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The Long Fuse to the Iraq War

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    The Long Fuse to the Iraq War by PHILIP WEISS The American Conservative January 28, 2008 Issue http://www.amconmag.com/2008/2008_01_28/review1.html They Knew
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      The Long Fuse to the Iraq War
      The American Conservative January 28, 2008 Issue

      They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons,
      Jacob Heilbrunn, Doubleday, 289 pages

      It is hard to imagine a title more overdue than They Knew They Were
      Right: The Rise of the Neocons. Ever since neoconservatism�s chief
      contribution to world betterment, the Iraq War, began losing its
      luster, its adherents have gone into a kind of hiding, and the media
      has given them cover. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul
      Wolfowitz and New York Times columnist David Brooks, one or both of
      whom are neoconservatives, have suggested that the word is an
      anti-Semitic epithet.

      Others try to avoid it entirely: when Bill Kristol, who was definitely
      once a neoconservative, was hired by the New York Times as a
      columnist, the paper called him a "conservative' and said his father
      Irving Kristol, one of the movement's founders, was a leader of
      "modern conservatism."

      Jacob Heilbrunn asserts that neoconservatives have so far gotten away
      "scot-free" with planning the greatest foreign-policy disaster since
      Vietnam. And so his book will call them to account. Not quite.

      Heilbrunn achieves one important chore: a forthright social narrative
      of the neocons as a Jewish movement. Tracing ideological currents in
      the Jewish community from the 1940s to the 1970s, Heilbrunn, a
      journalist who himself flirted with neoconservatism, describes how the
      neocons were propelled by resentments against WASP elites - the men
      who had ignored the Holocaust, they felt, and "frozen out" Jews from
      the establishment.

      It would be hard to overemphasize Heilbrunn's accomplishment. There
      has been endless prevarication about the fact that neoconservatism is
      an element of the Jewish experience, even from liberal Jews. Yet
      Heilbrunn will have none of it. He says that neoconservatism is
      �intimately linked with the memory of the Holocaust and the allies�
      failure to save the Jews during the war, and notes that a "peculiar
      amalgam of intellectual rigor and ethnic resentment" lies at the heart
      of the neoconservative outlook.

      And here's the topper: a "lifelong antipathy toward the patrician
      class among the neocons prompted them to create their own parallel

      The sociological insights in his story are often exciting. Neocon
      godfather Norman Podhoretz had "the classic Jewish experience with the
      WASP elite" but became a "social climber" himself Heilbrunn says.

      The other godfather, Irving Kristol didn't at first take the late
      Allan Bloom seriously. Bloom told Heilbrunn that his relationship with
      Kristol got "easier" once Bloom, like Kristol, had wealth. The neocons
      didn't like Kissinger because he was hofjude, "a court jew of the WASP
      foreign policy establishment." They didn't like Zbig Brzezinski
      because he was Polish and the neocons suspected him of Pale-era

      Boiling resentment meant very little without a political program. The
      neocons got that in the late 1960s. And not surprisingly, the issues
      had a Jewish character. "With the trial of Adolph Eichmann in
      Jerusalem, the 1967 war, and the rise of black anti-Semitism in the
      United States, neoconservatism was born," Heilbrunn writes. So now
      Brzezinski was resented because he was against the Israeli settlements
      in the West Bank, and McGeorge Bundy because he wanted to push Israel
      to make a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

      Neoconservative ideas might have been confined to small magazines, but
      the neocons stunned themselves in the 1970s by gaining traction in
      American political life through the offices of Washington Sen. Henry
      Jackson (whom a Saudi ambassador called "more Jewish than the Jews").
      With Jackson's support, the neocons staged their first great victory,
      pressuring the Soviet Union to free Jews. After Daniel Patrick
      Moynihan won his New York Senate seat with "strong Jewish support" in
      1976, the neocons had a second home.

      At that time, of course, they were Democrats. Martin Peretz, the once
      leftwing editor of The New Republic, was so shaken by the Left�s
      friendliness to the Palestinians, that he provided access in his pages
      to hawks, and became "a major force in the mainstreaming of
      neoconservative ideas." Douglas Feith, an architect of the Iraq
      disaster, tells Heilbrunn, "I grew up in a liberal Democratic Jewish

      Again Israel was key. At the age of 15, two years into the Israeli
      occupation of the West Bank, Feith wrote a precocious letter to the
      New York Times attacking the State Department policy in the Middle
      East. "It is appalling the State Department can be so blind to
      historical precedent as to call for a withdrawal from the captured
      area." Captured, not occupied.

      Israel-centrism made the neocons lousy wardheelers. They turned
      against Jimmy Carter on foreign policy, and so helped to elect Ronald
      Reagan in 1980. Not one to slight the power of his subjects, Heilbrunn
      says that had they not spurned Carter, he might have been re-elected.

