Neoconservatism Dies in Gaza

The Gaza War of
2009 is a final and eloquent testimony to the complete failure of the
neoconservative movement in United States foreign policy. For over a
decade, the leading figures in this school of thought saw the violent
overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the institution of a parliamentary
regime in Iraq as the magic solution to all the problems in the Middle
East. They envisioned, in the wake of the fall of Baghdad, the
moderation of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the overthrow of the Baath Party in
Syria and the Khomeinist regime in Iran, the deepening of the alliance
with Turkey, the marginalization of Saudi Arabia, a new era of cheap
petroleum, and a final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
on terms favorable to Israel. After eight years in which they strode
the globe like colossi, they have left behind a devastated moonscape
reminiscent of some post-apocalyptic B movie. As their chief enabler
prepares to exit the White House, the only nation they have
strengthened is Iran; the only alliance they have deepened is that
between Iran and two militant Islamist entities to Israel's north and
south, Hezbollah and Hamas.

The neoconservatives first laid out their manifesto in a 1996 paper, "A Clean Break," written for an obscure think tank
in Jerusalem and intended for the eyes of far right-wing Israeli
politician Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party, who had just been
elected prime minister. They advised Israel to renounce the Oslo peace
process and reject the principle of trading land for peace, instead
dealing with the Palestinians with an iron fist. They urged Israel to
uphold the right of hot pursuit of Palestinian guerrillas and to find
alternatives to Yasser Arafat's Fatah for the Palestinian leadership.
They called forth Israeli airstrikes on targets in Syria and rejection
of negotiations with Damascus. They foresaw strengthened ties between
Israel and its two regional friends, Turkey and Jordan.

They advocated "removing Saddam Hussein from power in
Iraq," in part as a way of "rolling back" Syria. In place of the
secular, republican tyrant, they fantasized about the restoration of
the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq, and thought that a Sunni king might
help moderate the Shiite Hezbollah in south Lebanon. (Yes.)
They barely mentioned Iran, though it appears that their program of
expelling Syria from Lebanon and weakening its regime was in part aimed
at depriving Iran of its main Arab ally. In a 1999 book called "Tyranny's Ally: America's Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein," David Wurmser argued that it was false to fear that installing the Iraqi Shiites in power in Baghdad would strengthen Iran regionally.

The signatories to this fantasy of using brute military
power to reshape all of West Asia included some figures who would go on
to fill key positions in the Bush administration. Richard Perle, a
former assistant secretary of defense under Reagan, became chairman of
the influential Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, a civilian
oversight body for the Pentagon. Douglas J. Feith became the
undersecretary of defense for planning. David Wurmser first served in
Feith's propaganda shop, the Office of Special Plans, which
manufactured the case for an American war on Iraq, and then went on to
serve with "Scooter" Libby in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

The neoconservatives used their well-funded think tanks,
including the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy (WINEP, an organ of the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs,
and the Hudson Institute, among others, to promote this agenda of the
conquest of Iraq as a solution of all ills.

They had cheerleaders and allies in major newspapers and
political journals. Martin Peretz, owner of the New Republic, took up
the neoconservative mantra on Sept. 5, 2002, writing that "The road to
Jerusalem more likely leads through Baghdad than the reverse. Once the
Palestinians see that the United States will no longer tolerate their
hero Saddam Hussein, depressed though they may be, they may also come
finally to grasp that Israel is here to stay and that accommodating to
this reality is the one thing that can bring them the generous peace
they require." (Peretz is a perennial embarrassment to his stable of
often excellent journalists in that he occasionally hijacks the
magazine for such pronouncements.)

Charles Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post
on Feb. 1, 2002, that "Iran is a deadly threat," insofar as it was
trying "to establish a terrorist client state by arming and
infiltrating Yasser Arafat's Palestine." How would he have us roll it
back? "Overthrowing neighboring radical regimes shows the fragility of
dictatorship, challenges the mullahs' mandate from heaven and thus
encourages disaffected Iranians to rise." What did he mean by
neighboring regimes? "First, Afghanistan to the east. Next, Iraq to the
west." Leading neoconservative columnist William Kristol delivered
himself of a daisy chain of false predictions, inaccurate
pronouncements, and political wet dreams about Iraq and the Middle
East, as David Corn of the Nation itemizes here. "Look, if we free the people of Iraq we will be respected in the Arab world," Kristol said in 2002.

The brutal Israeli war on the population of Gaza is the
nail in the coffin of the neoconservative doctrine. Their policies have
hardly strengthened ties between Turkey, Israel and the United States,
as they had argued. Turkey had a special place in the thinking of
figures such as Perle, who lauded it as a secular example for the
Muslim world and a close ally of Israel. But in 2002 the Islamically
tinged conservative Justice and Development Party (Turkish acronym AKP)
of Recep Tayyip Erdogan swept to power and has ruled Turkey ever since.
In 2003, the AKP dealt a cruel blow to the hopes of Perle and his
colleague Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz when its members
of parliament voted against allowing the U.S. military to invade Iraq
through Turkish territory. Erdogan more recently has been a profound
disappointment to the Israeli right because of his willingness to talk
with Hamas leaders. Hundreds of thousands of Turks, many of them AKP
supporters, have demonstrated in Istanbul against the Israeli
bombardment of Gaza.

