In his new book Target Iran, ex-Marine and UN arms inspector Scott Ritter declares, "If there is an American war with Iran, it is a war that was made in Israel." In a recent column entitled "Israel's Bad Influence," Charley Reese cites both this and a recent statement by Israeli Brigadier General Oded Tira, claiming that the latter validates Ritter's assessment. Tira urges Israel to pressure President Bush to attack the Islamic Republic and to arm-twist the Democratic Party and US press to back the move.
"President Bush lacks the political power to attack Iran," the general suggests (I assume on the basis of some pretty sound Israeli intelligence procured in the US), due to his weakened political position. But since "an American strike in Iran is essential for our existence, we must help him pave the way by lobbying the Democratic Party (which is conducting itself foolishly) and US newspaper editors. We need to do this in order to turn the Iran issue to a bipartisan one and unrelated to the Iraq failure."
The chutzpah in that statement! We Israelis (armed with maybe 400 nukes) need an American strike on Iran, for our existence. So we need to "turn to Hillary Clinton and other potential presidential candidates in the Democratic Party so that they support immediate action by Bush against Iran." We need to help the hesitant cowboy to do the right thing, right now! How to accomplish the mission? Why, rev up the reliable, provenly effective Lobby of course. As America loses three troops a day in the neocon-planned, Israeli-backed war on one Muslim country, we need to prod the Congress and press to stick to the program so heroically charted by Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, "Scooter" Libby, Douglas Feith, and so many others with one foot in the Pentagon and the other in the Likud: the program of "regime change" from the Nile to the Euphrates and beyond.
The statement is so beautifully bald, so frank in its assumptions. Do both political parties in the US Congress almost always obey the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC)? The track record's public. Is Hillary a slavish supporter of Israeli policy? That too is plain. Do US newspaper editors always support Israel? Pretty much. The general is completely justified in his supposition that a concerted effort by the Lobby might force ("help") the president's somewhat wavering hand, especially since other assets surrounding the extremely powerful vice president (Elliott Abrams, David Wurmser, John Hannah) are firmly on board the program.
An attack on Iran, which does not threaten the US, would be madness, declare many in the heart of the US political establishment. And many people firmly opposed to the Iraq War assume that such a colossal blunder can't be in the offing because the US military is overextended and bleeding and an attack on Iran would make matters in Iraq much, much worse. But if, up against mere reason and logic, the Lobby tests its muscles, exploiting America's Christian fundamentalist Rapture-obsessed nutcake community and freely levying the toxic charge of "anti-Semitism" against any critic of anything Israel wants to do (something straight-shooting Scott calls "a sickening trend that must be ended") -- well then, Gen. Tira might just find cause to celebrate soon.
Tira does help to validate Ritter's statement, but that doesn't make the statement entirely true. I've never believed that Israel sets, or is in a position to ultimately determine, US foreign policy. The establishment of the settler state in 1948 met with more enthusiasm in Moscow than in Washington. Eisenhower questioned Truman's very recognition of the Jewish state. The anti-Semitic Nixon assisted Israel during the Yom Kippur War, but was hardly in Israel's pocket. Nor were other US presidents, including Jimmy Carter now taking heat from the Lobby for his very rational examination of Israeli apartheid. US administrations are inevitably influenced by Israel and its domestic supporters, but more decisively influenced by corporate America's geopolitical agendas.
George W. Bush is a fanatic fundamentalist Christian who believes that God gave the land of Israel to his chosen people, and that this righteous and violent god of the Old Testament calls on him personally to smite various enemies of Israel. He is the most indiscriminately and ignorantly pro-Israel president in US history. It was not apparent during his first presidential campaign that he would become such, but he fell under the spell of the neocons who continue to shape US Middle East policy. In pronouncing Ariel Sharon "a man of peace" while damning and linking to "terrorism" the Palestinian Authority in his Rose Garden speech on June 24, 2002, he dropped any pretense at even-handedness in dealing with the Arab-Israeli issue.
