American foreign policy Bush Administration Dick Cheney Douglas Feith Dual loyalty Iran Israel Israel lobby Mearsheimer and Walt

“Jewish Neocons Are Dead Wrong, Not Disloyal” –My piece in the Huffington Post

Please check out my new screed in Huffington Post, in which I find myself objecting to one (just one, I promise) of the accusations that are commonly hurled at Doug Feith and his fellow preemptive war fetishists. I spent a long time trying to figure out how to say what needed to be said, which is one reason why I haven’t posted here in awhile. Comments would be welcome either here or at HuffPo, where I assume 95% of the commentators will be furious at me.

Jewish Neocons Are Dead Wrong, Not Disloyal

There are few Americans whose ideas offend me more than Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense who played a major role in planning and promoting the invasion of Iraq. I joined demonstrations to try to stop that invasion and am appalled that the preemptive war fetishists now have their sites set on Iran. But I believe Feith, Cheney aide David Wurmser and other Jewish war planners have gotten a raw deal from those who accuse them of putting Israel’s interests ahead of America’s.

The dual loyalty accusation has become conventional wisdom in the anti-Israel neighborhoods of the blogosphere and has been given academic respectability by John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt. In their new book, as in their original essay, the two profs report that in 2002, “Ha’aretz columnist Akiva Eldar warned that Feith and [Richard] Perle ‘are walking a fine line between their loyalty to American governments…and Israeli interests.'” They note that Iraq war chronicler George Packer believed that “`For Feith and Wurmser, the security of Israel was probably the prime mover'” when they planned the war.

Elsewhere, Juan Cole once opined, “Having a Likudnik as the number three man in the Pentagon is a nightmare for American national security, since Feith could never be trusted to put U.S. interests over those of Ariel Sharon.”

Those are very serious allegations, tantamount to accusing government officials of outright treason. Whoever makes them should have incontrovertible evidence. What the accusers have is circumstantial and flimsy. M&W note Feith’s connections with “hardline” Israeli groups, his op-eds supporting Israeli settlers and the infamous paper, “A Clean Break,” which war-for-Israel theorists claim is their smoking gun.

Feith, Perle and Wurmser are said to have co-authored “A Clean Break” for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in 1997 [Feith claims Wurmser is the sole author]. It calls for Netanyahu to reject the Oslo process, get tough with Syria by launching surgical strikes in Lebanon, and support the Hashemites of Jordan in their power struggle with Syria by, among other things, helping them remove Saddam Hussein from power.

That grab-bag of Machiavellian fantasies certainly captures the spirit of adventurous preemption that characterized the Iraq war. So what does that prove? Neocons favored the unapologetic use of military force and the dismantling of foreign governments in Nicaragua, Grenada, and the Balkans, not just the Middle East. It’s not surprising that some of them recommended the same approach to Netanyahu. That they eventually recommended it to G.W. Bush does not necessarily reveal anything about their loyalties or motivations. All it reveals is an obnoxious, wrong-headed worldview. If Venezuela had a lot more oil and Hugo Chavez were more provocative or tyrannical, they would want to depose him, too.

Recent, impassioned chatter about dual loyalty and Mearsheimer and Walt’s war-for-Israel theory has drowned out a far more important conversation about this ideology of preemptive militarism and interventionism. It gained powerful adherents right after 9/11, when Rumsfeld and Cheney decided to go after Saddam, in part because they wanted to send the message that the U.S. would not be content with attacking Afghanistan. They wanted terrorists and their paymasters to realize that the U.S. would strike its “enemies” anywhere and anytime it damned well pleased. That had nothing whatsoever to do with Israel; it had everything to do with American machismo.

Still, reasonable people can and do disagree about the extent to which Israel or its American supporters also factored into the Bush administration’s decision to wage war. But it is unreasonable to accuse Feith and his pals of divided loyalties without tangible proof.

