Bush Is Making Foreign Policy, Not ‘Neocons’

Posted March 21, 2003 at 10:47am

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) has profusely apologized for implying that American Jews are responsible for the U.S. government’s Iraq policy, but you can be sure that Pat Buchanan never will. [IMGCAP(1)]

Maybe because he’s an elected official, Moran caught unshirted hell from the media and his colleagues — as well he should have — for saying the latest war in the Persian Gulf would not be happening “if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community.”

Maybe because he’s a faded figure on the political scene, Buchanan got only marginal attention for a 5,000-word screed he wrote in his little magazine, “The American Conservative,” charging that a “cabal” of mainly Jewish neoconservatives seeks “to conscript American blood to make the world safe for Israel.”

Buchanan denied that his charges were based on anti-Semitism, but practically all of the “cabalists” he listed — including former and present Defense Department officials Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith and commentators William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer — are Jewish.

And Buchanan’s long history of animus against Israel, questioning the patriotism of pro-Israeli Americans (he recently accused Perle of being “an agent of influence” for Israel), doubting elements of the Holocaust and defending ex-concentration camp guards all fit the profile of an anti-Semite.

Independent of that, however, Buchanan’s charges deserve rebuttal — partly because they aren’t confined to him. As he wrote, “suddenly, the Israeli connection is on the table.”

The charge that pro-Israeli neocons have hijacked American foreign policy is rife in the European press, in left-wing anti-war diatribes in this country, and even in the writing of mainstream columnists like Georgie Anne Geyer and Robert Novak.

Lawrence Kaplan, co-author with Kristol of a new book, “The War Over Iraq,” told me that questions like “We’re not doing this for America — we’re doing it for Israel, right?” have come up in about half the radio interviews he’s done on his book tour.

Versions of the argument also have appeared in op-ed articles in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, San Diego Union-Tribune and USA Today.

The case deserves rebuttal because it’s flatly false. On the most obvious level, the people at the top of Bush’s policy-making pyramid — Bush himself, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet — are neither Jewish nor “neoconservative.”

Cheney and Rumsfeld are aggressive foreign policy hawks, as neoconservatives are, but their backgrounds are political and corporate, not academic or literary, and they’ve never been associated with neocon institutions like The Weekly Standard and Commentary.

All the evidence suggests that the idea of ousting Saddam Hussein, while urged by Wolfowitz as left-over business from the first Gulf War in 1991, was not at the top of the foreign policy agenda for Bush and his high command until after Sept. 11, 2001.

Buchanan makes Bush out to be putty in Wolfowitz’s hands — as though the president has neither a mind of his own nor any other advisers — and ignores what Bush has said again and again: that Iraq is the potential arsenal for a nuclear 9/11.

Buchanan’s own attitude toward Sept. 11 is telling. It was, he said, “a direct consequence of the United States meddling in an area of the world where we do not belong and where we are not wanted. We were attacked because we were on Saudi sacred soil and we are so-called repressing the Iraqis and we’re supporting Israel.”

According to Buchanan, after Iraq, the neocons have a long list of “targets for destruction” that they want the United States to attack at Israel’s behest: Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and “militant Islam.”

Except for “militant Islam,” there’s no evidence that the Bush administration has any plan to follow this agenda. Iran is on Bush’s “axis of evil” list, but North Korea has to be the next crisis he tackles.

On the other side of the ledger, Israel certainly backs Bush’s efforts to remove Hussein, but this is scarcely at the top of Israel’s agenda.

The major threats to Israel — Palestinian terrorism and attacks carried out by the Iranian- and Syrian-backed groups Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad — will continue long after Iraq is conquered.

Bush has come to see the Palestinian situation in a light similar to that of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — holding Yasser Arafat primarily responsible for the absence of peace — but he came to that view on his own, not through “neoconservative” influence.

If and when the Palestinians decide to replace Arafat with a leader willing to make peace and crack down on terrorist groups, Bush is pledged to work for the creation of a Palestinian state and an end to Jewish settlement activity. That could lead to friction with Sharon.

Contrary to both Moran’s and Buchanan’s attitudes, polls show that American Jews are split on Iraq in about the same numbers as the general population. Polls also show that, by 58 percent to 15 percent, Americans sympathize with Israel, not the Palestinians.

Because of his policy choices, Bush is likely to score better among Jewish voters than any recent Republican president. And they’re his choices — not those of “neoconservatives.”