Chomsky Acknowledges the Neocons as the Dominant Force in Pushing for Iraq War
By Stephen J. Sniegoski
The Passionate Attachment
March 7, 2012
Thanks to the efforts of the indefatigable James Morris, a seeming transformation of the view of the illustrious Noam Chomsky was revealed, which, if not equivalent to the change that Saul of Tarsus underwent while on the road to Damascus, was significant nonetheless. Morris seems to have a knack for ferreting out the unknown views of the famous, as was illustrated in his 2010 email exchange with General David Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command, in which he was able to reveal the latter’s close relationship with neocon Max Boot and his ardent desire to propitiate the pro-Zionist Jewish community at a time when it was generally thought that Petraeus was critical of the negative effects of the intimate U.S.-Israeli relationship on America’s position in the Middle East.
The Chomsky revelation took place while the latter was a guest on Phil Tourney’s “Your Voice Counts” program on Republic Broadcasting Network from 2:00 pm to 3:00pm Eastern Standard Time on Sunday, February 24, 2013. While Chomsky is a strong and very knowledgeable critic of Israel, he also has been (at least, was before this program) a stringent critic of the idea that the neocons have any significant impact on American Middle East policy. Rather, he presents a somewhat nebulous, quasi-monolithic, corporate elite, which includes the oil interests, as determining American policy in that region—as it does everywhere else in the globe—for its own economic interests. In what has been Chomsky’s view, Israel only serves as an instrument for American imperialism; that it too might benefit from American policies is, presumably, only an incidental by-product.
Chomsky was quite impressive on the program as he demonstrated extensive knowledge of the USS Liberty issue, which is a major issue of the program, since Tourney was a seaman on that ill-fated ship that was deliberately attacked by Israeli planes and gunboats during the Six Day War in June 1967, causing the deaths of 34 U.S. seamen and wounding 171 others out of a crew of 297.
Chomsky included an injection of his standard theme that Israel became a valuable strategic asset to the United States with the 1967 war when it wrecked Nasser and secular Arab nationalism in general, thus aiding America’s conservative client states, such as Saudi Arabia.
Listener phone calls were restricted to the last 15 minutes. Consequently, James Morris wasn’t able to get on the program until the last five minutes when he tried to get Chomsky to address the issue of the connection between the neocons and Israel. Morris cited then-Secretary of State Powell’s reference to the “JINSA crowd” (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) as the primary force for the war on Iraq within the Bush Administration. Morris went on to say that the neocons were a leading element of the Israel lobby.
After Morris made these statements, Chomsky amazingly blurted out that he “agreed completely” with him regarding the importance of the neocons—describing the neocons as “tremendously important.” Chomsky acknowledged that the neoconservatives had been the “dominant force” in the Bush administration, and that they had “pushed through” the Iraq war over many objections even from within the government. What Chomsky had said about the importance of the neocons was radically different from his usual portrayal of a monolithic corporatist dominance of U.S. Middle East policy. Chomsky even seemed to agree that the neocons held positions that diverged from those of the traditional foreign policy establishment—Morris had earlier mentioned Scowcroft and Brzezinski as opponents of the neocons.
What Chomsky said pertaining to the neocons being the leading force for the Iraq war is essentially identical to my position in “The Transparent Cabal.” And it is not only the opposite of what it appeared that he used to hold but what his protégé Norman Finkelstein continues to expound, as I discuss in my article, “Norman Finkelstein and Neocon Denial.”
Finkelstein denies that the neocons were a factor in causing the U.S. to go to war—and has nothing to do with my book, describing it as conspiracist—but he does not seem to realize that his position contrasts with that of his mentor. Since the two are quite close, it would seem that Chomsky has not even expressed this new view to Finkelstein in private conversation. When Finkelstein finds out that his mentor holds that the neocons were the “dominant force” for war with Iraq, one wonders if he will then charge him with believing in a conspiracy.
