In the last week, two conversations on television suggest that the idea that the Iraq war was undertaken because of concern for Israel’s security is now conventional wisdom among the chattering classes.
First there was a discussion about foreign policy at the Center for American Progress on December 15, aired later on CSPAN, in which James Mann, the scholar and author, said that Obama had set out to be an old-style realist, in the mode of Zbig Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. The difference between him and the neocons was a question of the status of the Israel/Palestine conflict in considerations of how to get peace in the Middle East. Mann:
When Obama took office, he cited Scowcroft as a model… I do think that was realism. You mention Israel and the Palestinians. That is interesting because that goes back to a debate around the time of the Iraq War and before, where the neoconservatives felt, having been most of them or all of them through the Gulf War, that a display of military power, as they saw it in the Gulf War, opened the way for some negotiations. That was their belief. It cowed Arafat, Arafat was scared and he was marginalized. And therefore that would work with the Iraq War. And the other side, this is at the time of the 2002 Iraq war, Scowcroft and Brzezinski had been arguing that you can’t get anywhere in the Middle East without an agreement between Israel and Palestinians first. Obama takes off on the Scowcroft side of that.
Last night on Hardball, Chris Matthews made a similar point. In a discussion about why Hillary Clinton had supported the Iraq war, he said she may have been mistaken in hindsight but not at the time.
What was the mistake? She did what she wanted to do. I think she played, as they say in the Godfather parlance, the smart move. Being for the war in 2002 thinking was the smarts. She represents New York [then as Senator]. That makes sense. A lot of people are very pro-Israel. They worry about anything in that region. She also knows that supporting wars has a better track record for people running for president than being doves.
A few years ago, the idea that support for the disastrous Iraq war was driven in any way by concern for Israel’s security was verboten. Walt and Mearsheimer were accused of being anti-Semites for saying that the Israel lobby pushed the war. Jeffrey Goldberg went in for the casual smear that they were saying that Jews started all American wars. But we’ve gone 12 years since that awful decision; the battle lines have softened; and the elites are changing; and raising the issue doesn’t seem to endanger Jews in the U.S., as was surely feared when folks kept their mouths shut about the matter in years gone by. When I started blogging at this site in 2006, I said that we needed to have this debate, inside the Jewish community and in the broader American community. What has supporting Israel done to our foreign policy? When Roosevelt and George Marshall warned in the 1940s of unending war in the Middle East if we helped to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, were they prophetic?
P.S. And doesn’t Matthews’s analysis dovetail with the revelation in the New York Times, that when Obama wanted to hire Hillary Clinton as sec’y of state, he reached out to the prince of the Israel lobby, Malcolm Hoenlein… How much of our foreign policy is a subchapter of our Israel policy?