided loyalties,” I agree with Brad DeLong and Daniel Larison that it’s probably not an accurate or appropriate term here. It’s more an issue of “conflation of interests,” the belief of many right-wing neoconservatives that the interests of the United States and Israel are so in harmony that supporting one’s necessarily entails supporting the other’s, and a concomitant inability to see the ways in which Israeli policies vis a vis its own perceived security imperatives can and do negatively impact U.S. interests.
But there’s a yawning chasm between Klein’s suggestion, which is simply that the neoconservatives’ (spectacularly inaccurate) appraisal of the costs and benefits of a U.S. invasion of Iraq gave inappropriate weight to the potential benefits of such an invasion to Israel, and the suggestion that Jewish supporters of Israel are disloyal Americans. Foxman’s charge of anti-Semitism is ridiculous. Joe Klein is very clear on who bears the real responsibility for the Iraq disaster: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.