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.