The other night on CSpan, I watched Rachel Maddow give a lecture at Mount Holyoke College about her foreign policy book Drift. The speech was amusing, and her condemnation of Obama’s use of drones was excellent, as was her sympathy for military families who have borne the brunt of these wars inside the U.S. But the speech was singularly lacking in analysis. Why are we mired in Middle Eastern wars? Maddow’s analysis seems to be, That’s just us. We’ve got a military establishment. They do this stuff. They can’t be stopped. They build drones and like to fly ‘em.
The same aphasia is at work in Ari Berman’s piece on Romney’s neoconservative braintrust in the Nation. It’s a well-reported piece on the prevalence of neoconservatives in the Republican Party. And the Nation knows that neocon is now a curseword. It’s on the cover of the magazine in huge letters.
Americans don’t want to be stuck in these wars, Berman shows, citing polls. But why do the neocons have power? Berman draws a blank. It’s because of a vacuum in the Republican establishment. Or a “dangerously myopic” black and white worldview. “A cold war prism,” he says, quoting Joseph Biden. Though in a parentheses, Berman says that there is a domestic logic to Romney’s hires– “courting conservative elements of the Jewish vote.” As if the power Sheldon Adelson wields is his ability to waddle into a polling place in Nevada.
I can justly be accused of being a conspiracy theorist because I believe in the Israel lobby theory. I find it a more compelling conspiracy than the Chomskyan conspiracy, a Military Industrial Complex of Lockheed and Grumman and Halliburton that got us into Iraq. Certainly my theory has an explanation of the rise and influence of the neocons. They don’t have a class interest but an ideological-religious one. Like evangelical Christians who jam buses to vote on abortion, they don’t care about financial self-interest. They are rightwing Zionists. As I observed here — when Robert Siegel on NPR said it was anti-semitic to mention the Jewishness of the neocons– neoconservatism came out of the rightwing Jewish community. I quoted 7 Jewish writers on this point, including Dershowitz: “the recent neo-conservative movement in America has also been dominated by Jews.”
Neoconservatism is dominated by rightwing Jews because they are ultra-Zionists who believe in Israel’s militarism and have sought to import that ideology to the U.S. Part of their success was that they did their intellectual work. Over 25 years they elaborated a powerful idea about the way the world worked, with Zionist pedigree, and when the U.S. had a crisis, our leaders reached for those (misguided) ideas. As Francis Fukuyama has said about the neoconservatives’ ideological persuasion: “there was a very coherent set of strategic ideas that have come out of Israel’s experience dealing with the Arabs and the world community, having to do with threat perception, preemption, the relative balance of carrots and sticks to be used in dealing with the Arabs, the United Nations, and the like…”
Walt and Mearsheimer addressed this intellectual investment in The Israel Lobby when they said the “special relationship” had a hammerlock on US policy in the Middle East. Scott McConnell expressed it at the Middle East Policy Council:
The… special relationship [with Israel]… is at bottom a transmission belt, conveying Israeli ideas on how the United States should conduct itself in a contested and volatile part of the world. To a great extent, a receptive American political class now views the Middle East and their country’s role in it through Israel’s eyes.
Maybe McConnell is wrong. Maybe Walt and Mearsheimer and Fukuyama and I are wrong. But at least we are presenting a coherent analysis that seeks to explain the fact that the same thinktank-sponsored Americans who advised Netanyahu to make a “clean break” with the peace process 16 years ago, and who succeeded in that initiative, and who urged that the U.S. to invade Iraq, an initiative also crowned with success, and who are now pushing a war with Iran out of concern for Israel’s security, are still regnant in the American system. (And why are they regnant? Because of money, because of the usual springs of political power in this country– an issue that the conventional left is afraid to broach because it touches on uncomfortable issues, like the prevalence of conservative Jewish donors in our political system).
You can’t go forward without an analysis. As long as the mainstream left is being purposely vague about the causes of the neoconservative investment, it will be powerless to stop it.