Unfortunately, however, Chomsky still stops far short of the full truth. For in his response to Morris, he went on to maintain that the neocons are different from the Israel lobby—definitely implying, though not explicitly stating, that the neocons are not motivated by the interests of Israel. He quickly put forth two arguments for this contention. First, he claimed that the neocons are simply a mainstream force in American conservatism going back to the Reagan administration. Even if true, this would not necessarily preclude their being biased in favor of Israel. However, it is not true—the neocons did not just fit into existing mainstream conservatism, but altered it to fit their own goals.
As I bring out in “The Transparent Cabal” (with numerous citations from secondary sources, this being a rather conventional view), the neocon movement originated among liberal Democrats, mainly Jewish, who gravitated to the right in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In significant part, this reflected a concern that American liberalism was moving leftward in ways detrimental to Jewish interests. In foreign policy, this involved diminished support by American liberals for Israel—in line with the world left’s support for Third World movements that included the Palestinians—and the liberals’ turn against an anti-Communist foreign policy, as a reaction to the Vietnam imbroglio, at a time when the Soviet Union’s policies were exhibiting discrimination against Soviet Jewry and opposition to Israel in support of its Arab enemies. In opposing what they saw as liberalism’s move to the left, these proto-neoconservatives did not see themselves as becoming conservative, but were dubbed with the moniker “neoconservative” by left-wing social critic Michael Harrington, who intended it as a pejorative term, and the name soon stuck.
Neoconservatives basically wanted to return mainstream American liberalism to the anti-Communist Cold War positions exemplified by President Harry Truman (1945–1953), which had held sway through the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969). When this effort failed to achieve success, neocons would turn to Ronald Reagan in the 1980. Despite being newcomers to the conservative camp, neoconservatives were able to find significant places in the Reagan administration, especially in the national security and foreign policy areas, although at less than Cabinet-level status.
Neoconservatives, however, did not become traditional conservatives, but instead altered the content of conservatism to their liking. “The neoconservative impulse,” pro-neocon Murray Friedman maintains in his book “The Neoconservative Revolution,” “was the spontaneous response of a group of liberal intellectuals, mainly Jewish, who sought to shape a perspective of their own while standing apart from more traditional forms of conservatism.”[Quoted in “Transparent Cabal,” pp. 39-40]
In domestic policy, neoconservatives supported the modern welfare state, in contrast to the traditional conservatives, who emphasized small government, states’ rights, and relatively unfettered capitalism. Most importantly, they differed significantly from the conservative position on foreign policy. Although the American conservatives of the Cold War era were anti-Communist and pro-military, they harbored a strain of isolationism. Their interventionism was limited largely to fighting Communism, but not to nation-building and the export of democracy, the expressed goals of the neocons. Nor did traditional conservatives view the United States as the policeman of the world. Most significantly, traditional conservatives had never championed Israel.
While traditional conservatives welcomed neoconservatives as allies in their fight against Soviet Communism and domestic liberalism, the neocons in effect acted as a Trojan Horse within conservatism: they managed to secure dominant positions in the conservative political and intellectual movement, and as soon as they gained power, they purged those traditional conservatives who opposed their agenda, particularly as it involved Israel. Support for Israel and its policies had become, and remains, a veritable litmus test for being a member of the multitudinous political action groups and think tanks that comprise the conservative movement.
In his 1996 book, “The Essential Neoconservative Reader,” editor Mark Gerson, a neocon himself who served on the board of directors of the Project for the New American Century, jubilantly observed: “The neoconservatives have so changed conservatism that what we now identify as conservatism is largely what was once neoconservatism. And in so doing, they have defined the way that vast numbers of Americans view their economy, their polity, and their society.” [Quoted in “Transparent Cabal”, p. 42]
While in domestic policy Gerson’s analysis might not be completely accurate, it would seem to be so in US national security policy, as illustrated by the near unanimous Republican opposition in the US Senate to the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense because of his past statements critical of both US all-out support for Israel and its hardline position toward Iran (currently Israel’s foremost enemy) that might lead to war.
