A few years ago John Bolton made an infamous and absurd speech accusing Syria of hankering after WMD. He practically announced that our next target after Iraq should be Syria. Now that Bolton is rapping out U.S. policy in the halls of the UN, one has to stop and wonder whether much has changed. He must relish current developments in Lebanon as they allow him to say to his fellow neocons: “I told you so.” And one can imagine the glee he must feel in telling the world that, no, Lebanon is not yet ripe for a ceasefire. In effect, he’s saying: “We still have to kill a few more Iranian stooges there before we let the guns fall silent.” And is there any doubt given Bolton’s fire breathing speeches to this year’s Aipac national conference that Bolton and his neocon buddies like Micheal Ledeen are dying for a war with Iran?
All of which brings me to an essay Michael Lerner wrote for Alternet, Middle East Violence: Neocons’ Fantasy. I’m not usually a fan of Lerner’s for reasons too complicated to go into here. But in this essay he gets close to some important underlying issues in the Lebanon conflict related to U.S. Mideast policy as seen through the eyes of the neocons. His arguments struck me particularly because I just published my own meditation on this issue yesterday in which I suggested that the U.S. is only too happy to see Israel as its proxy for a war against Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah. Lerner writes:
The champions of American global empire are using the latest upsurge of violence in the Middle East to give new life to their discredited plan to extend the war in Iraq to Syria and Iran. The neo-con Weekly Standard has taken the lead in its July 24th cover issue, proclaiming that the current violence is “Iran’s Proxy War” against the West.
As Standard editor William Kristol puts it, “It’s our war.” America’s, that is.
“What’s under attack,” Kristol argues “is liberal democratic civilization, whose leading representative right now happens to be the United States.” The logical conclusion of this “war of civilizations” analysis is Kristol’s advice to the Bush Administration: “our focus should be less on Hamas and Hezbollah, and more on their paymasters and real commanders — Syria and Iran. And our focus should be not only on the regional war in the Middle East, but also on the global struggle against radical in the short run we should be asking the international community to step in, impose a settlement on all sides that includes a return of Israel to its pre-67 borders with minor border changes (as defined in the Geneva Accord of 2003), reparations for Palestinian refugees and for Jews who fled Arab lands from 1948-1967, iron-clad security arrangements enforced by an armed international force on the restored borders, and a Truth and Reconciliation commission that is empowered to expose all acts of human rights violations on both sides — and to impose punishment accordingly.
While partisans on all sides of this struggle must abandon their fantasy of ultimate justification of their claims, a clear first step is to dismiss the neo-con fantasy of a global war of civilizations, with its accompanying notion that this is the best way to reframe the globalization of capital and American corporate domination of the world as a path to expand democracy and human rights. That fantasy is dead — the Iraq invasion and subsequent tragedy has removed it from any level of plausibility. Let’s not let the neo-cons use the violence between Israel, Palestine and Lebanon as an excuse to try to revive that which ought to be put to eternal rest. Islamism.”
In my post, I predicted that the neocons would see in the Lebanon war an omen favoring future war (or at least military conflict) with both Iran and Syria (but especially Iran). Kristol’s thoughts seem like almost a mirror image of what my own were yesterday when I wrote that post. His essay reads much like the grandstanding, cheerleading intellectual pablum that neocons (including Kristol) were writing before we went to war with Iraq. They said in effect, don’t worry America, don’t be afraid. War with Iraq is the right thing to do on behalf of American democracy. We need to give Saddam a big fat bloody nose and teach those Al Qaeda fiends a lesson. And as I said, it was all nonsense. What Kristol’s writing now is not just nonsense, it’s deeply dangerous nonsense. We’ve failed in Iraq. He wants us to fail on even a grander scale by taking on, in Iran, a power as strong or stronger than Saddam’s Iraq was.
[Both Israeli and Palestinian] triumphalist narratives must be abandoned.
But they won’t be as long as Bush and his advisors in the neo-con camp see in the current violence yet another opportunity to reframe the Middle East struggle as one that will provide ex post facto justification for the war in Iraq and enticement for new militarist adventures to destabilize or overthrow oppressive regimes in Iran and Syria…
We should be asking the international community to step in, impose a settlement on all sides that includes a return of Israel to its pre-67 borders with minor border changes (as defined in the Geneva Accord of 2003), reparations for Palestinian refugees and for Jews who fled Arab lands from 1948-1967, iron-clad security arrangements enforced by an armed international force on the restored borders, and a Truth and Reconciliation commission that is empowered to expose all acts of human rights violations on both sides — and to impose punishment accordingly.
