Going into the basement conference room of a law firm on 6th Avenue in New York yesterday to hear former Cheney adviser David Wurmser speak on "What's at Stake for the West in Lebanon?" I was afraid that the subject, Lebanon, and six years in the White House meant that I would see a domesticated Wurmser, there would be no sign of the firebreather who once pushed for the Iraq war by saying that "craven, fawning" western politicians had "appeased" Arabs who had modeled themselves on Nazis.
Not to worry. Speaking to an audience of about 70 gathered by the Middle East Forum, Wurmser said we are on our way to a catastrophic war with Iran whether we like it or not. He poured the straight old 150 proof moonshine from the old neocon jug. His extremism was untempered by the experience of the last six years.
What are the 3 things he would tell John McCain if he were his adviser?
"Let me just bluntly answer that. One, abandon the two-state solution statement that we have right now vis a vis the Palestinians. Two--Well, let me start with number one. Number one is an open, publicly expressed regime-change strategy in Iran. Two, an open expressed regime-change strategy in Syria. 3, abandoning the two-state solution policy we've had frankly since the 9/11 attacks..."
(Yes, Israel is always first for the neocons, then they hide the salami.)
And barely a word about what has happened in Iraq. I believe Wurmser mentioned Iraq only once substantively (must check the tape)--as a triumph that we had failed to solidify when we had cravenly asked the U.N. for permission to occupy post-invasion, thereby signaling our weakness to the Muslim world. And indeed Wurmer's argument for a military confrontation with Iran, sooner not later, sounded a lot like the argument for a military confrontation with Iraq. The people want democracy. They look to the mighty west to provide it. We can't disappoint them. I suppose they will welcome us with flowers.
The good news about the event is that the room in the basement of Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel was only half-filled with mostly older people (and mostly Jews, my Jewdar told me, and even Wurmser seemed to acknowledge, when he said that everyone there follows the news from Israel/Palestine closely), and the roundish balding bespectacled true believer at the podium seemed purely historical. He conceded that George W. Bush has no appetite for a military confrontation with Iran (I wonder why!).
But let me report straightforwardly what Wurmser had to say.
All the reports from Europe and the State Department (which he derided as "Foggy Bottom") that Iran is becoming more moderate are false. Yes Iran is changing, but it is actually moving from "a pure theocracy to what is now essentially a theofascist state" that seeks confrontations with the west, and "a stream of victories," from Lebanon to Gaza, culminating in "destruction." "We're headed for a major conflict with Iran, it won't end nicely." The sooner we bring it on, the less horrific it will be.
Wurmser explained Iranian President Ahmadinejad by likening him to the Prophet Muhammed, the Soviets, and Hitler. He quoted a book by Saeed Jalili, "the mind behind Ahmadinejad", saying that when Muhammad arose as a tribal leader he fired all the negotiators and sent letters to Byzantium and Persia, telling them in essence to convert or "you will face the sword...." a bold act by a newcomer facing down "the two superpowers of his day." And look: when Ahmadinejad took power, he fired 100 ambassadors then sent a letter to George Bush! He was consulting Jalili's holy-war Islamic playbook to reenact Muhammed's challenge.
As I remember, Ahmadinejad's letter was actually cordial and conciliatory--no matter. These things are "coded," Wurmser said. Ahmadinejad is all about jihad. He believes that the west has no will and if the west is challenged, it will fall like a "collapsing hollow tree." He has ordered Syria and Hezbollah to take on this holy war, and Hamas to conduct an "active hot war" with Israel, thus producing war after war till the west falls.
As for the Nazis, Wurmser said the "internal dynamic within the Iranian regime" was a lot like Hitler's triumph of the will over his own hierarchy. "This is a lot like Hitler's generals in the 1930s, who at every successive crises he would then turn to his generals and say you're degenerate, you have no will." Wurmser said that Ahmadinejad thinks, "The west has no will. You have no will. I know I can get away with this and with each crisis he could increase his power by doing so." And so Iran will continue to amass power till the west faces a "catastrophic" situation. The Iranian people had looked to the west to bring the dictatorship to heel, but the west had failed them on numerous occasions, for instance when Europe began negotiations with Ahmadinejad over nuclear power.
Where is the evidence for Wurmser's assertions about the Iranian will? As many neocons do, from Paul Berman to Daniel Pipes, he spoke with a scholarly authority, fluently throwing around the names of Muslim intellectuals and books. (Indeed, these neocon intellectuals study the Islamists with the same passion that I study them!) Wurmser's fluency is not surprising; you'd expect it from a guy who spent years coordinating policy in the White House. But his theory struck me as largely that, a theory. His claim that Ahmadinejad is replaying the apocalyptic narrative of Muhammad or Hitler or the Soviet Union is based on his own view that the Muslim world is rife with evil men, and that we are good. You either subscribe to his judgment or not. Wurmser can read the code. We can't.
And this is what I found so mindblowing. That a man who has such feverish and melodramatic ideas of a showdown between the east and the west, and who is so separated from reality that he regards Iraq as a triumph and Israel's policy toward the Palestinians as one of forbearance, had so much power for so long. Scary.
Israeli forbearance? Wurmser is married to an Israeli and was funded at American Enterprise Institute in the good old days by Irving Moskowitz, a man who also funds colonial settlements in occupied territories, and Wurmser's comments about Israel utterly merged the interests of the United States and Israel, as democracies trying to turn back the Islamofascists but lacking the will to do so. The will again. "Israel doesn't seem to have the will to go back in [to Gaza]," he said with disappointment. "I don't see any will." The idea that the Israeli treatment of Palestinians is a "red flag" of injustice across the Arab world (as Muhammed ElBaradei said on Charlie Rose) was pure calculation in Wurmser's view; the Iranians have merely grabbed on to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as "the key emotive issue" to gain power from the Sunnis and the Arab world. Hamas is simply a tool of the Iranians thru Syria. Its electoral victory shows that the Palestinians have chosen "terrorism and a war against the west." There must be "consequences" for such behavior.
It should be pointed out that Wurmser's evil empire has morphed. In his book Tyranny's Ally, in 1999, our enemy was the Nazilike evil of pan-Arab nationalism. That was Israel's opponent then. Well now the Persians don't like Israel, so it's Nazilike "theofascism" that we have to go to war with.
I wonder who is going to be fighting all Wurmser's wars. I wanted to ask him why we should believe his statements about the Iranian people after his predictions about the Iraqi people turned out so badly...
But I thought I'd ask a non-adversarial question during the Q-and-A. "What is your vision for Israel if there's no Palestinian state? What will you do with the millions of Palestinians?" I wasn't called on (and maybe the doctrinal answer is contained in another stale neocon screed, the "Clean Break" paper he and the Perle-Feith braintrust created for Netanyahu 12 years ago). Yet I can imagine Wurmser's answer; it would involve the word "will"--whether we and the Israelis have it or not. What a tragedy for the U.S. that this man had so much power. And for my people that prominent Jewish intellectuals are taking their lessons from Nazis.