Answering Weiss on Iraq


 Phil Weiss at Mondoweiss wants me to concede defeat on the whole "Jews/Israel caused the Iraq war" thing now that The Economist ostensibly is on board.

He’s referring to my blog post from earlier this week.

Here’s Phil:

It seems inarguable that the world is coming to my position here, the Walt & Mearsheimer position. Their view that the Iraq war was fostered by neoconservatives concerned with Israel’s security has become acceptable in mainstream discourse and may well become conventional wisdom before long. Why do you think this is happening?


This shift has only continued. So is it anti-Semitism? (I think the cause of the shift is because a, the analysis is true and the events happened long enough ago that the truth will be less painful, b, the Jewish community has obviously split (in ways that it hadn’t when Forward was providing cover to neocons) and so there is legitimacy in blaming not The Jews, but The Neocons.) But I’m asking you. Phil

Short answer, no, it has not become acceptable in mainstream discourse because it is still not true, and yes, it at least flirts with anti-Semitism. Long answer after the jump, with a couple of small modifications to the Facebook message I sent him.


A) Do I think the Walt-Mearsheimer position, specifically on the centrality of pro-Israel feelings by Jews spurring the Iraq War, has prevailed?

No, especially because Stephen Walt himself has dialed it back. See here

You also mischaracterize M.S. of the Economist (I’m told his name is Matt Steinglass) — he does not quite say "the Iraq war was fostered by neoconservatives concerned with Israel’s security;" he says, "It’s entirely accurate to count neoconservative policy analyses as among the important causes of the war, to point out that the pro-Israeli sympathies of Jewish neoconservatives played a role in these analyses, and to note the support of the Israeli government and public for the invasion."

So there’s an "among the important causes" there — and even that refers to the holistic role of the neoconservatives and not just their Israel sympathies. So Jewish neoconservatives and their Jewishness are two degrees removed from being the cause, according to his formulation. But even he is wrong.

The Bush administration was determined to invade Iraq. It pitched the invasion to a number of constituencies it saw as important to making the case; like any good salesman, it didn’t use the same pitch twice, it tailored the sale to the target.

So Democrats, always seeking national security credibility, got the terrorism argument. The media, always seeking the next mortal threat, got that. Liberals who have embraced intervention as a means of preventing slaughter, got the Kurdish argument. And pro-Israel groups and Jews and Israel got the threat to Israel.

None of these arguments stood up, and to lesser and greater degrees each of these constituencies paid a price for being duped. Among Democrats, Joe Lieberman is leaving office and Hillary Clinton is not president. Among journalists, Judith Miller and Howell Raines are not at the New York Times and Bill Keller is apologizing. Among liberal hawks, Peter Beinart is shreying gevalt, and Jeffrey Goldberg is still engaged in protracted defenses, and Tom Friedman more or less admits he was duped. And in the Jewish world, the pro-Israel movement is now dealing with J Street — an outcome explainable in part, I think, by distrust in the Jewish establishment engendered by its Iraq War support. (I should note that the manifestation of that support varied widely depending upon the group, from deeply qualified to enthusiastic.)

So yes, there has been a consequence for Jewish officialdom for being talked into backing the war — but you’re mistaking that as a consequence for the pro-Israel movement being central to advancing the war. There is no such consequence because its premise is simply not true.

The Bush administration invaded Iraq principally because it was attached to a policy of maintaining U.S. preeminence in a vitally important region. This policy was cut from the same cloth as GOP/neoconservative clamoring for a tougher posture vis-a-vis Putin, the same cloth as the championing of Taiwan, the same cloth as the decades old isolation of Cuba. 

B) Anti-Semitism can be defined as toxic myths attached to Jews. There are two at work in your thesis here:

1) Jews act only to advance their own interests. They do and they don’t — it’s wildly complicated — but not more than any other special interest in an American polity that is highly susceptible to special interest pressure.

2) Jews send others to die in fruitless wars. Maybe the Iraq war was fruitless — we’ll see — but its motor was not the Jews, it was not Israel. It was a specifically American self-perception of this nation’s preeminence in the world, for better or worse, identifiable as early as Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, if not as early as the Barbary Coast. Both historical identifiers, you’ll note, predate Israel’s existence.

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