Dec 16, 2006
By Mike Whitney
“Pressure from the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in 2003, but it was critical. Some Americans believe that this was a war for oil, but there is hardly any direct evidence to support this claim. Instead, the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure.” (“The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt)
Poor Ehud Olmert.
A couple of weeks ago every thing was hunky-dory. The Palestinian death-toll had just topped 400, 1,000 or so homes had been demolished by Israeli bulldozers, the main power station in Gaza had been knocked-out, the blockade of food and medicine was still going strong, and the IDF was gearing up for another rampage through the occupied territories.
In Lebanon, Pierre Gemeyal had just been assassinated; making it easier for the US and Israel to continue hectoring Syria at the UN. And, in Iraq, the American army was busy transforming the once-vibrant Iraqi society into an ungovernable slaughterhouse headed for decades of anarchy.
All in all, things were looking pretty rosy for Olmert.
The neocon master-plan, “A Clean Break: a New Strategy for Securing the Realm”, appeared to be lurching forward according to plan and it was beginning to look like the whole Middle East would be converted into a balkanized hodge-podge of warring factions, armed militias and Islamic extremists killing each other well into the next millennia.
Only one country would prevail in this tempestuous stew of battling factions and broken states; Israel, the soon-to-be dominant power in the entire region, a 21st century Middle East Kingdom. (presumably that is what is meant by securing the “Realm”)
But Olmert’s plans appear to have hit a few well placed speed-bumps; sending the neocon bandwagon rumbling towards the cliff. The first setback was the Baker-Hamilton report which grabbed headlines across the country and restarted the national debate about the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. Baker aptly summarized the Iraqi fiasco as a “grave and deteriorating” crisis in which military victory is no longer possible. The report galvanized the public and sent Bush’s approval ratings through the floor. According to a new CBS News Survey only 4% of the American public now thinks that “the US should keep fighting as it is now” while 75% “disapprove” of Bush’s handling of the war. A mere 21% of the public still supports Bush’s handling of the war.
As for Olmert, the prospect of an American troop withdrawal signals the end of his regional ambitions. There’s no way the Israeli PM can “secure the realm” without the aid of his “proxy army” continuing the fight in the West. That may explain why the neocons have launched a major “media blitz” in the US to discredit the report and disparage its author, Baker, as an anti-Semite.
Baker, an anti Semite?
Perhaps he can join that other great “human rights abuser”, Jimmie Carter?!?
The armchair warriors at the Weekly Standard, The National Review, The New York Post and the Wall Street Journal are leading the charge; each taking shots at Baker while promoting the same worn “stay the course” strategy.
An article in the Washington Post 12-10-06 “Hawks Bolster Skeptical President” provides a list of pro-Israel hawks who have lined up against Baker. Among the more familiar names are William Kristol, Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, and Michael Rubin; the same lineup that will forever be identified with the catastrophe in Iraq. It’s revealing that the Washington Post still provides an open forum for neocon views even though, as we said, less than 4% of the American people still support a “stay the course” strategy. Apparently, that doesn’t affect the editorial policy at the Washington Post where the war-mongering incitement of neoconservative fantasists still gets unlimited coverage.
This tells a great deal about the state of media in America today and whose interests are really served.
It is also interesting to see that a signatory of the Project for the New American Century was a member of the 5-man panel advising Bush on the deteriorating situation in Iraq. After 4 years of unmitigated failure, Bush is still getting counsel from the same coterie of right-wing radicals who pushed for war in the first place. It’s extraordinary. As Middle East expert Juan Cole said, to have a member of PNAC on the advisory-panel “contradicts the basic principle that when someone gets you into a mess, you stop following their advice.”
Not Bush. Bush seems to believe that the chimera of “global empire” is still within his reach.
The media blitz has had no effect on public opinion. In fact, the public is more fed up with the war than ever. All it’s done is draw attention to the handful of extremists whose views are at odds with 96% of the American people.
The Baker report has torpedoed Olmert’s plans to reinvade Gaza and forced him to reconsider talks with the Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas. It’s all for show, of course, but it does illustrate how quickly things can change.