While partisans on all sides of this struggle must abandon their fantasy of ultimate justification of their claims, a clear first step is to dismiss the neo-con fantasy of a global war of civilizations, with its accompanying notion that this is the best way to…expand democracy and human rights. That fantasy is dead — the Iraq invasion and subsequent tragedy has removed it from any level of plausibility. Let’s not let the neo-cons use the violence between Israel, Palestine and Lebanon as an excuse to try to revive that which ought to be put to eternal rest.
While Lerner doesn’t dwell much on Kristol’s article in his own, I think it’d be instructive to quote more of the former’s argument:
WHY IS THIS ARAB-ISRAELI WAR different from all other Arab-Israeli wars? Because it’s not an Arab-Israeli war…The prime mover behind the terrorist groups who have started this war is a non-Arab state, Iran, which wasn’t involved in any of Israel’s previous wars.
What’s happening in the Middle East, then, isn’t just another chapter in the Arab-Israeli conflict. What’s happening is an Islamist-Israeli war. You might even say this is part of the Islamist war on the West…
What’s under attack is liberal democratic civilization, whose leading representative right now happens to be the United States.
Here is another lesson that Kristol learns regarding Iran and its influence over Mideast politics:
States matter. Regimes matter. Ideological movements become more dangerous when they become governing regimes of major nations…Islamism became really dangerous when it seized control of Iran…
No Islamic Republic of Iran, no Hezbollah. No Islamic Republic of Iran, no one to prop up the Assad regime in Syria. No Iranian support for Syria (a secular government that has its own reasons for needing Iranian help and for supporting Hezbollah and Hamas), little state sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah. And no Shiite Iranian revolution, far less of an impetus for the Saudis to finance the export of the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam as a competitor to Khomeini’s claim for leadership of militant Islam–and thus no Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and perhaps no Hamas either.
What of course is ludicrous in this analysis is the presumption that without Iran Hamas would be but a mere hiccup in terms of its impact on Palestinian society. And even more ludicrous is the notion that without Iran there would be no Taliban. What’s that, you say? “I thought Pakistan was the prime instigator and political author of the Taliban.” Nah, Kristol would have you believe otherwise. He’d like to turn received notions like that on their head (without any proof that his own notions are credible). He’d like to replace conventional wisdom with his own wish fulfillment fantasy, a convenient justification for war with Iran. Iran is fucking up Israel and Afghanistan in much the same way that Saddam fucked up his own country and his neighbors. Ergo, the only reasonable approach is to take out the Iranian mullahs just as we took out Saddam. The world will thank us for it.
Kristol closes with the most disturbing portion of his essay in which he advocates war against Iran now:
Syria and Iran are enemies of Israel [and] the United States. We have done a poor job of standing up to them and weakening them. They are now testing us more boldly than one would have thought possible a few years ago. Weakness is provocative. We have been too weak, and have allowed ourselves to be perceived as weak.
A word about the “weakness” syndrome. This meme precisely echoes one advanced by the Israeli military-intelligence establishment as a prime justification for war against Lebanon. We have been soft on the terrorists. What we need to do is ‘teach them a lesson’ they won’t soon forget, etc.
But war is not a political policy. War does not correct past political mistakes. As presented by neocons and the Israeli generals, war seems a pathetic admission that all political alternatives have been exhausted and there is no other option than a military solution. This turns von Clausewitz’s saying that “war is politics by other means” on its head. For the neocons, war replaces politics for there is no political solution worth entertaining. Politics become bankrupt. This is, of course, a fatal divergence from everything that most Americans hold dear. We believe (or at least we used to) in using diplomacy to resolve international conflicts. We believe in using our military as an absolute last resort. We believe that people of good will can work out their differences short of guns and bombs. In this way, I believe that neocons betray fundamental American values and I profoundly hope that loony notions like Kristol’s will be soundly rejected by American voters come November.
Kristol continues with his “strength uber alles” concept of international relations:
The right response [to Islamists] is renewed strength–in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel, and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran. For that matter, we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions–and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.
You bet there’ll be repercussions. Lots of them–most very bad. Just read Sy Hersh’s latest New Yorker exploration of U.S. military thinking regarding attacking Iran to read the disastrous scenarios that might ensue. But Bill’s not talking about those types of repercussions. He’s talking about “The Good News.” Good repercussions. Sure.
And a word about that neocon code word, “appeasement” that brings to mind Neville Chamberlain bragging to the assembled multitudes that he’s brought “peace in our time” by caving to Hitler at Munich. That’s right. Any of us who raise doubts about Kristol’s grand vision are just appeasers of Islamist tyranny. And what will we have to show if we hold Bill back from blasting the ayatollahs? Most likely some mullah will become Speaker of the House when they come for us and take over our way of life, not to mention our country. For like Winston Churchill, we must meet them on the beaches or they will conquer us.
