Al-Ahram Weekly Online   9 - 15 October 2003
Issue No. 659
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'A naïve czar and a bunch of Rasputins'

Do Israeli considerations colour America's vision of Iraq? wonders Mohamed Hakki from Washington


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US President George W Bush in reflective mood
If one wanted to produce a television programme for the series: "This Was the Year That Was", which stories and which images would be used? Up until early 2003, despite all the war drums beating in Washington, most people around the world thought that cooler heads would prevail over the small group of warmongers pushing for war in Iraq.

Those warmongers, unfortunately, were headed by Vice President Dick Cheney and included neo-cons -- as they are commonly referred to these days -- like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Condoleezza Rice, and Elliot Abrams. The group was also aided by media pundits like William Kristol. Secretary of State Colin Powell was excluded from the group because of his moderate track record and for his influencing President George W Bush to seek wider international support through the UN. Another reason for his exclusion was that Powell's State Department had something lacking in other agencies -- knowledge of foreign policy.

The warmongers called for a "preemptive" war against Iraq; an unnecessary, unilateral act illegal under international law that only one other country in the whole world went along with: Britain. The best reason given by Tony Blair to join the war with America, other than the same empty rhetorical allegations of weapons of mass destruction, was that Britain owed it to America. The US stood by the British in World War II, so now Britain should stand by them.

In a perceptive article in the New York Review of Books, Mark Danner, professor of journalism at the University of California, summed up the reasons of why the Bush administration launched its war against Iraq.

The first reason was the need to disarm Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction which included chemical and biological weapons as well as a nuclear weapons programme. The second reason given was that national security was at stake. Removing Iraq as a threat to American and Israeli dominance in the Persian Gulf would allow America to turn Iraq into a central ally and base in the region, thus replacing "an increasingly unstable and Islamist Saudi Arabia". The Bush administration's third reason was that removing Saddam Hussein would allow Iraq to become a model of Arab democracy in the Middle East which, according to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, "is the only guarantee that [the Middle East] will no longer produce ideologies of hatred that lead men to fly airplanes into buildings in New York and Washington."

Danner reaches the same conclusion as everybody else outside the Bush administration: these three rationales for the war have been turned on their heads in the months after the war.

Much to the consternation of Vice President Cheney -- who kept insisting that Iraq possessed WMDs and had hidden them somewhere -- Chief US Weapons Inspector David Kay has now declared that he found nothing. Not a trace of weapons of mass destruction. This after spending $300 million dollars and employing 1,400 experts and scientists. Instead of firing Undersecretaries Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush is defiantly asking for an additional $600 million to complete the job.

But where did Bush and his administration come up with the idea that Iraq posed an immediate danger to the US and indeed the world? If a creature from Mars came down to the US these days, he would think that the whole country is involved in something very close to the theatre of the absurd: it's the British, it's the CIA, no it's the special Pentagon intelligence cell known as the Office of Special Plans. The office, created by Wolfowitz and Feith was supposed to probe into Saddam's WMDs and his links to Al-Qa'eda because the Central Intelligence Agency couldn't. For the last few months, media outlets, both print and TV, have been talking about this non-stop. Nothing. President Bush himself, feeling the absurdity of making the connection with Al- Qa'eda, had to admit that the US found nothing.

A question comes to mind: is it possible that this great country, with its thousands of universities, of hundreds of qualified scholars, could not verify a story like this? I asked a number of friends, all former US ambassadors who served in the Arab world, and they said that the Bush administration does not want to hear their advice. Ambassador David Newsome, now with the University of Virginia, said that a scholar who was part of a network of 300 Middle Eastern experts in the US told him that not one person in the group had been consulted by US authorities about the war against Iraq.

Newsome also says that there is suspicion -- if not antagonism -- towards Middle East experts at the State Department where they are considered by some to be too pro-Arab and unfriendly toward Israel. A number of Arabic speaking Foreign Service officers were recruited to assist in post-war Iraq, but were sent home soon after the war started because of incompatibility with the neo-con approved occupation leadership.

