In the last day or two we have seen one of the most remarkable policings of the discourse that I’ve ever seen; and it seems to be one man’s achievement, Jeffrey Goldberg, in asserting that the longtime New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd was anti-Semitic in writing that the Romney braintrust includes the same guys who started the Iraq war. It is remarkable because so many people inside the Beltway have heeded Goldberg; even Joe Klein in defending Dowd says that she was crude – this from a man who wrote openly of Jewish neoconservatives, which Dowd didn’t do – and so the line has held: the idea that we are allowed to debate the Jewish neoconservatives’ role in the Iraq war for the sake of Israel, well that is an anti-Semitic idea. As Goldberg says, it is the idea that the gentiles didn’t start that war, but were manipulated into it by the likes of Wolfowitz and Feith.
There has been good pushback against the Goldberg policing by MJ Rosenberg at Huffpo and Andrew Sullivan at his site. Sullivan has a photo of Dowd doctored to look like Hitler and welcomes her into the anti-Semite club. Both writers say that Dowd was right to call out the neocons for pushing the Iraq war. But in polite discourse, Goldberg has a large following. Max Fisher who is starting a new website at the Washington Post tweeted approvingly of Goldberg’s accusation— between his tweets with Goldberg discussing their favorite Jewish foods—and of course Commentary was on the case. Even New York Magazine passed along the accusation as if it might have some basis: “she peddles Jewish stereotypes and uses anti-Semitic imagery, according to a number of writers, editors, and observers.” This reminds me of the time Wolfowitz was able to deflect a question about neoconservatives at the American Enterprise Institute by joking, Don’t you mean Jewish? I am now waiting for Spencer Ackerman to trace the history of snake and puppet metaphors in the literature of Jew hatred..
I don’t think Maureen Dowd will be going back there for a while.
Goldberg’s most absurd claim is there was a “major” discussion of this issue after the Iraq war. This is not true. Walt and Mearsheimer said what Dowd is saying, and said more explicitly that the Iraq war was the Israel lobby’s work, but the discussion took place at the fringes. Goldberg saw to that. He condemned the view as anti-semitic then, and was joined by Marty Peretz, Daniel Goldhagen and Columbia University Journalism Dean Nick Lemann.
It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Goldberg’s dismissal of Dowd because she uses metaphors like snake and puppetmaster only forces the belief that she is right back underground, sure to pop up again before long– as it did lately when Chris Matthews asserted that the neocons “pushed” a mindless president into an “idiotic” war.
Goldberg has his reasons to keep the conversation underground. He vigorously supported the Iraq war, on the basis of reports that turned out to be bogus, and before that he moved to Israel because he thought the Diaspora was unsafe for Jews. He has a keen sense of anti-Semitism lurking at every corner. This is an important part of the conversation. Joe Klein points out in defending Dowd that anti-Semitism is not a factor in American society, at all. “If what Dowd wrote constitutes anti-Semitism, then the term has no meaning,” Ilene Cohen writes. And Tony Judt made similar points when he pushed for one democratic state in Israel and Palestine– because Jews don’t need a national refuge (on ethnically-cleansed land that has seen unending conflict).
I think it would be great if we had Goldberg’s “major’ discussion. The simple question: Is Dowd right when she says this about Romney’s neocon braintrust?
A moral, muscular foreign policy; a disdain for weakness and diplomacy; a duty to invade and bomb Israel’s neighbors; a divine right to pre-emption — it’s all ominously familiar.
You can draw a direct line from the hyperpower manifesto of the Project for the New American Century, which the neocons, abetted by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, used to prod an insecure and uninformed president into invading Iraq — a wildly misguided attempt to intimidate Arabs through the shock of overwhelming force. How’s that going for us?
My answers: the neocons did push the Iraq war out of concern for Israel’s security, they were an important factor in our going to war, and the neocons came out of the Jewish conservative community. Let me go over these points, last one first.
As Alan Dershowitz has said, “the recent neo-conservative movement in America has also been dominated by Jews.” To be clear: conservative Jews, like Irving Kristol who said in helping to found the neoconservatives in 1973, “Jews don’t like big military budgets. But it is now an interest of the Jews to have a large and powerful military establishment in the United States.” Norman Podhoretz said that Democratic doves were a “direct threat” to Israel’s security. So these neocon fathers led the movement out of a concern for purported Jewish interests. Jacob Heilbrunn in his book on neocons says the movement arose in part out of Jewish intellectuals’ resentment over their exclusion from places in the Establishment.
The next question is whether the neocons pushed the Iraq war out of concern for Israel, and here again the answer is clear, Yes. All their books on the subject, Frum, Feith, Perle, Berman, Kristol, Kaplan are inflected with the Israel issue, chiefly mentioning the fact that Saddam supported suicide bombers in Israel as a reason to take him out. Kenneth Pollack said we will be greeted with liberators and the Iraq war will thereby separate the Israel-Palestine issue from the American presence in mind of the Arab world. How are we doing with that one! Frum and Perle said, “Victory or Holocaust.” Perle, Wurmser and Feith before working for Bush had worked for Netanyahu on a related project, destroying the two state solution with the famous Clean Break paper. No doubt, these are guys who care about Israel. Joe Klein once accused these Jewish neocons of having “divided loyalties.”
The best line in Maureen Dowd’s piece is when she says that the Project for a New American Century’s manifestos prodded an uninformed Bush to invade Iraq. These manifestos must never be forgotten. They include statements like Israel’s fight is our fight. So we must do to Iraq after 9/11 what Israel did to the West Bank after the second intifadah. The thinking was echoed by Tom Friedman in his famous statement that it was necessary for the U.S. to go into the Arab world and smash something in order to convince them not to bomb themselves and blow up civilians. He was a big supporter of the Iraq war.
Did they have an effect on the war plans of Cheney and Bush? The million dollar question. I say yes. I ask readers to remember how scared we all were after 911. “If we are to think seriously about the world, and act effectively in it, some sort of simplified map of reality, some theory, concept, model paradigm is necessary. Without such intellectual construct, there is, as William James said, only a ‘bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion,’” Samuel Huntington writes in The Clash of Civilizations—which is itself such a paradigm. Huntington is right; policy requires theory; and the neocons had a very persuasive theory of Why they hate us: The Arabs had been left behind by history and were jealous of our freedom. We only had to replace their authoritarian governments with democracies to liberate that world; and the Arabs would love us. Bill Clinton said it best in his speech accepting the Democratic nomination in 92. Without vision, the people are lost. And sometimes they are lost with visions too.
Ken Pollack bought the vision, and Bernard Lewis brought it to Cheney. Tom Friedman:
It’s the war the neoconservatives wanted, Friedman says. It’s the war the neoconservatives marketed. Those people had an idea to sell when September 11 came, and they sold it. Oh boy, did they sell it. So this is not a war that the masses demanded. This is a war of an elite.
Goldberg’s claim that a bunch of powerful non-Jews in the White House started the war is inarguable. Of course Bush and Cheney started the war. No one has ever questioned that. But he is diminishing the power of mental laborers, the men and women, many of them Jewish, who did the hard labor of explaining the new world and pointing the finger at Iraq (which did not attack us; but had attacked Israel). I understand why he would seek to diminish the idea that the pen is mightier than the sword. Because he wielded one of those pens and does not want any serious accounting. So he throws mud, and muddies the waters.