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by Allan Brownfeld
THE SAME neo-conservatives who successfully pushed the nation to war with Iraq, a country that never attacked us and never possessed the “weapons of mass destruction” that the Bush administration promoted as a basis for war, are now back promoting war with Iran, a country more than three times the size of Iraq. The war in Iraq did not go well, defying the neoconservatives’ prediction that U.S. troops would be welcomed with open arms. This war had a series of unintended consequences, as wars always do. One is the rise of ISIS.
Writing in the New York Times, John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has this advice: “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran... Force is the only option.” Writing in the Washington Post, Joshua Muravchik, a longtime neoconservative who is now at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, asks the question, is “our only option war?” — and responds, “Yes.” William Kristol, whose Weekly Standard is a voice for neoconservatives, shares these views. Evidently, Bolton, Muravchik, Kristol, and the others have learned nothing from the Iraq war which they successfully promoted. For Americans to follow their advice again would be folly indeed.
There has been an obsession with Iran by neoconservatives for many years. Norman Podhoretz, long-time editor of Commentary, wrote an essay in 2009 depicting Iran’s president as a revolutionary “like Hitler... whose objective is to overturn the going international system and replace it... with a new world order dominated by Iran... The plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force.”
There has been much panic about Iran which seems in retrospect to have been mostly emotional hyperbole. In 2006, Princeton scholar Bernard Lewis, an adviser to President Bush and Vice President Cheney, predicted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “August 22,” that Iran’s then-president Ahmadinejad was going to end the world. The date, he explained, “is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the Prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to the farthest mosque, usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back. This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary the world.” Needless to say, Professor Lewis’s fanciful analysis, which was welcome in the Bush White House, did not come to pass. And President Ahmadinejad is long gone.
THERE IS NOTHING conservative about neo-conservatives. This movement emerged from traditional liberalism. Bruce Bartlett, a traditional conservative who served in the Reagan White House, notes that neo-conservatives are “conventional liberals who came to be horrified by the excesses of liberalism. The New Left shocked many with its anti-Americanism, anti-intellectualism and embrace of violence to achieve its goals. At the same time, the rise of crime and welfare dependency and the deterioration of the cities forced many liberals to reassess their thinking. It was often said that a neo-conservative was a liberal who was mugged by reality.”
Neo-conservatives openly proclaim that they have little interest in small government, balanced budgets, traditional values, and those other staples of conservative thought. William Kristol explains that he and his movement are trying to “convert the Republican Party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.” Another Weekly Standard editor, Fred Barnes, explained that neo-conservatism is essentially “big government conservatism.”
Washington Times editor David Keene, a former chairman of the American Conservative Union, points out that “today’s big-government neocons... seem far more interested in the pursuit, acquisition, and exercise of government power than in the freedom these impulses threaten. But traditional conservatives have always understood the true nature of government and the will to power that beats at its core. True conservatives always have viewed government with a profound skepticism and sought to limit its reach, whereas the neocon impulse seems to be the same as that which animates liberalism.”
What motivates the neoconservative desire for war in the Middle East is a subject which is less than clear. Many have pointed to the close ties of many neoconservatives with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s right-wing. Such prominent neoconservatives as Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, James Colbert, and David and Meyrav Wurmser wrote a memo to Mr. Netanyahu in 1996 entitled “A Clean Break,” which recommended the reordering of the entire Middle East to the benefit of Israel.
Writing in The American Conservative, Philip Giraldi, a former long-time CIA official, asks: “Why is it that a gaggle of self-proclaimed ‘experts’ has been able to capture the foreign policy narrative so completely, in spite of the fact that they have been wrong about nearly everything? Neoconservatives have two core beliefs. First is their insistence that the U.S. has the right or even the responsibility to use its military and economic power to reshape the world in terms of its own interests and values. Constant war becomes the new normal.... The second basic... principle, inextricably tied to the first, is that Washington must uncritically support Israel no matter what its government does.”
Discussing the embrace of Netanyahu, his policies, and his opposition to a nuclear agreement with Iran on the part of potential Republican presidential candidates, another conservative commentator, Daniel Larison, writes: “It may be obvious, but it is worth emphasizing how deranged all if this is. It is already quite strange when anyone in this country has such a strong ideological attachment to another state, but to demand that all of a party’s candidates must share that attachment and share it to the same degree is madness. If the relationship with that other country were extremely useful to the U.S. it would still be absurd, but it might be a little easier to understand. When the relationship does virtually nothing for the U.S. and imposes significant costs on the U.S., as is the case with Israel, requiring all candidates to give reflexive support to the other state is bizarre and indefensible.”
In Israel itself there are many who oppose any march to war with Iran. Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, says that, “Even if the Iranians did obtain a nuclear weapon, they are deferrable, because for mullahs, survival and perpetuation of the regime is a holy obligation. We must be much more sophisticated and nuanced in our policies toward Iran.” Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is critical of those who urge a preemptive attack against Iran, who, in his view, overestimate its potential danger: “Though rich in oil, Iran is a Third World country with a population of 80 million and a per capita income of $2,440... Its defense budget stands at... a little more than half of Israel’s and less than 2 per cent of America’s. Iran, in fact, spends a smaller percentage of its resources on defense than any of its neighbors except the United Arab Emirates.”
Professor Michael Desh of the University of Notre Dame points out that “less fevered minds understand that, even if Iran developed a rudimentary nuclear capability, the U.S. and Israel would have a huge missile advantage. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. has over 5,000 warheads deployed and a large number in reserve, while estimates of the Israeli stockpile range from 80 to 200 nuclear devices. At present, Iran has none and, even under the worst-case scenario, is unlikely to have more than a handful in the years to come... Iran is a nuclear pigmy; it has no long-range missiles that can reach the U.S. Its medium-range missile capability, which can theoretically reach Israel, is unreliable. In contrast, Israel has between 100 and 150 Jericho missiles, plus more than 200 F-4E Phantom and F-16 Falcon Aircraft, capable of delivering weapons. The U.S. has almost 1,500 nuclear delivery platforms.”
Attacking Iran would have the opposite effect sought by neoconservatives and by Netanyahu. Professor Stephen Crowley, chairman of peace and conflict studies at Oberlin College, points out that “Since nuclear weapons provide the ultimate deterrent, nothing could better persuade Iranian hard-liners to abandon negotiations and to develop such weapons full speed than calls to bomb Iran. Mr. Bolton speculates that bombing could set back Iran’s nuclear program ‘by three to five years.’ What, then, Mr. Bolton? Where does it end?”
The U.S. permitted the neoconservatives to take us to war with Iraq on false premises, and with disastrous results. To permit them to lead us down this path once again, this time with Iran, would be folly indeed. Hopefully, sanity and an enlightened concern with America’s long-term best interests will prevail.
Allan C. Brownfeld is publications editor for the American Council for Judaism, founded in 1942, and a nationally syndicated columnist.