How the Israel Lobby Influenced the Iraq War Policy: 2 Cases

In New York Magazine, Kurt Andersen offers an agonized but honorable take on the liberal taboo on talking about Israel, and says that Walt and Mearsheimer “have been both strenuously ignored and unjustly besmirched as anti-Semites.” Good for him. But when it comes to the Iraq war, Andersen doesn’t buy their argument that the U.S. invaded Iraq “primarily to indulge the Israel lobby.”

Myself, I’m still waiting to hear the true reasons we invaded Iraq. In the meantime, I like Mearsheimer’s line, that Israel’s interests were a necessary but not sufficient factor.

I’d offer two more data points in the discussion, about two warmongering thinktankers and their supporters who played important roles in getting us into this disaster:

—In the late 90s, Dr. Irving Moskowitz, of Miami, sought to disrupt the peace process by financing an Israeli settlement in Arab East Jerusalem, declaring that East Jerusalem would forever be under Jewish sovereignty. The project required the “forcible eviction of several Palestinian families” and enraged Palestinian leaders as a violation of the spirit of the Oslo accords (per Clayton Swisher’s The Truth About Camp David).

At the same time, it was Moskowitz’s “generous support” of the American Enterprise Institute, the research fellow David Wurmser said, that allowed him to research and publish “Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein,” which called for war in Iraq and that described the Oslo peace process as “appeasement” of terrorists.

Dick Cheney was then on the AEI board, his wife Lynn was a “senior fellow.” When Cheney took over the White House, Wurmser became his adviser on Middle East matters. 9/11; we went to war.

—Kenneth M. Pollack was the most important liberal hawk in the runup to the Iraq war. He appeared frequently on the Times Op-Ed and published his war manifesto, The Threatening Storm: the Case for Invading Iraq, in 2002, just as he joined the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. As a liberal Dem, Pollack is not a red-meat screedster like Wurmser, but his beliefs are not functionally different: he argued in that book that the peace process in Israel/Palestine was irrelevant to our policy in Iraq. The Arab street might try to connect the two, but by invading Baghdad and planting democracy we would actually improve our rep in the Arab world. (How we doin’?)

Pollack constantly diminishes the Israeli occupation as a source of genuine grievance. Every time he refers to the Israel/Palestine, he uses phrases like “violence between Arabs and Israelis” or “upheaval.” Or: “trouble in the Arab-Israeli arena taps into the huge pool of Arab anger and resentment…” In fact, though he is trying to convey the Arab perspective, he never uses the word occupation. I just searched the book on Amazon: it uses the word occupation seven times, “occupied” five times. (Mostly referring to the upcoming glorious U.S. occupation of Iraq.) Not once about the West Bank. It uses the word “settlement” four times—not once to refer to Israeli settlements in occupied territories, the largest grievance in the Palestinian world.

Now consider Pollack’s funding. (Per Walt and Mearsheimer) “[T]he Saban Center for Middle East Studies… is financed by Haim Saban, an Israeli-American businessman and ardent Zionist… What was once a non-partisan policy institute is now part of the pro-Israel chorus.”

I wonder whether Pollack’s circumlocutions about the key issues of the peace process—occupation and settlements, words he can’t say—don’t reflect an Israeli point of view. Israelis have “studiously avoided any mention of the term ‘occupation,’ in part because Israel had refused to recognize the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the West Bank/Gaza Strip… including a prohibition on the expropriation of land,” Clayton Swisher writes in The Truth About Camp David. Pollack is being pretty studious himself.

The issue here is how much a pro-Israel agenda distorted the American process, and caused policymakers to conflate Israel’s interest and our own as they made plans to go to war. Both Pollack and Wurmser were influential. Wurmser in the White House, Pollack in the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times. They were nurtured by thinktanks, which have imposed an orthodoxy on the discussion that is helping no one, including the Israeli occupiers.

“People at the thinktanks have courage somewhere between a seaslug and sheep-guts,” Anatol Lieven, formerly of the Carnegie Institute, told me for a piece I did for the Nation: “I did not wite a line about [Israel] until 9/11… I knew bloody well it would bring horrible unpopularity.” Then 9/11 happened and Carnegie asked him to look into the Mideast. After Lieven published a book (America Right or Wrong), in which he argued that the United States had subordinated its interests to Israel, “I became a pariah at the Carnegie with many colleagues.” Last year Lieven left the Carnegie for the New America Foundation.

Lieven had also been a regular at the Aspen Institute. “I got kicked out… In early 2002 they held a conference on relations with the Muslim world. For two days nobody mentioned Israel. Finally, I said, ‘Look, this is a Soviet-style debate. Whatever you think about this issue, the entire Muslim world is shouting about it.’ I have never been asked back.”