Now the fact that Cheney and Rumsfeld may not be motivated by a desire to aid Israel in their support for neocon Middle East policy, the Middle East policies they have supported have been formulated by those who identify with Israel. Since both of them have been closely associated with the neocons, Cheney more so than Rumsfeld, they were undoubtedly influenced by the pro-Israel neocons. Cheney even went so far as to serve on JINSA’s Advisory Board. And JINSA was set up in 1976 to put “the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship first.”
Moreover, as Vice President, Cheney specifically relied on advice from the eminent historian of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, a right-wing Zionist and one of the neocons’ foremost gurus, who strongly advocated war against Iraq and other Middle Eastern states. (Barton Gellman, “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency,” p. 231) Chomsky has said that “Bernard Lewis is nothing but a vile propagandist,” and he presumably means a propagandist for Israel.
The influence of ideas per se was not the only factor that likely motivated Cheney. The fact that Cheney and his wife, Lynne, who was with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI—known as “neocon central”), had close personal and professional relations with the neocons also would have predisposed him to give his support to the neoconservatives and their agenda.
The same arguments would apply for Rumsfeld, with one additional one: a war on Iraq would give him the chance to demonstrate the value of his concept of a smaller, mobile, high tech American military. Rumsfeld held that a small, streamlined invasion force would be sufficient to defeat Iraq. As Bob Woodward writes in his book, “State of Denial”: “The Iraq war plan was the chess board on which Rumsfeld would test, develop, expand and modify his ideas about military transformation. And the driving concept was ‘less is more’ – new thinking about a lighter, swifter, smaller force that could do the job better. Rumsfeld’s blitzkrieg would vindicate his leadership of the Pentagon.”[“State of Denial,” p. 82]
For the neocons, Rumsfeld’s approach would not have the drawbacks of the conventional full-scale invasion initially sought by the military brass. The neocons feared that no neighboring country would provide the necessary bases from which to launch such a massive conventional attack, or that during the lengthy time period needed to assemble a large force, diplomacy might avert war or that peace forces in the U.S. might increase their size and political clout and do likewise. In short, it was this convergence on interests between the Rumsfeld and the neocons that made them so supportive of each other in the early years of the George W. Bush administration.
It must be acknowledged that the neocon Middle East war agenda did resonate with both Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s general positions on national security policy, but there is little reason to think that they would have come up with the specifics of the policy, including even the identification of Iraq as the target, if it had not been for their neocon associates, whose policy reflected their close identification with Israel. It should also be pointed out that in Chomsky’s usual presentation of an American foreign policy shaped by the corporate elite, the actual government officials who implemented the policy were not necessarily members of the corporate elite nor motivated by a desire to advance the interests of the corporate elite as opposed to the national interest of the United States. In order for any type of elite to be successful, it is essential that it attract significant numbers of people outside of itself, which Chomsky himself has discussed at length regarding the corporate elite. This is also the very purpose of the neoconservative network and the information that it disseminates.
Acknowledging as much as he did, it is hard to see how Chomsky can fail to discern that the neocons identify with Israel. The evidence is overwhelming. The following are a few examples of this connection.
The effort to prevent Chuck Hagel from becoming the Secretary of Defense has been spearheaded by the Emergency Committee for Israel, the creation of which in 2010 was in large part the work of leading neocon, Bill Kristol, and which claims “to provide citizens with the facts they need to be sure that their public officials are supporting a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.” As Bill Kristol states: “We’re the pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community.” Kristol had co-founded the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which promoted the war on Iraq. Kristol’s father, the late Irving Kristol, a godfather of neoconservatism, is noted for his identification with Israel. In 1973, he said: “Jews don’t like big military budgets. But it is now an interest of the Jews to have a large and powerful military establishment in the United States . . . American Jews who care about the survival of the state of Israel have to say, no, we don’t want to cut the military budget, it is important to keep that military budget big, so that we can defend Israel.” [Congress Bi-Weekly (1973), published by the American Jewish Congress]
Noah Pollak, a contributor to “Commentary” magazine, is the Emergency Committee’s executive director and, while living in Israel for two years, was an assistant editor at the Jerusalem-based Shalem Center.
