At the Huffington Post, Jim Sleeper addresses “A Foreign-Policy Problem No One Speaks About,” and it turns out to Jewish identity, the need to belong to the powerful nation on the part of Jewish neoconservatives. Sleeper says this is an insecurity born of European exclusion that he understands as a Jew, even if he’s not a warmongering neocon himself. The Yale lecturer’s jumping-off point are recent statements by Leon Wieseltier and David Brooks lamenting the decline of American power.
In addition to Wieseltier and Brooks, the “blame the feckless liberals” chorus has included Donald Kagan, Robert Kagan, David Frum, William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and many other American neoconservatives. Some of them have been chastened, or at least been made more cautious, by their grand-strategic blunders of a few years ago…..
I’m saying that they’ve been fatuous as warmongers again and again and that there’s something pathetic in their attempts to emulate Winston Churchill, who warned darkly of Hitler’s intentions in the 1930s. Their blind spot is their willful ignorance of their own complicity in American deterioration and their over-compensatory, almost pre-adolescent faith in the benevolence of a statist and militarist power they still hope to mobilize against the seductions and terrors rising all around them.
At bottom, the chorus members’ recurrent nightmares of 1938 doom them to reenact other nightmares, prompted by very similar writers in 1914, on the eve of World War I. Those writers are depicted chillingly, unforgettably, in Chapter 9, “War Fever,” of Amos Elon’s The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933. Elon’s account of Germany’s stampede into World War I chronicles painfully the warmongering hysterics of some Jewish would-be patriots of the Kaiserreich who exerted themselves blindly, romantically, to maneuver their state into the Armageddon that would produce Hitler himself.
This is the place to emphasize that few of Wilhelmine German’s warmongers were Jews and that few Jews were or are warmongers. (Me, for example, although my extended-family history isn’t much different from Brooks’ or Wieseltier’s.) My point is simply that, driven by what I recognize as understandable if almost preternatural insecurities and cravings for full liberal-nationalist belonging that was denied to Jews for centuries in Europe, some of today’s American super-patriotic neo-conservatives hurled themselves into the Iraq War, and they have continued, again and again, to employ modes of public discourse and politics that echo with eerie fidelity that of the people described in Elon’s book. The Americans lionized George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and many others as their predecessors lionized Kaiser Wilhelm, von Bethmann-Hollweg, and far-right nationalist associates who hated the neo-cons of that time but let them play their roles….
Instead of acknowledging their deepest feelings openly, or even to themselves, the writers I’ve mentioned who’ve brought so much folly and destruction upon their republic, are doubling down, more nervous and desperate than ever, looking for someone else to blame. Hence their whirling columns and rhythmic incantations. After Germany lost World War I, many Germans unfairly blamed their national folly on Jews, many of whom had served in it loyally but only a few of whom had been provocateurs and cheerleaders like the signatories of [Project for New American Century’s] letter to Bush. Now neo-cons, from Wieseltier and Brooks to [Charles] Hill, are blaming Obama and all other feckless liberals. Some of them really need to take a look in Amos Elon’s mirror.
Interesting. Though I think Sleeper diminishes Jewish agency here (Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban are no one’s proxy) and can’t touch the Israel angle. The motivation is not simply romantic identification with power, it’s an ideology of religious nationalism in the Middle East, attachment to the needs of a militarist Sparta in the Arab world. That’s another foreign policy problem no one speaks about.