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The Conservative Curmudgeon
January 12, 2010

The Role of Neoconservatives — and Israel’s Right Wing — in the War in Iraq
by Allan C. Brownfeld

ALEXANDRIA, VA — For many Americans, the reasons for the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003 remains a mystery. The reasons the Bush administration gave for going to war — that Iraq had ties with al Qaeda, that it possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that, somehow, it was involved in the terrorist attacks of 9/ll — have all been proven false. It is, some argue, as if after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, we declared war on Mexico.

However, a group of men and women in and out of government proposed war with Iraq even before 9/ll. These were the neoconservatives — including such leading Bush administration officials as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and L. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. What motivated these advocates of war with a country that never attacked the U.S. and posed little threat is the subject of an important new book, The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel (Enigma Editions) by Stephen J. Sniegoski, Ph.D.

Dr. Sniegoski’s focus on the neoconservative involvement in American foreign policy antedates the 9/ll terrorist attacks. His first major work on the subject, The War on Iraq: Conceived in Israel, was published February l0, 2003 — more than a month before the American attack on Iraq.

The new book examines the close relationship of the American neoconservatives and the Israeli Likudnik right, and its role as a fundamental driver of the Bush administration’s militant Middle East policy. Sniegoski states, “This orientation is at the root of the explanation for why our policy does not seem to address or correspond with the genuine security needs of the U.S.... Ideology and personal ties have blinded them to what most others clearly see was the foreign policy reality.”

While U.S. policy traditionally stressed stability in the Middle East, “[T]he neocons called for destabilizing existing regimes.... Likudnik strategy saw the benefit of regional destabilization for its own sake — creating as it would an environment of weak, disunified states or statelets involved in internal and external conflicts that could easily be dominated by Israel.... Thus, unlike a true ‘cabal,’ characterized by secrecy, the neoconservatives’ was a ‘transparent cabal’ — oxymoronic as that term might be.”

During the l990s — long before the 9/ll terrorist assault — the neoconservatives were quite open about their goal of war in the Middle East to destabilize Iraq and other enemies of Israel. Sniegoski cites a l996 paper entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy For Securing The Realm,” published by an Israeli think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.

Included in the study group that prepared the report were figures who later loomed large in the Bush administration’s war policy — Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser.

The “realm” that the study group sought to secure was that of Israel. The purpose of the policy paper was to provide a political blueprint for the incoming Israeli Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahu. The paper stated that Netanyahu should “make a clean break” with the Oslo peace process and reassert Israel’s claim to the West Bank and Gaza. It presented a plan by which Israel would “shape its strategic environment,” beginning with the removal of Saddam Hussein and the installation of a Hashemite monarchy in Baghdad. The same people — Feith, Wurmser, Perle — would later advise the Bush administration “to pursue virtually the same policy regarding the Middle East.”

The study urged Israel to abandon any thought of trading land for peace with the Palestinians. Incredibly, the study referred to “Our claim to the land — to which we have clung for 2,000 years — is legitimate and noble.” For Americans to use the phrase “our” in describing the claims of a foreign government is indeed revealing.

When Bush assumed the presidency in 2000, neoconservatives filled key defense and national security policy positions. Paul Wolfowitz became Deputy Defense Secretary, and Douglas Feith became Under Secretary for Policy. The principal neoconservatives on Vice President Cheney’s staff included “Scooter” Libby, Eric Edelman, and John Hannah. David Wurmser replaced Edelman in 2003. Elliott Abrams was a member of the National Security Council who in 2002 was put in charge of Near East policy.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, was well aware of Feith’s Israeli orientation, saying, “A lot of these guys, including Wurmser, I looked at as card-carrying members of the Likud Party, as I did with Feith.... I often wondered if their primary allegiance was to their own country or to Israel.”

According to Richard Clarke, a counter-terrorism adviser early in the Bush administration, Wolfowitz and other neoconservatives in the administration were fixated on Iraq as the greatest terrorist threat to the U.S. At a top-level White House meeting on terrorism in April 200l, Wolfowitz expressed the view that Saddam Hussein was a far more important subject than al Qaeda.

The tragedy of 9/ll offered the neoconservatives a convenient pretext to implement their war agenda for the U.S. Sniegoski reports: “Immediately after the 9/ll attacks, the neocons found the perfect climate to publicly push for a wider war on terrorism that would immediately deal with Israel’s enemies, starting with Iraq.”

Sniegoski shows how, when the CIA rejected claims of Iraq’s involvement in terrorism and possession of WMDs, Feith created a separate intelligence group in the Pentagon that provided the “intelligence” needed to promote the war against Iraq.

The neocons, Sniegoski declares, had a much more ambitious agenda far beyond Iraq: “They openly advocated the forceful reconfiguration of the entire Middle East.” Neocon Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute declared, “Creative destruction is our middle name.” In 2002, Ledeen responded to the fears of former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft that an attack on Iraq would turn the whole Middle East into a “cauldron” in the following terms: “One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please.”

Sniegoski has provided an indepth, scholarly analysis of the role the neoconservatives played in taking us to war. Frequently, those who point to these facts are accused of anti-Semitism, an effective way to stifle criticism. Sniegoski makes clear that the vast majority of Jewish Americans reject the neoconservative position and that of Israel’s right wing. Indeed, some of the most articulate critics of neoconservatives are Jewish. A  2007 Gallup poll found that Americans as a whole opposed the war by a margin of 56 to 42 percent; among American Jews the opposition was as high as 77 percent.

A 2007 study by terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank showed, ”The Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of the al Qaeda ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks.” Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman declares, “Al Qaeda is more dangerous than it was on 9/ll.” And today, the neocons are promoting a preemptive war against Iran.

Stephen Sniegoski has performed a notable service in explaining the role neoconservatives played in taking us to war in Iraq — a war that may have served neither the interests of our own country or of Israel. Hopefully, we will learn important lessons from this story.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2009 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information is included.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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