American foreign policy American Jews Anti-Semitism Douglas Feith Dual loyalty Iraq Israel neoconservatives

Weiss exonerates people who are obsessed with dual loyalty…

Philip Weiss reacted to my HuffPo piece (see previous post) on the neocons with a little essay entitled Fleshler Exonerates the Neocons of Dual Loyalties. Why He’s Wrong.

Take a look at it. Take a look at the comments. There are a number of people, including Richard Witty, who disagree with Phil and make some cogent points. But the fact that Phil’s post and the entire, subsequent thread are focused ONLY on whether or not Feith –or American Jews as a whole– are dually loyal proves the point I was trying to make. This, and the war-for-Israel theory, are now the issues that suck up energy in much of the blogosphere. Even my buddy MJ Rosenberg weighs in with a comment, criticizing me for somehow taking the trouble to be on the same side of the fence as the neocons, which he knows very well is the last thing I would ever do.

A very dangerous ideology –a set of ideas about democracy, tyranny, military power, the glories of free enterprise and the horrors of the “welfare state”– is no longer of concern to anyone in certain segments of the American left. Phil Weiss doesn’t even deal with it. Instead, he dismisses my discussion of the preemptive war fetish as a collection of “pat answers” that are used to “exonerate” neocon officials.

And so, Paul Wolfowitz’ elaborate theories of preemptive warfare to protect American interests, which he began to develop when he was a young naval staffer in the Carter Administration, are never mentioned (oh, that’s right, he’s a Jew and he’s been honored by Jewish groups, so therefore the rest of his VERY complicated intellectual history must be ignored).

And the obsession of Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol with the Red Menace (an obsession so pronounced that the worst day of their lives occured when the Berlin Wall was torn down, leaving them, for awhile at least, with no mortal enemy to rant about) is never mentioned.

And the whole Star Wars fantasy, which Richard Perle threw his energies into in the 1980s, which the neocons and Cheney wanted to revive in the early days of the GW Bush Administration, and which the Administration is now trotting out again, is never mentioned.

And what they did to the socialist experiment in Nicaragua is never mentioned. And the way some of them publicly REJOICED when Allende was overthrown by the CIA, is never mentioned.

All that matters, apparently, is blaming officials who thought American and Israeli interests were identical, and tossing out accusations –again, with no proof- that their sentiments about Israel are what motivated them to get us into the mess we are in. That wonderful phrase, “anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools,” is not precisely applicable here. Phil Weiss is no anti-Semite and he is no fool, and I believe the same thing can be said about at least some of the people who regularly comment on his blog. But the spirit of that phrase, the notion of political energies being misdirected and utterly wasted, resonates with me tonight.

23 thoughts on “Weiss exonerates people who are obsessed with dual loyalty…

  1. Wow. Kinda angry tonight, aren’t we? I am glad someone is finally calling attention to the most dangerous of the various evils we must confront. But Weiss does raise questions that you don’t seem to want to answer. Should people with obvious passions for Israel be put in positions of power in those parts of America’s defense and foreign policy establishment? The accusations without proof are indeed a waste of energy. The obsessions of the war-for-Israel crowd are a waste of energy. But I understand the suspicions, don’t you?

  2. You go, boy! These people who spend every waking hour trying to blame the Jews for everything should be washed in some kind of cleansing spring..To read this from someone who comes from the left makes it exceptionally powerful.

  3. Teddy,
    Understanding that there is a potential basis for some suspicions and feeding the suspicions are two different activities.

    Which is Phil doing, in fact, or in practise?

    Its a sensitive, even dangerous, thesis. It therefore can NOT be addressed frivolously ever, at least by someone that regards affects on others as important.

    I know NOONE intelligent that doesn’t weigh multiple, often conflicting concerns, loyalties. ANYONE in any official capacity, would similarly.

    For me, a primary one is the conflict between what is compassionate and what is patriotic. I’m NOT primarily loyal to the patriotic invocation of the US. I’m primarily loyal to people (if the term “loyal” is a word that is relevant to anything), and mostly people that are close to me in some respect.

    Family, friends, local community, working people in general, humanists, tikkunists (Jews by Torah mandate, a nation of “priests”).

  4. One expected reaction to Dan’s contention, that ethical people should voluntarily avoid the invocation of “loyalty” in nearly any form and situation, is that people will object to being asked to voluntarily “shut up”.