Last year, I contacted Feith to get his take on the accusations against him for a magazine article. “I confess to being a conservative,” he said. “I have a conservative view of how to protect and preserve democracies. That affects my views of U.S. interests, British interests, Japan’s interests and Israel’s interests. There are problems inherent in the practice of democratic countries negotiating with anti-democratic entities. The parties to the negotiations differ from each other regarding goals, tactics and constraints. This applies to all democratic countries, including Israel.”

He added, “The only justification for going to war with Saddam was that he was a danger to the United States and our vital interests. The President decided that the risk of Saddam’s making biological or eventually nuclear weapons available to terrorists was unacceptable, especially after 9/11.”

That was a tragically wrong conclusion. Did Feith and his colleagues also believe the war would benefit Israel? Of course. Because of that belief, did some of them have an extra edge of enthusiasm for the war? Probably. But how can anyone who doesn’t reside in Feith’s mind assert with smug certainty that Israel was his first, second, fifth or tenth priority when he helped make the case for war?

One intriguing judge of what was on his mind is Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired Colonel who worked at the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia desk from 2001 to 2003. She has written ferocious criticisms of the Iraq war that mention her discomfort at the “pro-Israel, anti-Arab” attitudes of political appointees in the Defense Department and their connections with the Israeli military. But, in an email interview, she called the dual loyalty charge “simplistic, not fact-based.”

“The…preemptive war push is part of neo-conservatism, but not particular to those neoconservatives, like Doug Feith…who also happen to be Jewish, ” she wrote. “These folks…made their political bones as anti-communists. The so-called Islamists are seen by neoconservatives as the new communism…Neoconservatives wish to see an ‘End of Evil’ in a big, loud, decisive bang. We see a kind of predisposition for violent confrontation that isn’t as much based on loyalty to Israel, but on something much closer to home.”

To be sure, in some American neocons, that predisposition was also shaped in part by connections with hard-line Israelis who had a deep mistrust of Arabs and an abiding faith in military solutions to complex problems. In the 1980s, the dedication to Iron Israel, when combined with fierce anti-Communism and a reflexive contempt for anything advocated by the left, created a noxious mixture of ideas. Right-wing Israelis encouraged certain habits of mind in Americans who eventually joined the Bush Administration, a proclivity for shooting first and worrying about the cameras or the UN later.

Now, some American neocons want to inflict this credo of preemptive violence on Iran before Bush leaves office. It is their credo that makes them dangerous, not misplaced loyalties or a lack of commitment to the U.S.

12 thoughts on ““Jewish Neocons Are Dead Wrong, Not Disloyal” –My piece in the Huffington Post

  1. Hi Dan,

    I just read your piece over at Huffington and all said I think I pretty much agree with you,
    though I may not be the most desirable ally… 🙂

    Anyway, I believe most of the Neo-Cons – Jewish and otherwise – are more like “little Kissingers,” who’s goal is to “play the great game” around the world in support of American power. I’ve always suggested that for many of them, their support for Israel was more or less within the context of Israel as a useful – and dependent – chess piece to be used in the geopolitical game. I have generally differentiated between “Neo-Conservatives” and “Israel-Firsters” despite the fact that their interests frequently overlap.

    I think this differentiation is somewhat reflected in your decision to point out their support for “regime change” in places like Nicaragua and the like that is of no real interest to Israel. Remember that prior to this administration, one of the big Neo-Conservative causes and operations was the Iran-Contra Affair, and though they used Israel as a conduit, all said this could hardly be considered done primarily in Israel’s interest.

    On the flip side of this, remember the row over the Israeli technology transfers to China and the Neo-Conservative reaction. This was something that was in Israel’s best interest but the Neo-Conservatives were the most vocal opponents. Feith himself had no problem saying that this Israeli behavior wasn’t acceptable: ”We worked on this with the European Union, with Russia and with Israel. We had a problem with Israel, we talked about it seriously and we found a way to move ahead.” That is, they put Israel in its place (by their lights) and forced Amos Yaron out of his job.

