Israel frenzy

Posted: Mar 03, 2004 12:00 AM
It is being claimed, ever more widely, that neoconservative policies are determined by the advantages they bring, manifest or putative, to the state of Israel. Patrick Buchanan, in the current issue of American Conservative, believes this ardently, while the most quoted advocates of neocon militancy, Richard Perle and David Frum, go further than merely to deny that neoconservatism is an Israel First worldview. They insist that criticism of neocon policies is, at heart, anti-Semitic.

Richard Perle, co-author with Frum of "The End of Evil," old acquaintances remember as being for many years on the public scene as an adamant opponent of Soviet wiles and analyst of the perils of complacent coexistence. Perle's specialty was national defense, and he was there year after year to point out, for instance, that the disarmament fetishists played into the hands of Soviet opportunists. If we unilaterally stopped testing nuclear weapons, we risked Soviet technical advantage. If we stopped deploying theater weapons in Europe, we were threatened by the Soviets' development of their SS-20 missiles and the corresponding advantages in leverage over Western Europe.

It is reasonable to say that Perle's focus on the communist threat was central to his devising of corollary policies. It is charged now, by e.g. Buchanan, that that focus is now on Israel -- that Perle and co-author David Frum rise in the morning with a map of Israel in front of them and decide what ideas, people, countries to encourage, which to discourage, based on their bearing on Israel.

Now these acts of analytical reductionism are in part owing to political realities. Pat Buchanan, who has an ear for the trenchant way of saying things, wrote 10 years ago that Congress had become the "Amen corner" for pro-Israel policies. In this space, I once jocularly proposed that Israel be annexed as the 51st state, which would give us the advantage of participating in the formulation of Israeli policies, which we would then automatically endorse.

Nobody who knows his way around questions the political leverage of the Jewish vote in critical states or denies the importance of Jewish patronage of favored candidates and officeholders. But the transposition of this into the position that U.S. policies are formulated because they bear directly on Israeli interests is invention. The proposal to go to war against Iraq was, concertedly, advocated in one form or another by Richard Perle. But that policy proceeded from the loins of Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, and was animated by the reiterated U.S. interest in the stability of the Near East.

The Bush administration arrived at the conviction that the sepsis of which the 9/11 attack was a single, lethal thrust was a variant of the Islamic fundamentalism that had taken over the country of Afghanistan and almost certainly was festering in Iraq. And the latter was governed by a totalist dictator who had already used weapons of mass destruction and was accumulating an inventory for strikes against his neighbors and nations of the West.

Israel, by geographical proximity, would have been an obvious target of Saddam Hussein's belligerence, but not necessarily the exclusive target of it. Saddam Hussein, in the past, had attacked not Israel but Kuwait, and before that, Iran.

The hostility to Israel on the part of the Muslim community is a fact of life, but to say that the war against Iraq bolstered Israel's security is not to say that we went to war in Iraq in order to bolster Israel's security. There was no distinctive pressure, in 2003, to send U.S. Marines to Iraq in order to destroy a regime hostile to the state of Israel. And associates of the administration would probably confess, if out of earshot, that they would not have recommended the war on Iraq except for their conviction that it was becoming a storehouse of weaponry that Saddam was entirely capable of using, whether against Kurds, Kuwaitis, Iranians or Israelis.

The neocon movement, it is being suggested, is motivated by concern for Israel, but more by its affinity for the Likud Party of Gen. Ariel Sharon, which represents militant and, many believe, shortsighted policies, contrasting with policies advocated by many Israelis, including past Israeli leaders, Ehud Barak prominent among them.

It's an unreasonable polarization of opinion: (1) everything a neocon advocates is animated by a concern for Israel, and (2) every criticism of neocon policy is animated by anti-Semitism. That is straitened thought, and should be resisted.