    Some will weigh the concerns and the prospects of future harms and make a genuinely ethical decision one way or another. Others will merely react to the request as if its a forced “silencing”, and as progressives they are morally obliged to speak up.

    I remember in the early 80’s, the Progressive Magazine fought an important free speech issue about their right to condense and publish material in the public domain, outlining the construction of a nuclear bomb. Noone lacking a great deal of technical skill could prospectively build one or even a single critical component.

    But, I and many others, still regard that exercise as a essentially a childish and dangerous reaction to the insistence by the Reagon justice department that they not publish.

    Free speech includes the freedom to not speak, to be discerning in how one speaks. In fact, one who speaks in some reaction is not really speaking freely, but speaking reactively.

    They apply the definition of freedom as “freedom from restriction”, but not the more adult definition of freedom as comprehensive responsibility.

  5. Richard,

    This is one of those problems that cannot be solved. I am a Meretz guy, on the leftward edge of Zionism, and, like Dan, I do resent how casually and eagerly these accusations are made by Weiss and people who are even less thoughtful. But I can’t expect people not to articulate their concerns about Likud-leaners with law offices in Jerusalem helping to make Middle East policy. Appearances matter.

  6. I agree that it is important to counter the content of proposals or arguments that are unnecessarily harmful.

    I disagree that “loyalty” is a definition of that, nearly ever.

    I strongly prefer leaders to adopt at least multiple interests in their decision-making, and in what and how they do what they do.

    Clearly, Bush and Cheney have “led” a horridly incompetent and unethical administration.

    I would suggest that in contrast to the assertion that Feith, Wormser, Abrams, Wolfowitz were insufficiently loyal, that instead they were TOO loyal, and too simplistically loyal.

    I favor a little more compassion, a little larger range of potential goals, a little larger range of strategies in their tether, a little more competence in their execution.

    And by a “little”, I don’t really mean “little”, I mean a lot.

  7. Dan,
    I was in Dublin in 1984 and I spent an evening in some small pub where a bunch of lefties where giving me grief for the crime of being American. One asked why the Americans never participated in peace-keeping efforts like the Irish did. I replied that I thought that our 200,000 troops in NATO stationed in Europe were part of a peace-keeping force. I also mentioned that many in Israel thought that the Irish troops in UNIFIL were very biased peacekeepers. This brought on a torrent of complaint that Israel was such an imperialist country, etc. etc. and that the Jews were so obsessed with the Holocaust. Coming from Irish leftists who regularly would complain about anything that the British did in Northern Ireland while never offended by what the IRA did, I found rather laughable. But I guess one state’s or person’s concern about genocide is another person’s obsession. Incidentally the Communists, in their 75 years in power, killed several times the number killed by the Nazis, in their 12 years in power.

  8. Dan – One of the more annoying aspects of Phil’s blog is that he doesn’t respond to serious questions posed to him in his comments section. He has publicly stated that he is actually afraid to read his comments section. I followed up on a question posed to him about how to deal with the issue of dual loyalty and whether the same treatment should be applied to non-jews who also have a connection with or interest in the middle east.
    I’m pasting it in below. Perhaps Phil will address it on your blog.

    I’d like to hear Phil’s response to Dude’s question – If it’s not kosher for Jews to serve in positions where their concern for Israel’s well being may cloud their judgement as to what’s in our (USA’s) best interest, would it be kosher to allow either Muslim-Americans or Christian Evangelicals to serve in positions of power where they have influence over US Mid-East policy, since both also have vested interests in the region and the conflict?

    Similarly, would it be kosher to have someone with anti-semitic leanings serving in a position of influence regarding the Mid-East since that person too may have difficulty clarifying what is in our best interest and what is simply not in Israel’s best interest?

    Taking this to an absurd point – Should we really listen to what Black politicians have to say about welfare reform given the disproportionate percentage of African-Americans who receive public assistance? Could their racial identity cloud their judgement as to what is in the best interest of the USA and what is in the best interest of the African-American community? Same for Latino-Americans and immigration?

    I would be curious if Phil’s brother was asked the following question how he would respond:
    The US is about to engage in an adventure that may benefit Israel, but will be bad for the USA, do you support such a move?

    I personally think that most Jews believe that what is good for the USA is good for Israel. Jews don’t want to see a weakened USA. I support Israel’s right to exist (though not their Likud policies) and I opposed the Iraq war because I didn’t think it was the right way to go about increasing American power and influence. In my thought process I did actually think about how all this would affect Israel, and my conclusion was that Israel can ill afford a weaker, less influential USA, so what is good for the USA is good for Israel. Does that make me a dual loyalist?