    The “Israel-Firsters” in our government, particularly in Congress, agree with Israel regardless of the ramifications, whereas I think the Neo-Conservatives are only pro-Israel insofar as Israel serves its role as a “strategic asset” for American hegemony. In fact, some of the comments of Meyrav Wurmser, Israeli wife of Cheney aide David Wurmser, to YNet even suggests that many Neo-Conservatives are angry and disappointed in Israel after its dismal failure in the Summer War against Lebanon last summer: “Hizbullah defeated Israel in the war. This is the first war Israel lost, … Yes, there is no doubt. It’s not something one can argue about it. There is a lot of anger at Israel.”

    Noting the above, I still don’t think it is inappropriate for Mearsheimer and Walt to include the Neo-Conservatives within their definition of the “Israel Lobby,” nor do I find their basic discussion of “dual loyalty” unreasonable. Despite differences, it is undeniable that the vast majority of neo-Conservative initiatives and suggestions have been very pro-Israel. I think M & W were right to differentiate them from other aspects of the Lobby in that they are not strictly “Israel: Right or Wrong!” but they are very much pro-Israel, or more specifically pro-Israeli Right (e.g. Likud) as part of their over all world view. They see Israel as our proxy in the Levant, so it can’t come as too much of a surprise to see their frustration with Israel’s performance in the Summer War against Hizbollah.

  2. Kwiatkowski’s point is well-taken. I’m also far more concerned about the policy of preventive war, now enshrined in this country’s National Security Strategy, than in the allegiances of one particular functionary who helped organize the war on Iraq.

    Kwiatkowski was upset several years ago by the special access granted to Israeli military visitors to the Pentagon, which bypassed normal security procedures. Along the same lines as your post, I assume you’d attribute this more to a special relationship between the U.S. and Israeli government than to dual loyalties of any particular person(s) in the Pentagon.

  3. Dan,
    I confess to confusion over this whole neo-con thing. When I was an undergraduate in the late 1970s the neo-conservatives were a group of conservative Democrats who supported Kennedy and Johnson but didn’t like Carter, whom they regarded as another McGovern. They ended up coming out for Reagan in 1980 as a group and Jean Kirkpatrick won a spot as Reagan’s ambassador to the UN. Some, but not all of them, were Jews.

    Now the media uses the term neo-Con to mean either Jewish conservative or pro-Israel conservative. I’ve seen Cheney referred to as a neo-con on another blog. Cheney is neither Jewish, nor was he ever a Democrat. He has always been a Republican. So I’m confused. Has there been an official redefinition of the term like the difference between a 19th century liberal and a 20th century liberal?

  4. Nell wrote:
    “Kwiatkowski was upset several years ago by the special access granted to Israeli military visitors to the Pentagon, which bypassed normal security procedures. Along the same lines as your post, I assume you’d attribute this more to a special relationship between the U.S. and Israeli government than to dual loyalties of any particular person(s) in the Pentagon.”

    Actually, it seems likely that some of the political appointees that Karen K hated had deeply personal ties to some people in the Israeli military and intelligence communities. They clearly got some support and help for their autonomous intelligence gathering from some Israelis. But there were many others in the Israeli defense establishment who thought Wolfowitz,Feith and the other Saddam obsessives were focusing on the wrong enemy, and wished the U.S. would focus on Iran. Well, now they are getting their wish…

    I’ve never claimed that Israel’s security needs and priorities weren’t and aren’t extremely important to Feith et. al. Of course they are. As John Sigler says (#1), they are very “pro-Israel,” at least as that term is normally understood. Feith had a law office in Jerusalem, at one point. I just don’t see enough evidence that they put Israel’s interests ahead of America’s, or that Israel’s interests were among the most important reasons for the war.

    Tom (#4), like “Zionists,” “neoconservative” is a very elastic term that s used to describe many different kinds of people. You’re right that some of them used to be Dems. Feith and Wolfowitz worked together for Scoop Jackson, I believe. Cheney was never in the Irving and Bill Kristol wing of the Republican party and was not associated with the neocons, until 9/11. A good many were and are Jews, though, I’m sorry to say.

