The Transparent Cabal
The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel
There is a growing realization that the U.S. war against Iraq and American Middle East policy in general has been disastrous to American interests. In the words of A. Richard Norton, professor of international relations at Boston University, who served as an adviser to the James Baker-led Iraq Study Group, “Surveying U.S. history, one is hard-pressed to find presidential decisions as monumentally ill-informed and counterproductive as the decision to invade and occupy Iraq; however, a decision to go to war against Iran would arguably surpass the Iraq war as the worst foreign-policy decision ever made by an American president.”
The unnecessary American war against Iraq has not only killed and wounded thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, but has also actually increased the terrorist threat to the United States. An American attack on Iran would compound this damage geometrically, bringing about a major conflagration in the heart of the oil-producing region of the Middle East that would reverberate throughout the entire world. This disaster is highly likely unless the United States completely eschews all elements of the Middle East war policy.
How did the United States come to formulat this colossally erroneous policy? This is not simply a question of significance to those who study history; it is of vital importance to everyone alive today. For it is only by understanding the origins of and motivation behind the current policy
that we may establish the proper alternative policy, to extricate the United States from the existing quagmire and bring about the best settlement now possible.
This work examines a controversial and in some respects taboo subject: the close relationship of the American neoconservatives3 with the Israeli Likudnik right, and their role as the fundamental drivers of the Bush administration’s militant American policy in the Middle East – a policy which inspired both the 2003 war in Iraq and the equally militant solutions contemplated since for other Middle East policy problems. It marshals evidence to illustrate that the war in Iraq (a foreign-policy blunder of colossal proportions, considered from the perspective of the American national interest) and the policy that inspired it and continues to inspire our approach
to other actors and issues in the Middle East, have their common origin in the orientation of the neoconservative policy towards service of the interests of Israel. This orientation is at the root of the explanation for why our policy does not seem to address or correspond with the genuine security needs of the United States. Such an understanding does not mean that the neoconservatives necessarily or consciously sought to aid Israel at the expense of the United States, but rather that they have seen American foreign policy through the lens of Israeli interest. Ideology and personal ties have blinded them to what most others clearly see as the foreign policy reality.
The term “neoconservative” is of popular usage, though like the description of political groups in general, it lacks clear-cut precision. What the term “neoconservative” refers to should become apparent in the following pages. While not focused on the neoconservative movement per se, this
book reviews the background of the neoconservatives – their network and agenda – as it relates to the aforementioned foreign-policy theme. And what characterizes neoconservatives is not only their ideology – which basically consists of support for a militarily oriented American global interventionism and a big government, welfare statist form of conservatism – but also their personal interconnectedness in terms of organizations, publications, schooling, and even blood. Of crucial importance, as the work will show, is how the neocons, over the years, identified closely with the interests of Israel, and how their Middle East agenda paralleled that of the Israeli Likudnik right. In fact, much of the neocon approach to the Middle East can be seen to have originated in Likudnik thinking. And the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon worked in tandem with the neocons in supporting both the war on Iraq and later militant policies toward Iran and Syria.
The overarching goal of both the neocons and the Likudniks was to create an improved strategic environment for Israel. To reiterate, this does not necessarily mean that the neocons were deliberately promoting the interest of Israel at the expense of the United States. Instead, they maintained that an identity of interests existed between the two countries – Israel’s enemies being ipso facto America’s enemies. However, it is apparent that the neoconservatives viewed American foreign policy in the Middle East through the lens of Israeli interest, as Israeli interest was perceived by the Likudniks.
The aim of the neoconservative/Likudnik foreign policy strategy was to weaken and fragment Israel’s Middle East adversaries and concomitantly increase Israel’s relative strength, both externally and internally. A key objective was to eliminate the demographic threat posed by the Palestinians to the Jewish state, which the destabilization of Israel’s external enemies would achieve, since the Palestinian resistance depended upon external support, both moral and material. Without outside support, the Palestinians would be forced to accede to whatever type of peaceful solution Israel offered.
The neoconservative position on the Middle East was the polar opposite of what had been the traditional United States foreign policy, set by what might be called the foreign policy establishment. The goal of the traditional policy was to promote stability in the Middle East in order to maintain the flow of oil. In contrast to the traditional goal of stability, the neocons
called for destabilizing existing regimes. Of course, the neocons couched their policy in terms of the eventual restabilization of the region on a democratic basis. This work questions the genuineness of the neocons’ motives with respect to democracy – at least in light of how democracy is normally understood. Likudnik strategy saw the benefit of regional destabilization
for its own sake – creating as it would an environment of weak, disunified states or statelets involved in internal and external conflicts that could be easily dominated by Israel. The great danger from the Likudnik perspective was the possibility of Israel’s enemies forming a united front.
The book has been entitled The Transparent Cabal because the neoconservatives have sometimes been referred to as a cabal, and, in fact, the term has been taken up by neoconservatives themselves. By implying secret plotting, the aim of such a term is often to make the whole idea of neoconservative influence appear ridiculous. For while the neoconservatives represent a tight group devoted to achieving political goals, they have worked very much in the open to advance their Middle East war agenda. Thus, unlike a true “cabal,” characterized by secrecy, the neoconservatives are a “transparent cabal” – oxymoronic as that term might be. The neoconservatives quite openly publicized their war agenda both before and after September 11, 2001. In developing this history, the author has relied heavily on published
sources produced by the neoconservatives themselves. In fact, it is the very transparency of the neoconservatives that has allowed this work to exist.
Like a “cabal,” the neoconservatives have worked in unison to shape major policy. And though acting largely in the open, they nonetheless have been shrouded in a certain measure of secrecy, especially regarding their connection to Israel, because of the taboo nature of the issue. In short, the mainstream media has not probed this relationship to avoid the lethal charge of “anti-Semitism.”
