Neoconservatism dies in Gaza
The recent Israeli offensive has put the final nail in the coffin of the Bush administration's Middle East fantasy.
By Juan Cole
Jan. 08, 2009 |
The Gaza War of 2009 is a final and eloquent testimony to the complete failure of the neoconservative movement in United States foreign policy. For over a decade, the leading figures in this school of thought saw the violent overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the institution of a parliamentary regime in Iraq as the magic solution to all the problems in the Middle East. They envisioned, in the wake of the fall of Baghdad, the moderation of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the overthrow of the Baath Party in Syria and the Khomeinist regime in Iran, the deepening of the alliance with Turkey, the marginalization of Saudi Arabia, a new era of cheap petroleum, and a final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on terms favorable to Israel. After eight years in which they strode the globe like colossi, they have left behind a devastated moonscape reminiscent of some post-apocalyptic B movie. As their chief enabler prepares to exit the White House, the only nation they have strengthened is Iran; the only alliance they have deepened is that between Iran and two militant Islamist entities to Israel's north and south, Hezbollah and Hamas.
The neoconservatives first laid out their manifesto in a 1996 paper, "A Clean Break," written for an obscure think tank in Jerusalem and intended for the eyes of far right-wing Israeli politician Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party, who had just been elected prime minister. They advised Israel to renounce the Oslo peace process and reject the principle of trading land for peace, instead dealing with the Palestinians with an iron fist. They urged Israel to uphold the right of hot pursuit of Palestinian guerrillas and to find alternatives to Yasser Arafat's Fatah for the Palestinian leadership. They called forth Israeli airstrikes on targets in Syria and rejection of negotiations with Damascus. They foresaw strengthened ties between Israel and its two regional friends, Turkey and Jordan.
They advocated "removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq," in part as a way of "rolling back" Syria. In place of the secular, republican tyrant, they fantasized about the restoration of the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq, and thought that a Sunni king might help moderate the Shiite Hezbollah in south Lebanon. (Yes.) They barely mentioned Iran, though it appears that their program of expelling Syria from Lebanon and weakening its regime was in part aimed at depriving Iran of its main Arab ally. In a 1999 book called "Tyranny's Ally: America's Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein," David Wurmser argued that it was false to fear that installing the Iraqi Shiites in power in Baghdad would strengthen Iran regionally.
The signatories to this fantasy of using brute military power to reshape all of West Asia included some figures who would go on to fill key positions in the Bush administration. Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense under Reagan, became chairman of the influential Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, a civilian oversight body for the Pentagon. Douglas J. Feith became the undersecretary of defense for planning. David Wurmser first served in Feith's propaganda shop, the Office of Special Plans, which manufactured the case for an American war on Iraq, and then went on to serve with "Scooter" Libby in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.
The neoconservatives used their well-funded think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP, an organ of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and the Hudson Institute, among others, to promote this agenda of the conquest of Iraq as a solution of all ills.
They had cheerleaders and allies in major newspapers and political journals. Martin Peretz, owner of the New Republic, took up the neoconservative mantra on Sept. 5, 2002, writing that "The road to Jerusalem more likely leads through Baghdad than the reverse. Once the Palestinians see that the United States will no longer tolerate their hero Saddam Hussein, depressed though they may be, they may also come finally to grasp that Israel is here to stay and that accommodating to this reality is the one thing that can bring them the generous peace they require." (Peretz is a perennial embarrassment to his stable of often excellent journalists in that he occasionally hijacks the magazine for such pronouncements.)
Charles Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post on Feb. 1, 2002, that "Iran is a deadly threat," insofar as it was trying "to establish a terrorist client state by arming and infiltrating Yasser Arafat's Palestine." How would he have us roll it back? "Overthrowing neighboring radical regimes shows the fragility of dictatorship, challenges the mullahs' mandate from heaven and thus encourages disaffected Iranians to rise." What did he mean by neighboring regimes? "First, Afghanistan to the east. Next, Iraq to the west." Leading neoconservative columnist William Kristol delivered himself of a daisy chain of false predictions, inaccurate pronouncements, and political wet dreams about Iraq and the Middle East, as David Corn of the Nation itemizes here. "Look, if we free the people of Iraq we will be respected in the Arab world," Kristol said in 2002.
The brutal Israeli war on the population of Gaza is the nail in the coffin of the neoconservative doctrine. Their policies have hardly strengthened ties between Turkey, Israel and the United States, as they had argued. Turkey had a special place in the thinking of figures such as Perle, who lauded it as a secular example for the Muslim world and a close ally of Israel. But in 2002 the Islamically tinged conservative Justice and Development Party (Turkish acronym AKP) of Recep Tayyip Erdogan swept to power and has ruled Turkey ever since. In 2003, the AKP dealt a cruel blow to the hopes of Perle and his colleague Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz when its members of parliament voted against allowing the U.S. military to invade Iraq through Turkish territory. Erdogan more recently has been a profound disappointment to the Israeli right because of his willingness to talk with Hamas leaders. Hundreds of thousands of Turks, many of them AKP supporters, have demonstrated in Istanbul against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
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