Neocons and Zionists

Posted by Cutler on May 18, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions

The debate sparked by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s essay, “The Israeli Lobby,” continues unabated. Stephen Zunes has recently offered up a long rebuttal. In a previous essay, Zunes noted,

As the official rationales for the U.S. invasion of Iraq—that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction” which threatened the national security of the United States and that the Iraqi government had operational ties to al-Qaida—are now widely acknowledged to have been fabricated, and the back-up rationalization—of bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq—is also losing credibility, increasing attention is being given as to why the U.S. government, with broad bipartisan support, made such a fateful decision.

He then proposes several explanations in an effort to bat them away. One of the more interesting:

“Pro-Israel Jewish neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, and others were among the key architects of the policy of ‘preventative war’ and were the strongest advocates for a U.S. invasion of Iraq.”

This hardly seems controversial at this point. But Zunes goes out of his way to issue the following denial:

[W]hile a number of prominent neoconservative intellectuals are of Jewish background, they have tended not to be religious nor have they, despite their support for the current right-wing Israeli government, been strongly identified as Zionists.

Zunes doth protest too much. I’d prefer to take the word of Norman Podhoretz, one of the “grandpas” of the neo-conservative movement, as cited in my essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq.” Podhoretz rejects the idea that all neoconservatives are Jewish, but then confirms…

“it is certainly true that all neo-conservatives are strong supporters of Israel”

Those unwilling to acknowledge this simple point have little chance of understanding the neo-conservatives or their vision of post-Saddam Iraq. It is for this reason that I suggest we cut right to the chase and call the neocons by a name that actually describes their politics; they are Right Zionists.  (“Right” Zionists because they are Republicans, unlike most Zionists who are Democrats–Dem Zionists who provided and continue to provide the “broad bipartisan support” for the US invasion of Iraq).

There is more to understanding this war than understanding Right Zionists. I agree with Zunes on at least one crucial point:

the most prominent backers of the U.S. invasion of Iraq—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney—are neither Jewish nor prone to put the perceived interests of Israel ahead of that of the United States.

I suspect that–my own efforts notwithstanding–we have only begun to understand the stakes for Rumsfeld and Cheney.

9 Comments to Neocons and Zionists

  • You notice how Zunes says “There is something quite convenient and discomfortingly familiar about the tendency to blame an allegedly powerful and wealthy group of Jews for the overall direction of an increasingly controversial U.S. policy. Indeed, like exaggerated claims of Jewish power at other times in history, such an explanation absolves the real powerbrokers and assigns blame to convenient scapegoats. This is not to say that Mearsheimer, Walt, or anyone else who expresses concern about the power of the Israel lobby is an anti-Semite, but the way in which this exaggerated view of Jewish power parallels historic anti-Semitism should give us all pause.” This is what Strauss calls the Argumentum Ad Hitlerum, or Abe Foxman in his homelier way refers to as the Old Canard. However, from a strictly rational point of view, if we assume that there actually is a ruling class or clique, but we have no idea what it is (Armenians, Mongolians, Antarctic Space Nazis, Fifth Dimensional Lizards, Merovingians, or something even more outré), we can see that it would naturally employ Jews in all sensitive executive tasks, precisely because they are shielded from criticism by this factor itself, i.e., the fear of repeating the Canard. Actually, this has always been true, throughout recorded history, the Canard has always already been Old, and people have always been going to great lengths to avoid being accused of reviving it.

  • As Rowan Berkeley implies, but does not argue, the problem with the label “Right Zionist” and with the analyses that see protection of Israel as a primary factor in current US policy is that it implies that American foreign policy is actually constructed from the electoral process.

    The underlying logic of all this is that Wolfowitz, etc, are animated primarily by a desire to protect Israel and/or advance Israel’s interest even when it conflicts with those of the United States. This is explicity in the Mearsheimer and Walt piece, and it is implied by the “right Zionist” label. The ascendency of this policy is then allocated to the effectiveness of AIPAC in intimidating Congressmen (and Presidents) with the threat of electoral defeat if they oppose policies that serve Israel’s interest. In a very direct sense, then, this policy reflects the electoral will of the American people, however manipulated that will is.