    Posted by: Allahstein | October 12, 2007 at 04:49 AM

  9. Welcome, Allahstein.

    We’ve touched on your question about ethnicity and political appointees in the responses to my post, “Walt, Mearsheimer and What Didn’t Really Happen at Camp David(

    Teddy’s comment is worth reading (as are the responses). When discussing Ross and Indyk, he asserts:

    …maybe it does some harm to America’s credibility if they happen to be Jews who have worked for or had very close connections to AIPAC and the Israel lobby. I’d love the State Department to hire someone like Dan Fleshler, for example (not that I know if he has any real qualifications; I do know that he generally sounds sensible, and he’s with the forces of good.)

    “You wouldn’t want to send a female diplomat to a conservative Islamic country if she had a record of support for gay rights or used to work for NOW, would you? Would you want a Cypriot American who has close ties to the Greek lobby handling the State Department’s approach to the Cyprus problem? This blog is supposed to be encouraging hardhdeaded realism. Well, we must be realistic about how the world perceives Ross and Indyk, even if the perception is unfair.”

    I think, alas, that he’s right about Indyk and Ross and the way they were perceived by Arab negotiators. The same principle applies even more to Feith, Wurmser and especially Abrams…I wish the world didn’t work that way, but appearances matter a great deal in diplomacy, especially Middle East diplomacy

    Your second set of questions about dual loyalty are intriguing. I’m going to take up at least some of them in my next post…

  10. I can’t speak for Phil but I can speak as someone who thinks that there is some merit in his discussion of dual loyalty.

    There’s no doubt that all of ‘us’ likely exhibit some degree of split loyalty if we are willing to embrace our ‘ethnic’-American identities (secular WASPs need not apply). I have a strong affinity for my own ethnic/religious identity as well as being quite comfortable in my American skin.

    Now, I could choose to operate in the American context as someone whose primary professional and ideological aim is to promote interests relating to this identity. A friend of mine told his father he wanted to go to work for a major Jewish organization, and he says his father shouted at him – “Why do you want to be a professional Jew?” This path is well tread not only by ardently Zionist Jews but also others of other ethnicities/religions. There are times when one’s affiliations as discernable through one’s professional and public career are obvious – as a Zionist, as an Estonian nationalist, as a Serbian against giving up Kosovo, whatever. These careers/identities are fine in American civil society and of course are legal, etc. These individuals may even make rich and productive contributions to public policy on all manner of issues, when they don’t relate to the object of their affiliation.

    But when such an individual is assigned to a position of particular power with relation to American foreign policy towards their object of affiliation — Serbia, Estonia, Israel, etc. — then the question of dual loyalty is a natural one. When we see a grouping of such individuals in positions of power — even as a minority — this raises perfectly legitimate questions about the decisionmaking and institutional structures that allowed this to occur. One need only look at the biography of someone like Martin Indyk to realize that he’s not well suited to be in a position of arbitration or determination of US policy towards Palestine or Israel. As a non-US citizen who worked for years in various Israeli lobby groups, including AIPAC, one would naturally wonder if his basic loyalty – even after his expedited acquisition of US citizenship – would be to the US or to Israel. It’s not anti-semitic or conspiratorial to point out something this obvious.

    The anxiety Dan and others exhibit when these questions are raised is a problem, even if I do understand how the history of anti-semitism could lead to this anxiety. The fact is that we’re operating in a very different context than in nineteenth-century Europe, where ethnic nationalism was the dominant paradigm, and where Jews were a “problem”. The US destroyed ethnic nationalism, and that kind of anti-semitism is no longer tenable in public discourse. And so how are we to understand the motivations of Jewish neocons when they promote policies that are widely accepted as benefiting Israel before America?

    I think an acknowledgment of the fact that America is full of individuals of various backgrounds who DO have dual loyalties is beneficial. Then we can identify Zionists (Jewish and non-Jewish) as one of a constellation of dually-loyal groups in the US. Again, I think dual loyalty is fine in and of itself.

    It is only a problem when US policy towards a particular issue or country is dominated only by interests that clearly have a dual loyalty. This has sadly been the case with policy towards Israel and the entire Middle East in recent years, and as long as dually-loyal Zionists play a major role in US policy in the region, we will see policies promoted in the interests of Israel before the US.