Where then did this information, or misinformation, come from? British writer Patrick Seale dared to answer the question head on. In his review of a book by Warren Bass, Support any Friend: Kennedy's Middle East and the Making of the US-Israel Alliance, Seale says one can see a convergence of two current trends. The first was a result of the 11 September terrorist attacks which, while shattering America's sense of invulnerability, also roused it to "total war" against its enemies. The second overlapping trend -- overlapping because it involved many of the same people -- was more narrowly focussed on Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbours. According to Seale, "right-wing Jewish neo-cons" tend to be pro-Israel zealots who believe that American and Israeli interests are inseparable -- much to the alarm of liberal, pro-peace Jews, whether in America, Europe or Israel itself. "Friends of Ariel Sharon's Likud, they tend to loathe the Arabs and Muslims." For them, the cause of "liberating" Iraq had little to do with the well-being of Iraqis, just as the cause of "liberating" Iran and ending its nuclear programme -- recently advocated by Shimon Peres in a Wall Street Journal editorial -- has little to do with the well-being of Iranians. What the neo-cons wished for was as improvement in Israel's military and strategic environment.

It is not surprising then to find a gathering of neo-cons in Jerusalem to honour one of their leading figures, Richard Perle, former assistant secretary of defense also known as the Prince of Darkness. Joining him in Jerusalem on 14 October will be Daniel Pipes, head of an Anti- Arab and Anti-Muslim Web sites, Alan Keys, Cal Thomas, and Frank Geoffrey, along with Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu and other Likudniks.

American writer Charley Reese also accuses Israel of being behind the war against Iraq. In an article entitled "Israel a Danger", he says "The problem and danger to the United States is that Israel effectively dictates US foreign policy in the Middle East. Israel supporters were the architects of the war against Iraq, and if they can, they will get us into wars with Syria and Iran, thus eliminating Israel's enemies. They would like nothing better than the United States to be at war with the entire Muslim World."

You will find these two converging trends throughout the actions and pronouncements of both Zionist and non-Zionist neo-cons. For instance, Australian investigative journalist John Pilger says that six hours after the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centre, Secretary Rumsfeld said he wanted to "hit" Iraq. He was allegedly talked down by Powell who said the American people would not accept an attack on Iraq without any evidence. Pilger claims war was nonetheless set in motion on 17 September, 2001, when Bush signed a paper directing the Pentagon to explore military options for an attack on Iraq.

Another example of this convergence is Attorney General John Ashcroft. Legendary TV anchor Walter Cronkite says that the US is battling terror with a touch of the Spanish Inquisition.

Cronkite explained that Ashcroft's two years in office have earned him a remarkable distinction as the Torquemade of American Law. Thomas de Torquemade was the 15th-century Dominican friar who became the grand inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. He was largely responsible for its methods, including the burning of heretics -- Muslims in particular.

James Akins, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told me: "I have never been more depressed about my country as much as I am now. We seem to be living during the last days of the Russian empire, a weak and naïve czar, surrounded by a bunch of Rasputins."

Some see the alliance between the neo-cons, the Zionist lobby and the fundamentalist Christian right as the main danger that may end up pushing America off the cliff. Some of these same Zionist neo-cons like Joshua Muravchik concede that "there is a tremendous amount on the line" in Iraq. "If this goes wrong, of course, we will be, to degree, discredited. Justifiably so. We put forward these ideas and they are really being put to the test." It is interesting to note that Muravchik said in an interview in Europe: "If we wanted to invade a country to steal its oil, we would do Venezuela. It's got plenty of oil, it's nearby and it does not have an army that can defend it."

This trend is not going to go away. It will last as long as this alliance between the neo-cons, the Zionists and the Christian right continues. Even if President Bush disappears tomorrow, the near-total control of the media, Congress, think-tanks et al. will continue. Only the president of the US can reverse the trend, and only if he is willing to do so. Only if the Zionists, as Muravchik perceptively noticed, overplay their hands and things go wrong. Horribly wrong.

For those who think that this sounds like a conspiracy theory, ask them what Zalman Skovel, former Israeli ambassador to Washington, was doing standing beside Paul Bremer the day he took over from Ray Gardner. Ask them why Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that an Iraq-Israel oil line is not a pipe dream and that it is only a matter of time.

An Iraqi born businessman told me that when he solicited the help of a former cabinet member of the Reagan administration to introduce him to Donald Rumsfeld, he was told that Rumsfeld has no power over what happened in Iraq. "Go to Wolfowitz!" his friend told him.

Another friend, a former high ranking CIA official, told me "if you really want to know how bad things have become, those like me want to drive a point to this administration, we go to Israel, sell it to the Israelis, and then it comes back to be implemented here."

It simply goes on like this. A young Iraqi who represents a large investment group went to Baghdad to discover that all the contacts that the American authorities asked him to meet were Jewish. The Israeli law partner of Douglas Feith is responsible for advising companies on business opportunities in Iraq. Forget about the stories of Israel advising the US on urban guerrilla warfare. Maybe the next move for America is to start building a huge wall to divide Iraq into Bantustans and invite Israel to run them.

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