Do Israeli Interests Fire U.S. Iraq Policy?

A joke currently circulating around the Internet tells the story of Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush sharing their dreams with each other.

Saddam Hussein phoned President Bush. "I had a dream about the United States," he said. "I could see the whole country, and over every building and home was a banner."

"What was on the banner?" asked Bush.

"LONG LIVE SADDAM!" answered the dictator.

"I'm so glad that you called," said President Bush, "because I too had a dream. In my dream, I saw Iraq and it was more beautiful than ever; totally rebuilt with many tall, gleaming office buildings, large residential subdivisions with swimming pools in every yard; and over every building and home was a big, beautiful banner."

"What did the banner say?" asked Saddam.

I don't know," answered President Bush, "I can't read Hebrew."

The joke may offend some, but it underscores a growing debate over the role of Israel — and American Jews supportive of Israel — as the United States moves further toward war with Iraq.

In recent months, everyone from Slate's Michael Kinsley to former U.S. presidential candidate Gary Hart to Hardball host Chris Matthews has commented about the problem of "dual loyalty" in this conflict — the question of whether some Americans — especially certain Jewish members of the Bush administration — are supporting war with Iraq because they believe war is in Israel's interests.

The debate surfaced in public March 3 when Rep. James Moran, D-Va., told a church forum that, "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this."

The White House condemned Moran's comments and the congressman has since apologized for his comments.

American Jewish groups have not endorsed the war, and many Jews have been active in the anti-war movement. But, as evidenced by Moran's recent comments, the debate continues over Israel's role, American Jewish support of the Iraq war, and a perceived dual loyalty.

Kinsley wrote in October that there has been a "lack of public discussion about the role of Israel in the thinking of President Bush." The Moran flap was the first time the White House has gotten involved. Before, the discussion has stayed in the realm of political magazines and op-ed pages. Below we break down the debate:

The ‘Elephant in the Room’

In his October column, Kinsley wrote that in discussion about Iraq, Israel is "the proverbial elephant in the room" — the topic that everyone agreed was an issue but that no one wanted to talk about, for fear of sounding anti-Semitic. But writers recently have been more willing to ponder how much Israel, or at least those concerned about Israel's security, influences U.S. Iraq policy.

In a February opinion article in The Washington Post, New Republic senior editor Lawrence Kaplan explained that Israel's role in the impending conflict is a legitimate concern.

"How the Bush administration has arrived at the brink of war with Saddam Hussein, and to what extent Israeli influence has brought it there, is a legitimate question about which there is ample room for disagreement," he wrote.

Kaplan explained that it's an important question, but one that is often addressed in illegitimate ways (and anti-Semitic ways — though he doesn't use the word "anti-Semitism"). He quoted Paul Schroeder, writing in Pat Buchanan's revived American Conservative magazine, that a plan for invasion of Iraq "is being promoted in the interests of Israel." Kaplan wrote that this "socialism of fools" (which, Slate columnist Mickey Kaus points out, is the same thing as anti-Semitism) has also invaded the anti-war left.

Buchanan himself added fuel to the fire in the March 24 issue of The American Conservative.

In his cover story attacking both Jews in the Bush administration and Jewish writers like Kaplan, David Brooks, and Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, Buchanan asserts: "We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America's interests. We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo Accords. We charge them with deliberately damaging U.S. relations with every state in the Arab world that defies Israel or supports the Palestinian people's right to a homeland of their own. We charge that they have alienated friends and allies all over the Islamic and Western world through their arrogance, hubris, and bellicosity."

The Likudniks

Critics of U.S. Iraq policy, on the right and the left, have drawn accusations of anti-Semitism for asserting that certain members of Bush's administration (namely Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board; and Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy) have dual loyalty — interests in both the United States and Israel.

Many of the pro-war members of Bush's administration, like these, were in fact advisers to the administration of Benyamin Netanyahu, a member of the Likud Party, when he was prime minister of Israel from 1996 to 1999.

As Mickey Kaus has mentioned in his column, the issue first gained attention in early February when Robert Kaiser wrote a front-page Washington Post article that noted, "For the first time, a U.S. administration and a Likud government in Israel are pursuing nearly identical policies."

Conservative Americans under Buchanan's wing and writers for leftist publications are not the only ones who have brought this issue to light. Former presidential candidate Hart was chided recently for comments he made about dual loyalty. He said, "We must not let our role in the world be dictated by ideologues … who too often find it hard to distinguish their loyalties to their original homelands from their loyalties to America and its national interests."

However, he told The Forward, a weekly national Jewish newspaper, that his comments did not refer to any particular group.

Similarly, talk show host Matthews suggested on his show Hardball that the United States is moving toward war because of "conservative people out there, some of them Jewish, who are very tough on foreign policy. They believe we should fight the Arabs and take them down. They believe that if we don't fight Iraq, Israel will be in danger."

Is the Discussion Anti-Semitic?

In The Weekly Standard, Brooks wondered if this focus on the Jewish, pro-Israel hawks in the administration constitutes anti-Semitism.

After seeing an anti-war speaker mention Paul Wolfowitz, Brooks wondered: "Why didn't he say Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Powell were organizing the Bush administration policy? They're higher-ranking officials than Wolfowitz and actually members of the administration, unlike Perle."

He continued, "Would the crowd have roared as wildly if he'd mentioned Rice and Powell, I wondered, or did the words Wolfowitz and Perle somehow get their juices flowing?"

Not Necessarily Good for Israel

It's important to note that not all American Jews, and not even all pro-Israel American Jews, believe that a U.S.-led war with Iraq would be in Israel's interest.

Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg, a frequent commentator in American media, wrote in October in The American Prospect, "No one doubts that Israel will face serious risks the moment that President George W. Bush orders an American offensive against Iraq."

"Nonetheless," Gorenberg continued, "conventional wisdom in the United States, Israel and elsewhere is that Bush's plans for 'regime change' in Iraq serve Israeli interests at least as much as U.S. ones."

A Saddam armed with a nuclear arsenal would be even more dangerous to Israel's security than a Saddam armed with Scud missiles, which he used against Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.

But as Gorenberg wrote, the focus on Iraq has forced the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians to take a back seat, which does nothing to further Israel's security. Gorenberg pointed out that a war with Iraq will further destabilize the region, giving Arab nations more venom for their anti-Israel sentiment and even possibly a quest for revenge.

And it was in the liberal Jewish magazine Tikkun that Steve Zunes, chairman of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco, pointed out that the most powerful pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has not said that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would be in Israel's interests.

He wrote, "While AIPAC undeniably has influenced congressional votes regarding Israeli-Palestinian concerns and other issues, it has not played a major role in lobbying for support of the president's call for a U.S. invasion."

No Unusual Influence

Zunes acknowledged the Jewish influence in the Bush administration, but says it is no different from Jewish influence elsewhere.

"While it is true that a disproportionate number of Jews can be found among the strategic analysts pushing for this more aggressive U.S. foreign policy, it is also true that a disproportionate number of Jews can be found among liberal Democrats in Congress and Marxist intellectuals in universities who oppose it," he wrote. "In short, it is simply a reflection of the same cultural and historical phenomenon that has seen Jews come to prominence in intellectual and other influential sectors of societies throughout the diaspora."

Kaplan likewise recognized that not all American Jews are pro-war.

"For that matter," he wrote in the Washington Post op-ed, "a cursory review of the literature opposing war in Iraq reveals that the charge of 'Jewish-American hysteria' could just as easily apply to opponents of an invasion."

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