  11. Kevin,

    So do I, except for

    “…as long as dually-loyal Zionists play a major role in US policy in the region, we will see policies promoted in the interests of Israel before the US.”

    I still don’t see why that is necessarily the case. Again, I think Feith et. al. convinced themselves that the interests of Israel, the U.S. and all Western democracies were identical, no matter how passionate their feelings about Israel might have been.

    Moreover, one can have concern about or ties to Country A and still promote policies that Country A’s government does not want, if those steps are what America needs.

    Wolfowitz was one of the American officials who told Shamir’s people that Israel should not respond when Saddam rained Scuds on Tel Aviv. Dov Zackheim, an Orthodox Jew in the Defense Department, played a major role in nixing the deal to send Lavi fighters to Israel. And Ross and Indyk and AD Miller did lean on Bibi when he became PM, and recommended that Clinton lean on him…I know, I know, they didn’t want the U.S. to lean hard enough, but there were many other rationales for that other than their own feelings about Israel.

    That said, I agree that the appearance of excess and/or dual loyalty to Israel should preclude someone from being appointed to an Administration post that deals with Middle East policy. So we don’t differ that much. I just question whether your last assertion is necessarily true.

  12. Dual-loyalties have a way of clouding judgment.

    Obviously, one can’t look into the hearts of Feith, et al, but shouldn’t it be clear by now even if they were sincerely conflating the interests of the US and Israel (which is less than entirely obvious), their dual-loyalties fatally compromised their ability to make sound policy?

    Ergo, as Kevin so eloquently explains, government officials should appointed, or not, with this factor in mind.

    Why the resistance to this notion?

  13. I think the concept of “dual-loyalty” is a non-concept.

    It applies only to those that singly-loyal.

    I know NO intelligent person that is singly-loyal. The only individuals that I can identify as singly-loyal are those that never ask questions of themselves, of others, of the world. They form NO ideas short of function.

    If I encountered an official that was singly loyal, THAT would for me be a disqualifying characteristic.

    If a person is effective at running a different organization, or responsibility, THAT is a qualification.

    Its one of the reasons that governors, rather than senators, are the more predominant career path to president. A governor has already administered an administration, negotiated with legislators, managed a budget.

    So, if a professional can confidently state, “I understand that my responsibilities are different from the work that I’ve done in the past.”, my sense is that they would be potentially qualified.

    I would hate to say that an attorney specializing in civil rights or labor advocacy for example, would be disqualified from an attorney general position for the bias (dual loyalty) that they would bring from their prior work.

    We’d have an artificially small population of prospective advisors and officials otherwise, and I mean SMALL.

    George Bush is the problem with the Bush administration. His election, his policies, his administration (or rather lack of it), his methods.

  14. Sort of off topic, but it was brought up here:

    In the case of the CIA overthrowing Allende, read The Overthrow Of Allende And The Politics Of Chile, by Paul E. Sigmund. It might raise a few eyebrows.

  15. To accuse an intelligent person of dual-loyalty is to say water flows.

    It says NOTHING.

    Are you solely loyal to the US? Dan, Are you? John S, are you?

    I’m not. I’m really only “loyal” to my family. I am responsible in many ways that are confidential and require me to drop other potentially conflicting interests.

    I’m responsible to clients, even as I personally disagree with many aspects of some of their efforts. I’m responsible to my employer, and strictly retain the confidentiality of its affairs, even though I disagree with some the decisions and means to implement those decisions.

    ANY lawyer, ANY accountant, ANY marketing consultant, has dual loyalties, and manages to distinguish their responsibilities from their views, or their current responsibilities from their prior.

  16. Dan,

    Well, the short answer is: it’s complicated, isn’t it?

    Dual-loyalty has many faces and incarnations. My only point is that during the Clinton and Bush administrations, policy on Israel has been dominated by individuals who have come directly into policy-setting positions from careers of doing nothing but supporting one vision of what is pro-Israel (this itself has two different shades of Zionist justifications – the Rabinist and the Likudnik, neither of them oriented towards a just peace, but rather promoting different visions of Israeli hegemony that in the end look remarkably similar).

    The pro-Israel policies of earlier US administrations (post ’67) was more due to cold-war realpolitik and the notion that Israel was a pawn against the East (the old East, meaning communism, not Islam). This shift hasn’t really been explored, but I think it’s just a fact that where prior pro-Israel policy was a matter of an ideological “single-loyalty” commitment to America’s fight against the USSR, the post cold-war scenario has found policy dominated by a dually-loyal cadre who (as the term indicates) in turns are BOTH loyal to Israel as well as the US. No-one says these guys hate America, but dual loyalty does lead you to different ideological commitments than the “realist” position of W&M or other single-loyalty positions.