Two weeks ago, Dick Cheney rushed over to Saudi Arabia to try to calm-down King Abdullah who was fuming over the mass-slaughter of Sunnis in Iraq. Abdullah naturally wanted to know why “Iranian-backed, US-trained” Shiite militias were purging Baghdad of its Sunni population. (Wouldn’t you love to know how Cheney wriggled out of that one?) Cheney’s response is unknown, but we do know that he contacted Olmert and asked him to stop the killing in Gaza and extend the olive branch to Mahmoud Abbas. Astonishingly, Abbas complied with this charade and allowed himself to be photographed “hand-in-hand and smiling” with Olmert just two weeks after 18 members of the same Palestinian family were butchered by Israeli tank-rounds in Beit Hanoun. Abbas’ craven behavior speaks for itself. As for Olmert, the escalating violence in Iraq has put a temporary halt to his plans to reinvade Gaza.
Score one for James Baker.
Olmert’s plans for Lebanon have apparently hit a block-wall, too. The largest demonstrations in the country’s history took place last Sunday after 7 days of nonstop protest in the city center. Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah mobilized an estimated 2 million Lebanese who took to the streets to call for American-stooge, Prime Minister Siniora, to step down. Siniora lost all credibility during the Israeli onslaught when he refused to defend his country by taking any action to repel the Israeli invasion or to deploy the 80,000 troops in the Lebanese army to the south where they were needed. His negligence caused the deaths of 1,300 civilians who were killed while trying to escape Israeli bombardment.
A recent poll showed that 51% of the people believe that the Siniora government “lacks legitimacy” and “73% support the forming of a unity government”. These numbers confirm that Siniora no longer has any base of popular support and that the US-Israeli war has made Hezbollah the most powerful player in Lebanon’s political system.
Hezbollah poses no threat to Israel. What Olmert fears is an independent Arab regime to its north which may develop a credible deterrent to Israeli belligerence. (Israel has invaded Lebanon 4 times) Nasrallah is a fierce nationalist and not a puppet of Iran as Olmert claims. He has no plans for establishing an Islamic Theocracy in Lebanon although it’s an effective device for demonizing him as a fanatic and a terrorist. What he really wants is sufficient military power to convince Israel that future incursions will come at great cost to the IDF. No country in the region needs to improve its national defense and “power of deterrents” more than Lebanon. Siniora has no intention of providing that type of leadership. He should be removed.
Olmert’s plans for Lebanon were articulated in “A Clean Break”. He wants to divert “Syria’s attention by using Lebanese opposition elements to destabilize control of Lebanon”, thus, creating a de facto “Israeli protectorate” to their North. The 34-day war sabotaged this plan and further strengthened Israel’s main rival, Hezbollah. The Shiite star continues to rise in Lebanon just as it is in Iraq.
This is not the result that Olmert (or Bush) had in mind.
Baker: “Negotiations with Iran and Syria and a New Madrid”?
The Iraq Study Group made two key recommendations which are pivotal to regional peace. Both have sent tremors through the Olmert regime. First, Baker wants Bush to convene a regional conference with Iraq’s neighbors, including Syria and Iran, to address the deteriorating security situation and the steady escalation of violence. Bush is resisting this effort believing he can cobble together a miraculous “victory” at the eleventh hour. This, of course, will not happen and Bush will soon be compelled to make concessions whether he wants to or not.
The last thing Olmert wants is to see Bush negotiating with Iran which might forestall a preemptive attack on its nuclear and military facilities. If the US enters discussions with Iran, then Iran will naturally demand security guarantees that will lead to a "non-aggression" pact. This would prevent Bush from initiating hostilities “at the time of his own choosing”. This explains why the neocons are so adamantly opposed to dialogue with Syria and Iran. They don't want Bush to be bound by treaty obligations.
Second, the Baker report states unequivocally:
“The United States will not achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the US deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.” (We must make a) “renewed and sustained commitment to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts.”
