John Bolton was in Israel last week doing his job, fighting the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Bolton is the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control. But the way he was doing his job is enough to make you laugh -- and cry.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Bolton that after the U.S. demolishes Iraq, it had better to move on to Iran. Not to worry, Bolton replied. Iran is high on the Bush administration's to-do list. So is Syria. When it comes to the danger of WMD in the Middle East, the U.S. and Israeli governments are on the same page.
The joke, of course, is that only one nation in the Middle East has a massive arsenal of WMD: Israel itself. Secretary Bolton was polite enough not to mention that embarrassing fact. It would have been so rude to his hosts.
Bolton also stopped off to see Israel’s Foreign Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Perhaps Bolton took along his special advisor, David Wurmser. It would have been a nice reunion, since Wurmser was once an advisor to Netanyahu. In 1996, Wurmser co-authored a report for Netanyahu: “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” The chief author, Richard Perle, and another co-author, Douglas Feith, are now high-ranking Pentagon officials.
In that report, Perle, Wurmser and company laid out a truly messianic vision. Israel can gain political control of the entire Middle East, they said. The key is to contain “and perhaps roll back” Syria, by surrounding it with an Israeli-led alliance including Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. How to get Iraq into the alliance? Simple. Use “the principle of preemption,” get rid of Saddam Hussein, and put a Hashemite king (from the family that rules Jordan) on the throne in Baghdad. Meanwhile, Israel would also use Iraq’s Shiites to weaken the power of Iran.
But how to get the U.S. public to support such a plan? We are now seeing the answer. Scare the public with claims that Iraq’s WMD pose a vital threat to our national security. Then follow Sharon’s advice and link Iraq with Iran in the “axis of evil.” Bolton’s comments revealed the next and crucial step: “discover” that Syria also has a WMD program aimed at the U.S. heartland. That will put Syria in the “axis” too. Once again, it will be pre-emptive “regime change” time.
Once Israel has friendly governments in place throughout the Middle East, it won’t have anyone to threaten with its WMD. Then Bolton can claim a great achievement in non-proliferation. This is not to say that Washington is taking orders from Jerusalem. It’s largely the other way around. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and Washington pays Jerusalem plenty.
But Bolton’s remarks in Israel have a much wider implication than U.S. - Israel relations. With Bolton and Wurmser running our anti-proliferation program, it is perfectly clear that the Bush administration sees nothing intrinsically wrong with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. They are not out to stop the spread of these weapons. They just want to make sure that only the “good guys,” like the U.S. and Israel (and Britain, France, India, etc.), have WMD. There are good WMD and bad WMD, good arms and bad arms. Bolton is Undersecretary of State for Bad Arms Control.
How do you tell the difference between good arms and bad arms? Tom Friedman, the liberal-pundit-in-chief at the New York Times, spelled it out recently in his usual reader-friendly way. The globe is now “divided between the World of Order and the World of Disorder,” Friedman wrote. The World of Order includes the U.S., the E.U., Russia, India and China, along with all the smaller powers around them. The World of Disorder comprises “failed states,” “rogue states” (the “axis of evil”), and “messy states,” like Pakistan, Colombia, Indonesia, and “many Arab and African states,” along with free-lance terrorists and criminals.
How times have changed. Now Russia and China are orderly “good guys.” That means their WMD arsenals are good arms too. They got that way by linking their economic fortunes to the multinational corporate capitalist system. They take their economic marching orders from the G-7. As long as there is no imminent likelihood that they’ll slip out of that system into Disorder, they get to remain “good guys” with good arms.
John Bolton and Richard Perle apparently see it the same way. Bolton told the Israelis that Syria would get a chance to prove it was behaving “in a way worthy of the international community.” Perle told an interviewer: "I hope Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will consider reforms. Otherwise he may say to himself, "'I could be the second target.'"
Now the Syrians have a choice to make. They can sign up, line up, play the U.S. imperial game, and magically transform their bad WMD into good WMD. Or they can refuse, keep their WMD bad, and await pre-emptive “regime change.” All those other failed, rogue, and messy states in the World of Disorder face the same choice.
Dividing the world into orderly “good guys” and disorderly “bad guys” is an age-old habit. The first immigrants on these shores brought that habit with them from England in the 17th century, and white Americans have been doing it ever since.
Now, though, WMD technology makes it just too dangerous. The hypocrisy of non-proliferation and arms control, Bush-style, is as clear as the Texas sky, everywhere in the world except here in the U.S. Killing thousands of Iraqis to “disarm Saddam” will only make the hypocrisy more obvious and stir more anti-American indignation around the world. That will drive even more people into what our political elites, liberal and conservative alike, call the World of Disorder.
Some of those “disordered” people will have weapons of mass destruction. As long as hypocrisy rules U.S. policy, they will see no good reason to give them up. Why should they? If this is our chosen path to homeland security, the World of Order will soon be the World of Plastic Sheeting and Duct Tape.
Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.