It was 1996, and Bill Clinton was president. To give the rascal his due, he was laboring mightily to make the Middle East peace process work. That same year, three American neoconservatives produced a policy paper for the newly elected Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The neocons were Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser. Their policy paper recommended to Netanyahu that he abandon the peace process, reject “land for peace” and strengthen Israel’s defenses in order to confront Syria and Iraq. The document said, “This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right.” It also recommended that Israel use pretexts for preemptive attacks.
Now, if all of this sounds familiar – and it should – that’s because Perle, Feith and Wurmser joined other neocons in the Bush administration. Perle was especially vocal in pushing the war on Iraq. They had two pretexts: the attack of Sept. 11, even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with it, and the mythical weapons of mass destruction.
Netanyahu, by the way, did abandon the peace process. And, at a cost of $200 billion and nearly 1,000 American lives, Israel did achieve its “strategic objective in its own right” – removing Saddam from power. Unless Perle and his buddies were paid for their advice, it didn’t cost Israel one shekel or one life.
Furthermore, if you stretch your memory, you will recall that until Iraq blew up in its face, the Bush administration was laying the groundwork to attack Syria, the other country Perle and his crowd named as a target for Israel. It has already imposed sanctions on Syria despite the fact that, according to our own intelligence people, Syria had been cooperating with the war on terror. The other target of the Israelis – excuse me, the Bush administration – is Iran.
When President Bush first started talking about terrorism, he use to say “terrorists with global reach” to distinguish between al-Qaeda and strictly local outfits with local agendas. That did not suit the Israelis and their American supporters. They wanted Israel’s enemies to be our enemies, and so the distinction was soon dropped, and Israel’s enemies were added to the official list of terrorist organizations.
The problem is that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are Palestinian organizations fighting for independence. True, they have used terrorist tactics, just as the Jewish organizations – the Stern Gang and the Irgun – did when they were fighting the British occupation of Palestine. But their target is the Israeli occupation, not us.
Hezbollah is a Lebanese organization that has also used terrorist tactics, including attacks against Americans in Lebanon, when it figured we were helping the Israelis in their occupation of Lebanon. But there again, its quarrel is with Israel.
I have long since given up the hope that Americans would wake up and resent the manipulation of their government by a foreign country. The Israeli lobby has been so successful in labeling any criticism of Israel, no matter how justified, as anti-Semitic that most Americans prefer to stick their heads in the sand. For sure, American politicians and much of the media seem to be terrified by the Israeli lobby, which says more about their cowardice than it does about the power of the lobby itself.
So, suit yourself. Go ahead and spend American blood and treasure for the benefit of Israel.
Just remember, the United States has one, and only one, legitimate interest in the Middle East, and that is buying oil that everybody who has it wants to sell. It doesn’t matter whether we buy it from a dictator (we bought plenty from Saddam) or from a democratic government. It doesn’t matter to us if the country that sells us oil likes or hates Israel.
This whole mess, including the war in Iraq and the terrorist attacks, is a result of the American government’s involvement with Israel. It’s a dangerous and unhealthy state of affairs that will not be cured until Americans find the courage to have an open and honest debate about our foreign policy in the Middle East.