Eliot Cohen, a veteran neocon, was a founding signatory of the Project for the New American Century and advised the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. He coined the term “World War IV” for the war on terror. During the George Bush administration, he served on the Defense Policy Board in Bush’s first term and was closely affiliated with those neocons around Vice President Cheney. He is on the International Academic Advisory Board of the Began Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Israel, which is affiliated with Bar Ilan University, and is involved in contract work for the Israeli government.
Douglas Feith, who as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in George W. Bush’s first term set up and controlled the Office of Special Plans, which spread the most specious war propaganda, was closely associated with the right-wing Zionist group, the Zionist Organization of America. In 1997, he co-founded One Jerusalem, a group whose objective was “saving a united Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.” Before entering the Bush administration, Feith ran a small Washington-based law firm, which had one international office – in Israel. And the majority of the firm’s work consisted of representing Israeli interests.
Richard Perle has had very close personal connections with Israeli government officials, and has been accused of providing classified information to that country on a number of occasions. Perle not only expounded pro-Zionist views, but was a board member of the pro-Likud “Jerusalem Post” and had worked as a lobbyist for the Israeli weapons manufacturer Soltam.
Norman Podhoretz is considered a godfather, along with Irving Kristol, of the neoconservative movement. When editor of “Commentary” magazine, he wrote that “the formative question for his politics would heretofore be, ‘Is it good for the Jews?’” (“Commentary,” February 1972) In 2007, Podhoretz received the Guardian of Zion Award, which is given to individuals for their support for Israel, from Bar-Ilan University in Israel. Neocon Charles Krauthammer was the 2002 winner of the Guardian of Zion Award.
Max Singer, co-founder of the neocon Hudson Institute and its former president, who pushed for the war on Iraq, has moved to Israel, where he is a citizen and has been involved with the Institute for Zionist Strategies, which advocates the need to better infuse Zionist ideology in the Jewish people of Israel.
The neocons’ support for Israel does not necessarily mean that they were deliberately promoting the interest of Israel at the expense of the United States. Instead, as I point out in “The Transparent Cabal,” they maintained that an identity of interests existed between the two countries – Israel’s enemies being ipso facto America’s enemies. However, it is apparent from their backgrounds that the neoconservatives viewed American foreign policy in the Middle East through the lens of Israeli interest, as Israeli interest was perceived by the Likudniks.
Despite this professed view of the identity of American and Israel interests, sometimes the neocons’ actions verged on putting Israel interests above those of the United States government. For example, some leading neocons—David Wurmser, Richard Perle, and Douglas Feith—developed the “Clean Break” proposal outlining an aggressive policy for Israel intended to enhance its geostrategic position, which they presented in 1996 to then-incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One part of the plan was to get the United States to disassociate itself from peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine and simply let Israel treat the Palestinians as it saw fit. “Israel,” stated the report, “can manage it’s own affairs. Such self-reliance will grant Israel greater freedom of action and remove a significant lever of [US] pressure used against it in the past.” It was highly noteworthy that the neocons would devise a strategy to enable Israel to become free from adhering to the goals of their own country. [“Transparent Cabal,” p. 93]
In conclusion, while Chomsky’s change was far from being complete, his acknowledgement that that the neoconservatives were the “dominant force” in driving the U.S. to the war on Iraq in 2003 is, nonetheless, very significant. Chomsky, who was voted the “world’s top public intellectual” in a 2005 poll, certainly influences many people, most particularly on the anti-war left, and his new view should make them rethink their belief that the war was all about oil. It is to be hoped that Chomsky’s words were not a one-time aberration and that he will not revert to his previous publicly-espoused position. Rather, it is to be hoped that he will now look more deeply into the neocons’ activities and thus discern their close connection to Israel.
Stephen J. Sniegoski is the author of The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel. He contributed this article to The Passionate Attachment.