      Neocons came back to the Dems in 1992, again over Israel. George H.W.
      Bush� "a scion of the WASP establishment" was "acting like Jimmy
      Carter when it came to Israel." Knocking off the Soviet Union gave the
      neocons a sense of hubris that would doom their ideas about Iraq.
      Their thinking was also damaged by the fact that the neocons
      overprized "filial piety" and so their sons were enlisted in
      their fathers' battles without having to develop their own ideas.

      Good stuff. Alas, the book's riches are set in the ancient past: the
      '70s, '80s, and '90s. Didn�t the neocons just wreck our image around
      the world? Heilbrunn doesn't get to 9/11 till page 228. There are only
      60 pages left, and the social insights that have characterized the
      first half of the book disappear, giving way to a stentorian, op-ed
      style. The neocons have "debauched" the idea of intervention. They
      were "hopelessly naive about the Arab predicament."

      I hoped that this book would do for the parallel establishment what
      The Best and the Brightest did for the last one in the wake of
      Vietnam. But Heilbrunn seems to have had only three or four interviews
      with Iraq war planners, and we learn little about their psyches. How
      do they feel about Israel? How much money do they make? Do they think
      there is going to be another Holocaust? What was the importance of
      Cheney's American Enterprise Institute chapter (both he and his wife
      have been fellows at AEI) to his inoculation with neocon doctrine?
      Heilbrunn doesn't provide answers.

      There are two reasons for his failure, the first vocational, the
      second far more worrisome. Heilbrunn was evidently under a deadline,
      and having spent years working on the first part of his book, he
      appears to have rushed the second half. His writing goes downhill. In
      the galley, two sentences in a row have the verb "would end up." Twice
      on the same page former Sen. Bob Kerrey provides "important cover" for
      the neocons.

      The more troubling reason is self-censorship. It is one thing to write
      about the past with dispositive energy and quite another to render
      sharp judgments about the present. Heilbrunn hints at great ideas
      without the ability to follow through on them. He says the neocons'
      obsession with radical Islam as another cold war was a self-delusion;
      did they also confuse Palestinian suicide bombers with Nazis? He talks
      about a parallel establishment and "an elite caste," but doesn't do
      anything to explore the huge pots of money available to the neocons
      and to politicians who stick by Israel. There is no follow-through
      because all these ideas are close to anti-Semitic "canards," the word
      the pro-Israel crowd likes to use when anyone tries to address Jewish
      influence in public life.

      Heilbrunn is conscious of these tactics. He notes that Francis
      Fukuyama said much more about the neocons' love of Israel in an
      article than he did in his subsequent book and chalks the scholar's
      silence up to "the bullying tactics the neoconservatives often
      employed to avert any criticism of Israel, however mild." Well,
      Heilbrunn seems to have worried about the same thing.

      As for bullying, what are we to make of Heilbrunn's own vicious
      outbursts toward anybody who has tried to change American policy
      toward the hateful Israeli occupation? Thus George Kennan worried
      about "so-called ethnic lobbies." Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer's
      groundbreaking 2006 paper, "The Israel Lobby," is dismissed as an
      "addled essay", without another word. Jimmy Carter is accused of
      "crackpot moralism." Edward Said was "a smooth, urbane purveyor
      of much nonsense about the Middle East."

      Between these knifings, Heilbrunn loses his own point of view. He
      tells us that Bush fell "into the web that the neoconservatives had
      woven around him." Sounds like a conspiracy.

      Twice the author uses the word "cabal." Harvard's government
      department "was the first academic neoconservative cabal." Later there
      is "the Pentagon cabal of neoconservatives." Not even Walt and
      Mearsheimer used the word, though maybe they should have. Certainly,
      the neocons have often formed cells and have not been transparent
      about their ideas or their aims.

      The book's promotional copy teases the reader with that revelation.
      The boldfaced paragraph on the back of the galley asserts that many
      believe that a "cabal" of neocons launched a "war primarily on
      Israel's behalf." If Heilbrunn doesn't believe this, he ought to state
      why not. As it is the reader is left with the shadowy sense that the
      neocons have a pro-Israel agenda that they are not upfront about.

      But it isn�t a conspiracy, Heilbrunn warns. The neocons have convinced
      themselves that the U.S. and Israel have congruent interests. �They
      just believe this stuff. They�re not agents,� an anonymous source
      tells him, speaking of Cheney aide David Wurmser, who is married to an

      Jacob Heilbrunn's book should be hailed as a real sign of progress in
      assessing responsibility for the Iraq War, and yet the real work
      remains undone.

      I understand why there are inhibitions. Blaming the neocons�
      Israel-first worldview for the war raises deep fears among Jews. The
      liberal Forward greeted Walt and Mearsheimer's paper on the Israel
      lobby with the bitter retort: "In Dark Times Blame the Jews." We need
      to get past this sort of defensiveness if we are going to understand
      our own democracy, let alone the Middle East. What Heilbrunn rightly
      calls an "elite caste" could lose status, yes. But others' lives are
      at stake.

      Philip Weiss is at work on a book about Jewish issues.



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