Erdogan drew anguished Israeli protests when he told an election rally
in Ankara that Israel was "perpetrating inhuman actions which would
bring it to self-destruction. Allah will sooner or later punish those
who transgress the rights of innocents." Turkey has received Hamas
leader Khalid Mashal and has worked for an early cease-fire in the
current conflict, putting the blame for it on Israel. The right-wing
Jerusalem Post observed ominously,
"Turkey has just taken its seat as a non-permanent member of the
Security Council and Ankara pledges to be Hamas's conduit to the United
Nations," and urged Israel to recall its ambassador from Ankara.

Massive demonstrations and protests in Jordan calling for
the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador over the Israeli military's
disregard for civilian life have caused Prime Minister Nader Dahabi to
tell the parliament, "Jordan will look into all options,
including reconsidering relations with Israel." So much for Feith,
Perle and Wurmser's plan to solidify ties between Israel, Turkey and

But at least the new Iraqi government will support Israel rather than Hamas now that Saddam Hussein is gone, right? Think again.
The Islamic Da'wa Party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called last
week for all Muslim countries to cut off diplomatic relations with
Israel and to cease all public and behind-the scenes contacts with it.
Large demonstrations have been staged against Israel in Mosul, Baghdad
and the holy city of Karbala. The spiritual leader of many of the
world's Shiites condemned Israeli aggression
in Gaza and said that "mere verbal expressions of condemnation and
disapproval" were not enough, calling instead for "practical steps" to
break the Israeli blockade and stop the attack. For a fatwa of the
chief Shiite authority in Iraq to demand practical steps against Israel
is a little noticed but ominous development for the Israelis that could
help politicize Shiites even further on this issue.

Wurmser's conviction that Iranian Shiite influence would
not spread if the Sunni bulwark were demolished in Mesopotamia has
proved as wrongheaded as all the other neoconservative predictions. The
2005 parliamentary elections were won by the most hard-line, pro-Tehran
Shiite fundamentalist parties, who have ruled Iraq ever since. Iran has warm relations
with the ruling Islamic Da'wa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of
Iraq, headed by Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose party was
founded by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1982.

Iran's influence with Hezbollah in south Lebanon has grown from strength to strength, and was enhanced
after Israel's disastrous 2006 war on that country when it sent
extensive reconstruction aid. Hezbollah has been able to rearm, and has
joined a national unity government that recognizes its militia as a
sort of national guard for the south of Lebanon. It gained new allies
in Iraq. It had been formed in part by the Islamic Da'wa Party of Iraq,
which naturally supports it, as does the large and influential Sadr
Movement in Iraqi Shiism. Hezbollah, more popular than ever, was able
to get out massive crowds in Beirut to protest Israel's assault on
Gaza. And Gaza itself is now viewed by the Israeli establishment as an
Iranian beachhead on the Mediterranean, the sort of development that
the neoconservatives confidently predicted their policies would

Krauthammer's conviction that the overthrow of the Taliban
in Afghanistan and of Saddam Hussein in Iraq would weaken the Iranian
regime was wrong because it exalted ideology over power politics.
Baathist Iraq and Sunni fundamentalist Afghanistan had walled Iran in.
Destroying them no more weakened Iran than blowing up the Hoover Dam
would tame the Colorado River. From an Iranian point of view, an
elected Shiite parliament in Iraq morally guided by Ayatollah Sistani
does not represent a significant departure from their own form of
government, except that Iran is blessed with much greater stability,
security and prosperity than its Mesopotamian sibling. Likewise,
Syria's regime has been undisturbed by the changes in Iraq, and,
recognizing at last that it would have to deal with Bashar al-Asad, the
government of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had initiated
indirect negotiations with Damascus rather than, as the
neoconservatives had insisted, bombarding it.

The neoconservatives made almost as big an error in
working to destroy the peace process of the 1990s as they did in
fostering a war on Iraq. A two-state solution was not far from being
concluded in 2000, but negotiations were abruptly discontinued by the
government of Ariel Sharon in spring of 2001 with the encouragement of
the Bush administration. (It is not true that the Palestinian side had
ceased negotiating, or "walked away," from the Clinton plan, nor is it
true that the Israelis had as yet formalized a specific offer in
writing.) In the past eight years, Israel has greatly expanded its
settlements in the West Bank and around Jerusalem, fencing the
Palestinians in with checkpoints, superhighways that cut villages off
from one another, and a wall that has stolen from them key agricultural
land. Ariel Sharon's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza made no provisions for
what would happen next, and in any case Israel continued to control
Gaza's borders and denied it a harbor, an airport and, more recently,
enough food to eat.

As a result of the deliberate destruction of the peace
process by the Israeli right and by Hamas, a two-state solution seems
increasingly unlikely. This tragic impasse, one phase of which is now
playing out with sanguinary relentlessness, was avoidable but for the
baneful influence of the neoconservatives and their right-wing allies
in the U.S. and Israel.

The neoconservatives had prided themselves on their macho
swagger, their rejection of namby-pamby Clintonian multilateralism, and
on their bold vision for reshaping the Middle East so that the Israeli
and American right would not have to deal with existing reality. In the
cold light of day, they look merely petulant and arrogant. The ancient
Greek poet Bion said that boys cast stones at frogs in sport,
but the frogs die in earnest. The neoconservatives were the boys, and
the people of Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Lebanon have been their
frogs. The biggest danger facing the United States is that there will
be no true "Clean Break" -- that the neoconservatives will somehow find
a way to survive the Bush administration, and continue to influence
American foreign policy.

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