    One thing that US progressives tend to be disingenuous about is in claiming that dual loyalty is only a neo-con phenomenon. Indyk and Ross ain’t neo-cons – the presence of dual loyalists in high positions of directing US foreign policy towards Israel began with Clinton, not Bush II. There are dually-loyal neo-cons and dually-loyal neo-liberals as well. These two subsets compete and differ on some details, but are united on the broader aspects of how the US treats Israel – no real pressure on the issue of settlements, no serious questions on how funding is used (e.g. for the wall, which is being funded by US taxpayers), no commitment to ending the occupation except as a capitulation or as a unilateral “withdrawal” a-la Gaza, no serious engagement with the refugee issue, etc. In this way, there’s no real differences between Feith and Ross on these kinds of issues, although they make their arguments using very different kinds of claims.

    But as you note, we are in agreement about the broad implications of this: better to have a team working on US policy in the region that is not dominated by pro-Israeli careerists.

  17. I think the choice of advisors reflected the administrations themselves.

    Clinton chose those whom he thought were responsible and politic. Bush chose those whom he thought were responsible and politic.

    Anyone who advocates for any position, even academics (prospectively “objective”), would then be disqualified from even an advisory role in an administration by your criteria Kevin.

    An advisor is ONLY a provider of information. A skillful executive would get multiple perspectives on any issue and DECIDE.

    My sense is that Clinton was personally capable of that, of sincerely understanding the logic and positions and politics of multiple perspectives, as were his staff and advisors.

    My sense is that Bush is less able in that regard. (An understatement.)

  18. The relationship between Israel and the US is FIRM, and should be.

    Specific policies are subject to criticism, but the supportive nature of the relationship should be confident.

    Otherwise, the word of the US is void.

  19. Richard,
    Presumably there is such a thing as single loyalty as governments the world over deny security clearances to people whom they suspect may in the future exhibit dual loyalty. The reasons given are sometimes valid, but often either stupid or malicious forcing some of the best-trained individuals to go into the private sector rather than into government work. The guidelines are basically drawen up to hire routine personnel who have never left the country except for government employment or to go for quick vacations to safe destinations. But security vetters around the world are convinced that it is possible to define a concept of single loyalty.

  20. The biggest problem facing Israel and Palestine and the rest of the region is NOT inter-communal conflict, but ecological.

    Every state in the region has exceeded the ecological carrying capacity of the region, even assuming that best practises are applied.

    Unfortunately, even best practises are not being applied consistently.

    For any that claim to love the land, whether it be neo-orthodox Jews, secular Jews, Shia or Sunni Islamicists, or secular Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, negligence is not an option.

    Anyone have any contact with regional ecological organizations, which by definition must be cross-cultural.

    I’ve never met a Muslim or Jewish bird, or encountered Muslim or Jewish water.

  21. Dan:

    Thank you for your thoughts on the dual loyalty issue. I’m coming here late (back from a wonderful respite in Italy) and have now had the privilege of reading and really digesting your post and the series of excellent comments above.

    The bottom line is simple, and that is that it is absolutely ridiculous (at best) to assign a presumption of dual loyalty to any group, including Jewish Americans (or some segment thereof). It is, in fact, outrageous to do so, and I say this without delving into the historical predicate for “Jewish” concern in particular about presumptions of disloyalty or dual loyalty. Suffice it to say that we’ve been there and we’ve been subjected to that.

    I agree that presumptions of disloyalty do nothing but sap strength from an already frayed liberal coalition in this country. I really have no patience for it, forgive me. And I thank you for addressing it head on (and I’m sorry that my buddy MJ Rosenberg took you to task for writing the right thing). One does not have to be a neo-con (thankfully again) to recognize the danger inherent in any presumption of dual loyalty attached to even some segment of the Jewish community.

    Fellow lefties, Jew and non-Jew, knock it off, please. Keep criticizing neo-cons and neo-con philosophy and I shall be proud to join you, but please note that I will have nothing to do with anyone, lefty or not, who is unable to take on neo-con views without suggesting that any particular Jewish neo-con is a presumptively disloyal American.


    P.S. The year is 2007. Why must we even be forced to have this discussion? Dayenu!

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