Over the years, the neocons had developed a powerful, interlocking network of think tanks, organizations, and media outlets outside of government with the express purpose of influencing American foreign policy. By the end of the 1990s, the neoconservatives developed a complete blueprint for the remaking of the Middle East by military means, starting with Iraq. The problem they faced was how to transform their agenda into official United States policy. It was only by becoming an influential part of the administration of George W. Bush that they would be in a position to make their Israelocentric agenda actual American policy.
The neocons, however, did not gain the upper hand in formulating the foreign policy of the Bush administration until the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 – which proved to be the pivotal event in the neocon ascendancy. When the administration looked for a plan to deal with terrorism, the neocons had an existing one to offer, and a network, inside and outside
of the government, to promote it.
The second President Bush was essentially a convert to the neoconservative policy. Examples of national leaders’ falling under the influence of their advisers are commonplace in history. And it would be especially understandable in the case of George W. Bush, who prior to 9/11 never exhibited any strong understanding or interest in Middle East policy, and was therefore in need of guidance, which the neocons could easily provide and present in a simple paradigm that Bush could find attractive.
The neocons did not drag the majority of the American people into war in 2003 against their collective will. In large measure, the neocon militaristic agenda resonated with an American public and Congress that had been traumatized by terror and was desperately seeking a way to retaliate. Moreover, the neocon network, inside and outside the government, was in place
to push the bogus propaganda – most critically the non-existent weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threat – to successfully mobilize congressional and popular support for the war agenda.
The thesis outlined above is elaborated in the pages that follow. This work does not purport to be an overall history of the war on Iraq or the Bush Middle East policy; rather, evidence has been marshaled concerning the specific thesis of the neoconservative influence on U.S Middle East policy. In demonstrating the thesis, the work addresses various counter-arguments, dealing not only with allegations of the neocons’ powerlessness but also with arguments offered by critics of the war, that oil and the quest for global dominance motivated the American war on Iraq and overall Middle East policy. The evidence presented in the work demonstrates that the neoconservative pro-Israel thesis is far more compelling than other explanations for the Bush II Middle East policy.
Lest any reader misinterpret this work, it is necessary to further explain what the book is not. Since it is not an analysis of neoconservatism per se it does not claim that neoconservatism is simply a cover for the support of Israel. Undoubtedly, the overall neoconservative viewpoint does not revolve solely around the security needs of Israel, and the same is true even of the
neocons’ positions on foreign policy and national-security policy. To state that neoconservatives viewed American foreign policy in the Middle East through the lens of Israeli interest – and that this was the basis of the neocon Middle East war agenda – is not to say that their support for Israel has been the be-all and end-all of their foreign policy ideas, which encompass the entire world.
There is nothing exceptional in this work’s interpretation as it has just been outlined. It is hardly controversial to propose that elites, rather than the people as a whole, determine government policies, even in democracies. We see that idea in, for example, Robert Michels’s “Iron Rule of Oligarchy” and Pareto’s concept of “circulating elites.” Even a cursory look at American
historiography reveals that the premise of elite domination is widely shared.
Furthermore, there is nothing outré in the view that people would be affected in their foreign policy views by ethnic and emotional ties to a foreign country. The fear that such motives would shape American foreign policy loomed large in George Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796. American historians, for their part, have often broached the idea that the foreign policy views of various ethnic groups – German-, Polish-, Irish-, and Cuban- Americans – have been based on their ethnic identities and loyalties. This clearly corresponds to the contention that the neocons’ predominantly Jewish background and their identification with Israel shaped their view of Middle East policy.
This motivation ascribed to the neocons, however, does not imply that a majority of American Jews held the same view as the neoconservatives on the war in the Middle East. The American Jewish Committee’s 2002 Annual Survey of Jewish Opinion – conducted between December 16, 2002, and January 5, 2003 – showed that 59 percent approved of the United States taking military action against Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power while 36 percent opposed military action. This finding was comparable to polls of the general American population. Other polls showed less support for the war among American Jews than among the public at large. A
compilation of public opinion polls by Pew Research Center in the first quarter of 2003 showed war support among Jews at 52 percent compared to 62 percent among the general public.
As the occupation of Iraq continued, opposition to the war become the majority position among American Jews. The 2003 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion, conducted between November 25 and December 11 of that year showed Jews opposing the war by 54 percent to 43 percent.6 The 2005 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion revealed that 70 percent of Jews opposed the war on Iraq, while only 28 continued to support it. A Gallup Poll conducted in February 2007 found that 77 percent of Jews believed that the war on Iraq had been a mistake, while only 21 percent held otherwise. This contrasted with the overall American population in which the war was viewed as a mistake by a 52 percent to 46 percent margin. To be perfectly clear, there was nothing like monolithic Jewish support for the war on Iraq; in fact, Jews tended to be more anti-war than the American public in general. This work, however, does not focus on general American Jewish opinion, but rather on the neoconservatives and Israel.
In short, there is nothing about the overall thesis presented in this book that should cause one to reject it out of hand as somehow implausible. The question is: does the information provided back up the thesis? The following chapters, containing evidence both extensive and detailed, should answer that in the affirmative.
Of course, no work can be definitive, especially one dealing with a contemporary issue that is still unfolding. Obviously, much information is yet to come, especially with the future release of archival collections. Evidence undoubtedly could appear that would alter this work’s interpretations. All historical interpretations are only tentative. However, it would seem impossible to find new evidence that would remove the neoconservatives and Israel from the picture concerning the American war on Iraq and the succeeding developments in the wider Middle East. As George Packer, a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, asserts in The Assassins’ Gate: “The Iraq War will always be linked with the term ‘neoconservative.’”