But the main man calling the shots in Washington these days, Dick Cheney, is not Israel's man. He's not a Christian fundamentalist Zionist but an amoral, apartheid-friendly, shotgun-wielding oil baron and representative of corporate America who began his "public service" in the administration of the anti-Semite Richard Nixon. He sees America facing a rising China, and wants to create a Southwest Asian empire to check Beijing's growing influence and limit its strategic access to petroleum. His objectives, widely supported in the ruling elite, overlap but aren't identical with those of his neocon acolytes. The Israeli government doesn't issue Cheney orders; it can't. Israel is a small resource-poor country with a US-subsidized economy that services US imperialism in important ways (including serving as middleman in arms transactions escaping the oversight of the US Congress). Through AIPAC, which is indeed supported by 60,000 wealthy American Jews (who aren't representative of American Jewry as a whole) and has a $ 60 million annual budget, it exercises enormous political clout. AIPAC is, de facto, an unregistered lobby group for a foreign government, as Ritter notes, and US politicians do fear it. The Lobby encourages and exploits that fear to achieve its ends.
But it's not the tail wagging the dog. If the US attacks Iran, it will not be the result of a "Jewish conspiracy" but of a calculated decision by the Bush regime that corporate America as a whole is best served by that criminal action. (True, almost half of American billionaires are Jews, and Jews control a quantity of American wealth vastly disproportionate to demographic numbers. But Jews are deeply divided on such issues as an attack on Iran, and also in disproportionate numbers help lead the antiwar movement.)
The Lobby, in any case, does seem desperate to obtain an expanded Middle East war, justified by lies that can if necessary be acknowledged as "intelligence errors" after the deed has been done. Ritter deserves respect for courageously noting the Lobby's extraordinary influence. So does Gen. Wesley Clark, another candid ex-soldier, for having told the London Guardian in 2002: "Those who favor this attack [on Iraq] now will tell you candidly, and privately, that it is probably true that Saddam Hussein is no threat to the United States. But they are afraid at some point he might decide if he had a nuclear weapon to use it against Israel."
Now the fear of those favoring attack on Iran is that the Islamic Republic, with its nuclear energy program (once enthusiastically supported by US administrations in the 1970s), might somehow in the near future acquire nuclear weapons. This despite IAEA monitoring that has found no evidence for a weapons program, and despite a leaked CIA report that the agency finds no evidence for a secret one either. And even despite the recent assessment by outgoing Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte that Tehran won't be able even should it choose to make a nuclear bomb until 2010 to 2015.
It's again "the fear of those favoring attack." It's not my fear, and I doubt it's really Cheney's fear either. Any future Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would meet with a US-Israeli nuclear response that would eradicate the Islamic Republic; the "existential threat" imagined by some Israelis seems to me a paranoid delusion. But the Bush-Cheney regime selectively uses that fear, before some audiences more than others, careful to avoid conveying the impression that the US might attack Iran solely to protect nuclear Israel. More typically, administration officials speak vaguely of a threat "to the world" of Iran's IAEA-monitored, legal nuclear power program and Iran's legitimate exercise of its right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium.
Who's producing that fear, here in the USA? I'm guessing one need look no further than the Pentagon's Iran Directorate, established by Cheney last year, reporting to his daughter Elizabeth, and headed by the little-known neocon operative Abram Shulsky. Shulsky received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1972, along with Paul Wolfowitz; both were students of the German Jewish émigré philosopher and founder of Neoconservatism Leo Strauss. (Citing the example of Weimar Germany, Prof. Strauss mistrusted democracy and believed that the unsophisticated masses should be led by a few "wise men" operating through figurehead "gentlemen" employing "noble lies" to achieve their objectives.) In an essay Shulsky co-authored in 1999, entitled "Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence," he noted: "Strauss's view certainly alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception."