    It is interesting that Cutler actually argues against this logic, even though his “right Zionist” label implies it. He argues (in his ZNet piece) that the neoc0jservative policies (that are seen by so many people are serving Israeli interest) are rooted in a particularly militaristic posture designed to establish the US as the unipolar hegemon, a goal that is reflective of the desires and needs of a large (and perhaps truly dominant) segment of the dominant forces in American society. These goals reflect neither the electoral will of the American citizenry, nor do they reflect the narrow interest of Israel.

    If this view is right, and I believe it is, it means that, in large part Mearsheimer and Walt are simply wrong in their analysis (though the charges of anti-semitism are still absurd).

  • The reason I do not ‘argue’ that ‘the problem with the label “Right Zionist” and with the analyses that see protection of Israel as a primary factor in current US policy is that it implies that American foreign policy is actually constructed from the electoral process’ is that it is not my intention to ‘imply’ anything or the sort, nor do I see how I can be supposed to have done so.

  • More on Greg Palast’s supposed scoop here:
    His theory is that OPEC power and high oil prices mean higher profits for ‘Big Oil’, whereas the neocon plan was and is to smash OPEC and let oil prices slump, which would supposedly reduce Arab power to combat Israel. All this still seems a bit jejune to me though. The article proper is in the current Harpers magazine, not online AFAICS.

  • Over a hundred years ago, Hobson said this about where foreign policy is constructed from : “The direct influence exercised by great financial houses in “high politics” is supported by the control which they exercise over the body of public opinion through the Press, which, in every “civilised” country, is becoming more and more their obedient instrument. While the specifically financial newspaper imposes “facts” and “opinions” on the business classes, the general body of the Press comes more and more under the conscious or unconscious domination of financiers.”

  • Hobson immediately afterwards gets even more specific, beginning to sound rather like John Buchan: “If the special interest of the investor is liable to clash with the public interest and to induce a wrecking policy, still more dangerous is the special interest of the financier, the general dealer in investments. In large measure the rank and the of the investors are, both for business and for politics, the cat’s-paws of the great financial houses, who use stocks and shares not so much as investments to yield them interest, but as material for speculation in the money market. In handling large masses of stocks and shares, in floating companies, in manipulating fluctuations of values, the magnates of the Bourse find their gain. These great businesses—banking, broking, bill discounting, loan floating, company promoting—form the central ganglion of international capitalism. United by the strongest bonds of organisation, always in closest and quickest touch with one another, situated in the very heart of the business capital of every State, controlled, so far as Europe is concerned, chiefly by men of a single and peculiar race, who have behind them many centuries of financial experience, they are in a unique position to control the policy of nations. No great quick direction of capital is possible save by their consent and through their agency. Does any one seriously suppose that a great war could be undertaken by any European State, or a great State loan subscribed, if the house of Rothschild and its connections set their face against it? “

  • Tanya Reinhart offers a version of the Israel-the-pawn argument in the final paragraphs of this article – I have written to EI complaining that her evidence for the idea that the withdrawal from Gaza was a result of US pressure is not given.

  • I tried to post a comment drawing attention to this yesterday about this time, but it doesn’t seem to have made it onto the site. My question is : where is the evidence for the assertion the author makes (in the final section of her piece) that the withdrawal from Gaza was due to US pressure? What sort of US pressure is she claiming? Surely not pressure from the toothless watchdogs in the State Department and their powerless Arab friends. Pressure from powerful US Jewish factions, maybe? That would be worth hearing about, if there are any such which oppose zionist territorial maximalism – maybe Ian Lustick would be a logical person to ask about this, since he claims to represent such a faction within the CFR.

  • Kathleen and Bill Christison have written a medium length historical defense of M & W in the current print edition of CounterPunch. Hopefully it will be online too soon.

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