The best thing about this political moment in the U.S. (if not for the good people of Iraq) is that the rise of ISIS and the Republican candidates’ embrace of the Iraq war is posing that deep and permanent question to the American public, Why did we invade Iraq?
Last night Chris Matthews asked that question again and David Corn said it was about the neoconservative desire to protect Israel. Both men deserve kudos for courage. Here’s part of the exchange:
Matthews: Why were the people in the administration like [Paul] Wolfowitz and the others talking about going into Iraq from the very beginning, when they got into the white house long before there was a 911 long before there was WMD. It seemed like there was a deeper reason. I don’t get it. It seemed like WMD was a cover story.
Corn: I can explain that. For years. Paul Wolfowitz and other members of the neocon movement had talked about getting rid of Iraq and there would be democracy throughout the region that would help Israel and they came to believe actually a very bizarre conspiracy theory that al Qaeda didn’t matter, that Saddam Hussein was behind all the acts of violence…
Matthews: The reason I go back to that is there’s a consistent pattern: the people who wanted that war in the worst ways, neocons so called, Wolfowitz, certainly Cheney.. it’s the same crowd of people that want us to overthrow Bashar Assad, .. it’s the same group of people that don’t want to negotiate at all with the Iranians, don’t want any kind of rapprochement with the Iranians, they want to fight that war. They’re willing to go in there and bomb. They have a consistent impulsive desire to make war on Arab and Islamic states in a neverending campaign, almost like an Orwellian campaign they will never outlive, that’s why I have a problem with that thinking. … we’ve got to get to the bottom of it. Why did they take us to Iraq, because that’s the same reason they want to take us into Damascus and why they want to have permanent war with Iran.
What a great exchange. And it shows up Paul Krugman, who mystifies this very issue in the New York Times. (“Errors and Lies,” which poses the same question that Matthews does but concludes that Bush and Cheney “wanted a war,” which is just a lie masquerading as a tautology.)
Here are my two cents. We invaded Iraq because a powerful group of pro-Israel ideologues — the neoconservatives — who had mustered forces in Washington over the previous two decades and at last had come into the White House were able to sell a vision of transforming the Middle East that was pure wishful hokum but that they believed: that if Arab countries were converted by force into democracies, the people would embrace the change and would also accept Israel as a great neighbor. It’s a variation on a neocolonialist theory that pro-Israel ideologues have believed going back to the 1940s: that Palestinians would accept a Jewish state if you got rid of their corrupt leadership and allowed the people to share in Israel’s modern economic miracle.
The evidence for this causation is at every hand.
It is in the Clean Break plan written for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in 1996 by leading neocons Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser — all of whom would go into the Bush administration — calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein and the export of the Palestinian political problem to Jordan.
It is in the Project for a New American Century letters written to Clinton in 1998 telling him that Saddam’s WMD were a threat to Israel. (A letter surely regretted by Francis Fukuyama, who later accused the neocons of seeing everything through a pro-Israel lens.)
It is in the PNAC letter written to George W. Bush early in 2002 urging him to “accelerate plans for removign Saddam Hussein from power” for the sake of Israel.
the United States and Israel share a common enemy. We are both targets of what you have correctly called an “Axis of Evil.” Israel is targeted in part because it is our friend, and in part because it is an island of liberal, democratic principles — American principles — in a sea of tyranny, intolerance, and hatred.
It is in Netanyahu testifying to Congress in 2002 that he promised there would be “enormous positive reverberations” throughout the region if we only removed Saddam.
It is in Wolfowitz saying that the road to peace in the Middle East runs through Baghdad. (Possibly the stupidest thing anyone has ever said in the history of the world, including Douglas Feith.)
It is in all the neocon tracts, from Perle and Frum’s An End to Evil, to Kristol and Kaplan’s The War Over Saddam, to Berman’s Terror and Liberalism, saying that Saddam’s support for suicide bombers in Israel was a reason for the U.S. to topple him.
It is in war-supporter Tom Friedman saying that we needed to invade Iraq because of suicide bombers in Tel Aviv— and the importance of conveying to Arabs they couldn’t get away with that.
It is in the head of the 9/11 Commission, former Bush aide Philip Zelikow, saying Israel was the reason to take on Iraq back in 2002 even though Iraq was no threat to us:
“Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I’ll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990 – it’s the threat against Israel,” Zelikow told a crowd at the University of Virginia on Sep. 10, 2002. “And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don’t care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell.”
It is in Friedman saying that “elite” neoconservatives created the war in this interview with Ari Shavit back in 2003:
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. Friedman laughs: I could give you the names of 25 people (all of whom are at this moment within a five-block radius of this office) who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago, the Iraq war would not have happened.
It is in Tony Judt’s statement about the Israel interest in the war back in 2003:
For many in the current US administration, a major strategic consideration was the need to destabilize and then reconfigure the Middle East in a manner thought favorable to Israel.
And yes this goes back to rightwing Zionism. It goes back to Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol launching neoconservatism in the 1970s because they said that the dovish policies of the Democratic Party were a direct threat to Israel– an analysis continued in this day by Norman Braman, Marco Rubio’s leading supporter, who says that the U.S. must be a military and economic power in order to “sustain” Israel.
An Economist blogger wrote several years ago that if you leave out the Zionism you won’t understand the Iraq war:
Yes, it would be ridiculous, and anti-semitic, to cast the Iraq war as a conspiracy monocausally driven by a cabal of Jewish neocons and the Israeli government. But it’s entirely accurate to count neoconservative policy analyses as among the important causes of the war, to point out that the pro-Israeli sympathies of Jewish neoconservatives played a role in these analyses, and to note the support of the Israeli government and public for the invasion. In fact any analysis of the war’s causes that didn’t take these into account would be deficient.
Many writers, including Joe Klein, Jacob Heilbrunn, and Alan Dershowitz, have said the obvious, that neoconservatism came out of the Jewish community. And I have long written that the Jewish community needs to come to terms with the degree to which it has harbored warmongering neoconservatives, for our own sake.
But America needs to come to terms with the extent to which it allowed rightwing Zionists to dominate discussions of going to war. This matter is now at the heart of the Republican embrace of the war on Iran. There is simply no other constituency in our country for that war besides rightwing Zionists. They should be called out for this role, so that we don’t make that terrible mistake again. And yes: this issue is going to play out frankly in the 2016 campaign, thanks in good measure to Matthews.