Shulsky got his political start working for hawkish Democratic Sen. "Scoop" Jackson in the 1970s, alongside Elliot Abrams. (Abrams, convicted of two felony charges involving withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra affair, is now Cheney's deputy national security advisor). In the 1980s he worked alongside "Scooter" Libby, now under indictment in the Plame Affair, preparing a paper called "From Containment to Global Leadership: America and the World after the Cold War" published under Zalmay Khalilzad's name, which warned that "China is one or two decades away from becoming a serious global rival." (Cheney and his aides are known to believe that the establishment of US dominance over Iraq, Iran and the rest of Southwest Asia is necessary to contain rising China. Afghan-born Khalilzad is another University of Chicago-educated neocon, king-maker/ambassador to conquered Afghanistan, then proconsul in Iraq, and now UN ambassador designate.)
Shulsky was the man whom Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld's number two man in the Defense Department, chose to head up the "Office of Special Plans" reporting to Douglas Feith in 2002. Recall that that was the office that vetted the phony "intelligence" indicating that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. Shulsky worked with the now notorious charlatan Ahmad Chalabi, his Iraqi friend "Curveball," and a host of characters probably responsible for the forged Niger documents. (The Senate Intelligence Committee has yet to investigate this "Lie Factory.") Rewarded for his efforts Shulsky now heads the Pentagon's "Iran Directorate," occupying the very same offices as the now-disbanded OSP. He is joined by former OSP staffers, John Trigilio and Ladan Archin, who are apparently working with Iranian expatriate Manucher Ghorbanifar, the international arms dealer who played a key role in the Iran-Contra affair and who (like Chalabi) has long been fingered as a liar by the CIA. Ghorbanifar was recently visited in Italy by his longtime friend Michael Ledeen, another leading neocon linked by an Italian parliamentary investigation with the forged Niger letters and a major advocate of an attack on Iran.
Who better than Mr. Shulsky to build a case against Iran? To arrange for the placement of disinformation in the press, depicting Iran (for example) as a country that harbors al-Qaeda and wants to badge Jews, and constitutes an imminent threat both to Israel and the US? Who better to coordinate with the Israelis, work with the Lobby, provide the "intelligence" and talking-points needed to get (or keep) Congress on board the program? The attack, if it comes, will have enthusiastic Israeli support, but it won't be "made in Israel." It will, like the attack on Iraq, be made in the offices of the Vice President and the Pentagon, primarily to serve US corporate interests. If it doesn't come, it will likely be because the American people have come to realize that the case for this attack, like the one preceding it, rests mostly on made-in-America lies.
* * *
The London Sunday Times reports "Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran," giving details about targets and preparations and noting, "Israeli and American officials have met several times to consider military action." No real surprise there, except that it contributes to the impression that Israel is becoming disillusioned with the weakened Bush. In the preferred (Gen. Tira's) scenario, the Americans would smash the supposed Iranian threat. But if that's politically impossible, Israel might undertake the job itself. In January 2005 Cheney told Don Imus on MSNBC: "[O]ne of the concerns people have is that Israel might [attack Iran] without being asked. If, in fact, the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had a significant nuclear capability, given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards."
There's no way Israel would or could do that alone; it would inevitably act with various forms of US support. The cumulative message in all this is: the Bush administration and the Israeli government alike fear that the American people might have become so embittered and so aware in the wake of the Iraq quagmire that the joint plans for Iran cannot materialize. Or rather, they can't unless the two governments in concert undertake unprecedented campaigns of deceptive propaganda to frighten the masses into accepting an attack on Iran for which one or the other would take primary responsibility. But the bovine post-9/11 mentality in the US has long since given way to antiwar feeling and skepticism. Hence Tira's sense of urgency. Hence Israeli president Olmert's plans to possibly use his nukes if Bush keeps on dithering. And hence Ritter's assumption that if an attack occurs, it will have to have been "made in Israel." What we need is a movement in this country targeting the Bush-Cheney regime here, imputing responsibility where it belongs, in order to stave off the apocalyptic plans devised in Washington.
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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