What mumbo jumbo. What hocus pocus. To think that a man who clearly has some intelligence actually believes this shit:
…A military strike would take a while to organize. In the meantime, perhaps President Bush can fly from the silly G8 summit in St. Petersburg–a summit that will most likely convey a message of moral confusion and political indecision–to Jerusalem, the capital of a nation that stands with us, and is willing to fight with us, against our common enemies. This is our war, too.
Yes, let’s dress up Israel in the old Red, White and Blue (well, at least the white and blue). Their fight is our fight and all that. This starts to sound like FDR exhorting Americans to see Britain’s fight against the Nazis as our fight too. No doubt Kristol would like to create such a rhetorical resonanance. But it isn’t there. Israel is fighting it’s own fight for its own reasons. We must have a Mideast policy that does not mesh with, ape or echo Israel’s. If we do not see that our interests are separate from those of Israel we’re in for big, big trouble on the world stage. For this is a massive delusional enterprise that would allow everyone in the world, not just the Arabs, to say we’ve ‘gone native’ as far as Israel is concerned. They will be able to say with justification that not only are we Israel’s protectors, but we are essentially the same as Israel. What a disaster that would be. And it takes a foolhardy man not to recognize that.
Jack Hamilton says
I just read your post about Kristol’s fantasy. I am sure you know I will disagree. Israel has lived under the threat of attack from terrorist long enough the restraining hand of this country and others has to be removed and Israel must destroy The ability of terrorist to launch attacks from Lebanon. Just as we had to destroy the war making ability of Japan and Germany during World War 2 so Israel must do to achieve any kind of security. After 50 years of negotiating with these monsters it is obvious that nothing else will suffice. They do not wish a negotiated peace just the destruction of Israel. I also read were you referred to the war on terror in Iraq as failing. Nothing could be further from the truth. The US forces and British are turning over control of areas of Iraq to Iraqi security forces about every other day. In just the last couple of days a whole region was turned over. I believe that in another year most of Iraq will be controlled by Iraq’s own military leaving only a small number of Americans there in and advisory and logistics role. What has been accomplished in Iraq in the short amount of time and with so few casualties is nothing short of amazing and a credit to the young men and women of our armed forces. Not that there has not been failures you have those in any war but that does not change the great job that is being done. There will be a free and democratic Iraq much to the dismay of those whose only joy is seeing this administration fails. Our troops have liberated Afghanistan from one of the most oppressive regimes in history and removed a man that butchered over 300 thousand of his own people whose appetite for torture was well known and documented. We have done so in less time than it took Janet Reno to take down the Branch Dravidians in Waco or Hillary to find the billing records of Rose Law firm. Make no mistake we are in a desperate war with radical Islam and trying to reason with them is not an option. There goal is our demise and imposing there cult on our society. I also have found some of the comments at KOS revolting since your dust up. People dreaming what a grand place the world would be with out Israel and agreeing with the lunatic that leads Iran that they do not deserve to exist. I have to wonder how long it will be before posters at KOS will want to start the ovens back up at Buchenwald.
Richard Silverstein says
Too little time & not enough energy to do a full rebuttal. Suffice to say that we disagree on the issue.
Amazing? Jack, I think you drank Bill Kristol’s (or was it Don Rumsfeld’s?) cool aid. Scores are killed every day there in suicide bombings & flat out mass murder. Shiite & Sunni death squads roam the streets with impunity. The middle class is fleeing the country in mass exodus. Over 2,500 of our boys & girls have been killed. Where is the victory?
I have no doubt that the Taliban were/are bad hombres, but “one of the most oppressive regimes in history?” Hardly, Jack. Know thy history. Hitler? Stalin? Pol Pot? Attila? Those were oppressive. The Taliban were mere gnats in comparison I’m sorry to say.
I think you’re being overly dramatic, maybe even hysterical. I don’t follow Kos as closely as you. But likening the Kos folks to full-bore Nazis is a low blow. And if you want to make accusations like that you should at least provide a link so someone can judge the comments for themselves.
Jack Hamilton says
Richard you have not seen those comments at Kos they made the national news? And yes my noble friend the Taliban was one of the most reprssive in history. Not the most but one of the most Repressive. Also as someone that has spent a lot of time in a war what these troops have accomplished is amazing. More and more of Iraq will fall under complete control as the security forces are brought to bare. Oh I am not a big Kristol fan. I hope it is not as hot where you are as it is here in Tennessee the heat will rob you of energy.