Fortunately, Baker recognizes the centrality of the issue and is pushing to create a suitable framework for negotiations. That doesn’t mean he will succeed. Olmert stated plainly before the US Congress that (he believes) that Israel has a right “to all the land”, which is the traditional Zionist position. His belief is grounded in a rigid ideology that doesn’t accept the authority of the international community or the rights of the people who have clear title to the land. On top of that, as Uri Avnery said:
“No president will quarrel with the government of Israel if he wants to be re-elected, or-- like Bush now—to end his term in office with dignity and pass the presidency to another member of his party. Any senator or congressman, who takes a stand that the Israeli embassy doesn’t like, is committing Harakiri, Washington-style.
The fate of the peace plans of successive Secretaries of State confirms, on the face of it, the thesis of the two professors, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, that caused a great stir earlier this year. According to them, whenever there is a clash in Washington between the national interests of the US and the national interests of Israel, it is Israel’s interests which win.” (Uri Avnery, “Baker’s Cake”)
But the power of the Jewish Lobby is about to be challenged. There is simply no other way forward. As the United States predicament in Iraq becomes more tenuous, Israel will come under increasing pressure to make concessions for peace. We can expect to hear agonized squeals from the usual suspects, but that will only further identify the dwindling number of neocons who cling to the suicidal policy which most Americans have already abandoned.
Presently, Bush still believes he can affect the war’s outcome, but he’s mistaken. Events on the ground will quickly overtake him and he’ll be forced to change directions. It’s simply out of his hands. In truth, the Baker-Hamilton report is just a pragmatic way of organizing defeat while creating a military-backup to safeguard the oil-fields. By discarding the cover of Baker’s recommendations, Bush is simply inviting a bigger and more embarrassing Vietnam-type exit.
In a matter of weeks the political landscape in the Middle East has changed completely. The US grip is conspicuously loosening in Iraq while the shadow of arch-rival Iran now extends across the entire region. Washington’s pro-Israel hawks will try to stem the tide by pushing for more troops and greater commitment, but they will only attract more attention to their Israeli-centric policies. They are now so isolated from the mainstream that they run the risk of a severe backlash to themselves and their cause.
Olmert’s regional ambitions are quickly unraveling, too. The cracks and fissures in the “Grand Plan” are visible everywhere. Israel’s outpost in the Kurdish north of Iraq will be insufficient to defend against the rising power of the Shiite-dominated regime; just as the US-Israel’s machinations in Lebanon will amount to nothing.
The whole scheme for a “New Middle East” controlled by overlords operating out of Washington and Tel Aviv is in a state of collapse.
As Americans begin to grasp the magnitude of the defeat in Iraq, the “special relationship” will come under increasing scrutiny putting greater strain on the US-Israel friendship. Many are likely to agree with Mearsheimer and Walt that, “pressure from the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in 2003, but it was critical.”
An article in today’s New York Times proves this point quite persuasively. It says, “The Bush administration is working to form a coalition of Sunni Arab nations and a moderate Shiite government in Iraq, along with the US and Europe, to stand against ‘Iran, Syria and the terrorists,’ another senior administration official said Tuesday.” (Helene Cooper, NY Times)
“Stand against Iran, Syria and the terrorists”?
This isn’t the Baker plan, or the Congress’ plan, or the plan the American people demanded in the midterm elections. Those have all been brushed aside or tossed on the scrap-heap. This is the neocon plan; “A Clean Break”; articulated almost word for word from the original document.
Bush hasn’t changed a thing! He is still carrying out an agenda that runs contrary to the will of the American people as well as his father’s most trusted advisors. He’s following a strategy that was clearly intended to establish Israeli regional hegemony.
How can anyone argue otherwise?
The question of loyalty is bound to loom large in any future discussion of why the United States invaded Iraq. Were the neocons really acting in America’s best interests by pushing us towards war or were they secretly serving some other cause?
The finger-pointing has already begun and it’s bound to intensify as time goes by. There’s no telling who may end up being pegged as the scapegoat for the “greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history”, but the list of suspects is gradually narrowing.