Were you as frightened by Donald Trump’s October 13 speech on Iran as I was? The president used the word “regime” 29 times in that speech — this “rogue regime”, this “fanatical regime”, this “radical regime,” etc. Plus he sloppily linked Iran to Al Qaeda and other “terrorist networks”–
The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks.
It sure sounded like George Bush’s warmongering speeches before we went into Iraq and changed that regime, with such disastrous results.
And just as it was during the Iraq war runup, Israel was hanging out in the wings of the White House. The administration’s official roll-call of praise for Trump’s speech began with Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement, “He boldly confronted Iran’s terrorist regime,” before listing 20 Republican politicians’ comments.
It was just like Netanyahu jumping to salute Trump after his last foreign policy splash, the shocking “rocket-man” speech at the U.N. in September. “In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech,” Netanyahu said then.
The liberal media gave Trump the reputation of being an isolationist during last year’s campaign, but no one would say that today. In abandoning the antiwar creed that helped get him elected, Trump is plainly cultivating Israel and the neocons. Robert Parry argues at Consortium News that Netanyahu is pulling Trump’s strings. While former Obama aide Philip Gordon points out at Politico that Netanyahu played the same role during the Iraq war– and that should give people pause.
Netanyahu, however, would perhaps be a more reliable expert witness today had he not testified to Congress in 2002 that there was “no question whatsoever” that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons and if he had not “guaranteed” that an invasion of Iraq would have “enormous positive reverberations on the region,” especially on Iran.
Scott McConnell explained to me that Trump is making a big play for neoconservative support because being so beleaguered politically, he is doing what he can to cultivate an important bloc of the DC establishment. Neoconservatives are definitely available– as they always are, regardless of party.
But the mainstream press has largely avoided the Israel interest. It’s far more interested in Russian meddling in U.S. politics. This is a step backwards, because the last time the Iran deal was up for grabs, in 2015, the role of Israel and its lobby in pushing war with Iran was reported. Netanyahu’s shocking speech to Congress became a rallying point for the deal. At the height of the battle, President Obama declared boldly that he couldn’t defer to Israel’s interests without betraying the constitution.
This time round, the press is tiptoeing around the question. The most direct reference to Israel’s interest came from the president himself in a tweet when he learned that New York Senator Chuck Schumer was supporting the deal, this time around: “Tell that to Israel, Chuck!” Trump wrote.
Some journalists are doing their jobs, to document the neoconservative influence. Eli Clifton at Lobelog reports that Trump is motivated by three large donors, Bernard Marcus, Sheldon Adelson, and Paul Singer, all of whom are giant supporters of Israel.
[Trump] appears to have fallen in line with the views espoused by several of his top donors. These funders believe that Iran poses an apocalyptic threat only addressable through military action, including the use of nuclear weapons…
Clifton shows the staggering numbers that Adelson, Marcus and Singer have contributed to Trump– and that half the contributions to a prominent Republican Senate campaign fund come from these men:
Combined they contributed over $40 million to various pro-Trump political groups and causes…
Those three donors also contributed $65 million at the congressional level. That represents nearly half of the individual contributions made to the Senate Leadership Fund (CLF) and Congressional Leadership Fund(CLF), Super PACs dedicated to maintaining Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Those contributions provide a considerable incentive for Hill Republicans to stake out a hawkish position on the JCPOA.
The Arkansas political rocket Tom Cotton is now the leading neocon in the Senate; and he has provided Trump a lot of political support. Again, donors are important. Clifton reports that Paul Singer is the second largest contributor to Tom Cotton.
While at Politico, Eliana Johnson reports that Sheldon Adelson, using neocon warhorse John Bolton, may have helped inject language into Trump’s speech. Remember that Bolton was disqualified from the administration early this year because of Trump’s distaste for the Fuller brush mustache. But neocons never fade away.
Then there’s the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. As Gordon writes at Politico, in a piece titled, “Trump’s Iran strategy looks ominously familiar,” the FDD is the latest neoconservative warmongering thinktank with a back door to the Oval Office:
In the run-up to the Iraq War, it was experts at the American Enterprise Institute and Project for a New American Century such as Richard Perle and John Bolton who were making the case that Iraq had links to Al Qaeda, had resumed its development of weapons of mass destruction, and—perhaps most important and most erroneous—that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators after an invasion. Today, the lead outside role in selling (and overselling) decertification is being played by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Institute for Science and International Security and their respective directors Mark Dubowitz and David Albright.
Dubowitz is dedicated to regime change in Iran, as both Ben Armbrister at Lobelog and Colin Kahl at Foreign Policy note, citing a litany of statements.
But Dubowitz does not have that reputation in the press. The Washington Post describes Dubowitz as an “expert” but does not tell you about his love for regime change. The New York Times has also given Dubowitz a platform as an expert without describing his history. And Dubowitz was paired with Rob Malley on PBS’s News Hour, as a plausible observer.
How has Dubowitz gotten away with it? He hasn’t got a mustache, that’s for sure. Ben Armbrister at Lobelog says Dubowitz’s style is far more nuanced than Bolton’s:
Dubowitz… is more subtle in his advocacy, perhaps understanding that publicly pushing another costly war in the Middle East isn’t necessarily the best way to win mainstream support these days.
That strategy has helped Dubowitz publish op-eds in prominent media outlets, testify on Capitol Hill, and, as was the case this week at the Atlantic Council, establish credible relationships with key reporters covering this issue….
But his goals are belligerent ones, to put the “United States on a fast track to war.”
This is precisely what Dubowitz and a well-funded cadre of neocons and their allies in Washington and beyond want. They don’t want a “better deal” (which can’t be achieved anyway). In fact, they don’t want a deal with Iran at all. Their goal, ultimately, is regime change in Tehran.
And Dubowitz represents the Israel lobby. During the last fight for the Iran deal, back in 2015, John Judis did an incisive report for Slate showing that Dubowitz’s shop, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, originated as a pro-Israel group in 2002, funded by those three rightwing Jewish donors, Adelson, Marcus, and Singer: “FDD’s chief funders have been drawn almost entirely from American Jews who have a long history of funding pro-Israel organizations.”
Its chief influence is on the Republican side, Judis wrote, and its interest is a narrow one:
[I]t has conducted its research from a particular vantage point and with a relatively narrow focus. Its research and advocacy have centered on the Middle East and in particular on conflicts and issues that impinge on Israel. And its positions have closely tracked those of the Likud party and its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—not just on the Iran deal, but on the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the desirability of a two-state solution. Understanding the think tank’s ideological affinity with the Israeli government, and the roots of that affinity, helps explain the special role that FDD has played in opposing the Iran deal and may shed light on what FDD hopes to accomplish by derailing President Obama’s signature foreign policy accomplishment..
[A]s the journalist Ali Gharib has noted, it arose out of an organization committed to burnishing Israel’s reputation in the United States. On April 24, 2001, three major pro-Israel donors incorporated an organization called EMET (Hebrew for “truth”). In an application to the Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt status, [founder Clifford] May explained that the group “was to provide education to enhance Israel’s image in North America and the public’s understanding of issues affecting Israeli-Arab relations.”
The neoconservatives never fade away because few in the mainstream bust them; and so they keep on popping up, in one form or another. I don’t think we’ll ever defeat the lobby till we call it out. Neither the media nor the Democrats are yet prepared to do so.
P.S. Bill Kristol and Chemi Shalev have both decried Trump’s tweet to Schumer, Tell it to Israel, Chuck, as an anti-semitic allegation of dual loyalty. But Schumer loves to tell pro-Israel audiences that his name means Guardian in Hebrew, and he is guarding Israel.