Madison Guy says
The Middle East is exploding and the idots who dragged us into Iraq on a tide of neocon rhetoric to start it all are haunting my computer.
Jack Hamilton says
Dont be so up tight man things are going to work out for the better you will see. Israel was forced to act to stop the attacks. We have not been attacked here in CONUS. Cheney and Bush and Secratary Rumsfeld knew the jihadist would come rolling into Iraq. There will be some pain now but in the long run things will be a lot more stable and there just might be a chance for real peace in the middle east. Take Care
Dan Sniderman says
What has been accomplished in Iraq in the short amount of time and with so few casualties is nothing short of amazing.
It is tragic that so many Americans have the view that a loss of life – as long as they aren’t white people, doesn’t count…
The amount of casaulties in Iraq is sickening. And the loss of – what will soon be 3,000 Americans is hardly what I would call “so few”… It sickens me to see their deaths so trivialized..
Richard Silverstein says
JimB wrote early Sunday Morning:
Sabbath over and now a new week beginning with the scripture and yes, your blog,
Richard, I say, thanks–and with a heavy heart I continue writing a few
Starting this day with the incomparable 23rd Psalm of David and also reading
Psalm 119:105: Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet….and later reading the
opening surah, the Fatiha…In the name of God the Merciful, the
Gracious…I ask these questions?
What would the mature King David really think about the cruelty going on in
his beloved Zion? What would Moses think? How about Jesus? How about the
mature covenant-committed Mohammad searching for Peace and Submission in the
jihad/struggle against evil?
Blessed are the peacemakers! The covenant makers. Blessed are those who see
the God of Peace that is for all humanity…who see the possibilities of
negotiated peace and pursue them relentlessly in this vaie of tears and
Somehow I don’t think the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad would
really approve of the carnage taking place in the name of “Zion” in the
If the Word that David speaks of as a Light unto hiis Path is not only
scripture, but a loving God that lights the way if we go to the light, we’re
clearly on the wrong track with the carnage we’re perpetrating.
It’s a no brainer. Stop the carnage. Use reason.
What a way to start a new week, viewing the picture of a dead child! Sabbath
over, now on to Sunday, and the days of the God’s of war that follow.
Come let us reason together sayeth the Lord, though your sins be as scarlet,
the shall be as white as Sl”…but, we’d better sit down and negotiate and
stop this blood-letting and the destruction the infrastructure that supports the people of the region.
Jack Hamilton says
Richard those of us that have had to watch friends die in a war are the last people that would trivialize any death of any soldier I can assure you of that. But compared to the numbers that had died after three years of war in WW! and WW2, Korea and Vietnam the number in Iraq is very small that was the only comparison. I hate to see any innocent civilian die regardless of color and not all us soldiers are white. There are black and hispanic as well as white it burns me to the core when i read or hear of the death of any soldier because I understand what they are going through. There comes a time when we are forced to act just as the Israelis have been forced to act now to defend themself.There is no negoiating with these monsters. Our leadership understands we act now to figt terrorism after being attacked over and over since 1979 or either we will face the fact of our school buses being bombed just like Israel. Some time the only choice is the bad choice of war when there is no other course left to defend your country and way of life. The only thing these killers will settle for is our conversion to the cult of Islam or our demise they have stated that plainly. Hope you are feeling better.
Jack Hamilton says
What does that sentence at bottom mean 3621 access attempts blocked? Is that because of your spate with KOS?
Jack Hamilton says
I guess it is okay as long as it’s a jewish kid or American. They just need to stop the terror attacks and then hiding behind the skirts of there women and children. Thats all it would take just the moslems stop the terror attacks.
Richard Silverstein says
Jack: Regarding Iraqi casualties. I was just listening to NPR & if I heard the commentator correctly there are an estimated 50,000 Iraqi civilians who’ve been killed since we invaded. The NY Times today has a headline saying an avg. of 100 are dying ea. day there. That does not remotely constitute “winning” the war. Contrary to what you say, the gov’t. there is incredibly weak (just like in Lebanon or Palestine). I don’t know what it would take for you to concede failure, but eventually I’m afraid you will have to, albeit reluctantly. I have a sort of grudging admiration for yr. idealism regarding the conflict & your hope that it will all turn out right in the end. But I’m sorry to say it is misplaced.
Not sure what you mean when you say we’ve been attacked “over & over since 1979.” By Iran? Islamic extremists?
The spam announcement at the bottom of the pg. is how many spam comments my spam filter has intercepted before they were published. It has nothing to do with Daily Kos.