  5. “A good many were and are Jews, though, I’m sorry to say.”

    There are Jews of all stripes, and at all times. Saints and criminals.

    The problem with an interventionist predisposition that I see, is that it is a gamble.

    With Jews in particular, with so many willing to villify, the gambles include consequences to others.

    So, when a Jewish neo-con bets on an otherwise near 50/50 roulette table, for some odd reason the payout and the liability double. (Probably more the liability than the payout.)

  6. Help!!! A few comments have disappeared from this thread as well as the thread for the previous post on Syria. I am not a WordPress expert but will try to figure out why. If anyone knows what the problem might be, please email me at Thanks

  7. Phil Weiss disagrees with your comments.

    He implies that you are too accommodating to views that you disagree with, and that the entire significance of his comments are political and do not extend to any even inference of criminality (except when he uses the rhetorical term “criminal” at other times).

    I suffer from seeing only published words. I don’t own a TV, only read newspapers for news, and I don’t live in an urban environment in which I can communicate face to face and correct or clarify personal assumptions.

    My example is similar to many though. The intellectually weaker of us derive our conclusions from political cues and permissions by inference, not by proof.

    Its what Phil objects to, that Jews with some responsibility and voice would take a portion of their understanding from inferences from partisan, even myopically partison, sources.

    And yet, he indulges (my inferential word) in inference in describing what he objects to.

    It reminds of the game GO, in which one position often mirrors the opponent’s, distorting the obvious (in action and in perception).

    GO is my metaphor for the discussion on Lebanon earlier. Hezbollah is/was surrounded (Phalange, Israel). Palestine is prospectively surrounded (Israel, Jordan). Israel is/was surrounded (Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon).

    Each surrounding and surrounded simultaneously.

    What corrects the dynamic from one of fear to one of confidence? Emphasis on the ethical of one’s own behavior. SELF-inquiry.

    That is the content. The left has failed in that regard, myself included. We’ve emphasized the actions of the other as somehow controlling us. We all react and then suspect.

    The means are the ends. Self-inquiry more than defensiveness relative to stimuli.

  8. Sorry, you didn’t make a rational case at all. Your logic is all over the place. You say, “we can’t read Feith’s mind”, as if that’s proof of anything.

    We can look at his actions and if they all underscore the point that this man has put Israel’s interests in THE SAME category as the US’s, then he has loyalty to both sides and should not be making policy. Why is this so hard to admit?

    Ask yourself this question: if the Iraq war was *against* Israel’s interests (as Feith saw it, not as you or I see it), would he have been in favor of the war? Not in a million years.

    The row over the Israeli technology transfers to China is not proof that the neocons aren’t dually loyal. That was simply a domestic dispute between two factions of one gang. The neocons had their eye on the bigger picture, which is Israel’s total dependence on the United States. They were really acting as agents on behalf of Israel in this case.

    Ditto the Meyrav Wurmser. I find it surreal that anyone would offer this as example which *disproves* dual loyalty. The wife of an important aide to a peculiarly powerful Vice President gives an interview to a right-wing Israeli rag in which she openly expresses frustration that Israel was unable to “win” another crazy neocon war? Tell me, insert any other country name in that sentence and do you think people would be thinking “dual loyalty”? You bet they would.

    Frustration and disappointment with her side doesn’t make her disloyal to it! It means that she’s disappointed that Israel didn’t slaughter enough Lebanese and break enough US laws with respect to use of its weapons against unarmed civilians.

  9. I like the humane distinctions that Dan made.

    It didn’t seem to be the goal of his comments, to apologize for the advice that the Bush administration received, nor what it did with that advice.

  10. Dan,
    The October issue of Commentary had an article by Joshua Muravchik on the history and present of the neo-conservatives. He backed up my thinking. Donald Rumsfeld was never a neo-conservative, merely an ally of them over Iraq. Anyone using the term neo-conservative should read this article, it is on the Commentary website for free.

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