Neocons, Likud Conquer DC, Again
The clout of Washington’s neoconservatives and the political fear induced by Israel’s Likud hardliners were on display again with recently released e-mails in which Gen. David Petraeus grovels before a key neocon and in White House meetings at which President Obama pandered to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The e-mails from Petraeus to Max Boot reveal the four-star general renouncing his own congressional testimony in March because it included the observation that "the enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests” in the Middle East.
Petraeus’s testimony continued, “Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. … Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”
Though the testimony might strike some readers as a no-brainer, many neocons regard any suggestion that Israeli intransigence on Palestinian peace talks contributes to the dangers faced by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan – or by the U.S. public from acts of terrorism at home – as a “blood libel” against Israel.
So, when Petraeus’s testimony began getting traction on the Internet, the general quickly turned to Boot, a neocon writer based at the high-powered Council on Foreign Relations, and began backtracking on the testimony.
“As you know, I didn't say that,” Petraeus said, according to one e-mail to Boot timed off at 2:27 p.m., March 18. “It's in a written submission for the record.”
In other words, Petraeus was arguing that the comments were only in his formal testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee and were not repeated by him in his brief oral opening statement. However, the written testimony is treated as part of the official record at congressional hearings with no meaningful distinction from oral testimony.
In another e-mail, as Petraeus solicited Boot’s help in tamping down any controversy over the Israeli remarks, the general ended the message with a military “Roger” and a sideways happy face, made from a colon, a dash and a closed parenthesis, :-) .
The e-mails were made public by James Morris, who runs a Web site called “Neocon Zionist Threat to America.” He said he apparently got them by accident when he sent a March 19 e-mail congratulating Petraeus for his testimony and Petraeus responded by forwarding one of Boot’s blog posts that knocked down the story of the general’s implicit criticism of Israel.
Petraeus forwarded Boot’s blog item, entitled “A Lie: David Petraeus, Anti-Israel,” which had been posted at the Commentary magazine site at 3:11 p.m. on March 18. However, Petraeus apparently forgot to delete some of the other exchanges between him and Boot at the bottom of the e-mail.
Morris sent me the e-mails at my request after an article by Philip Weiss appeared about them at Mondoweiss, a Web site that deals with Middle East issues. This week, I sought comment from Petraeus and Boot regarding the e-mails, specifically giving them a chance to deny their authenticity. Neither man has responded.
The e-mails also reveal Petraeus brainstorming with Boot regarding how to finesse the potential controversy over the Senate testimony.
At 2:37 p.m. on March 18, Petraeus asks Boot, “Does it help if folks know that I hosted Elie Wiesel and his wife at our quarters last Sun night?! And that I will be the speaker at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps in mid-Apr at the Capitol Dome [?]”
Eight minutes later, Boot responded, “No don't think that's relevant because you're not being accused of being anti-Semitic.”
That’s when a relieved Petraeus responds, “Roger! :-) “
The e-mail exchange suggests a cozy relationship between Petraeus and Boot, who has often promoted the general in columns written for news outlets such as the Weekly Standard, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.
In one article co-authored by Boot and two other prominent neocons Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, the trio reveals that they were brought to Afghanistan in late winter 2009 by Petraeus when the U.S. military was trying to boost public support for a troop escalation of the war.
“Fears of impending disaster are hard to sustain, however, if you actually spend some time in Afghanistan, as we did recently at the invitation of General David Petraeus, chief of U.S. Central Command,” they wrote.
“Using helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, and bone-jarring armored vehicles, we spent eight days traveling from the snow-capped peaks of Kunar province near the border with Pakistan in the east to the wind-blown deserts of Farah province in the west near the border with Iran. Along the way we talked with countless coalition soldiers, ranging from privates to a four-star general.”
Their extraordinary access paid dividends for Petraeus when they returned to the United States with a glowing report in the Weekly Standard about the prospects for success in Afghanistan – if only President Obama sent more troops and committed the United States to stay in the war for the long haul.
Boot himself is a staunch advocate for the so-called Long War against Islamic militants, arguing that the United States must curtail domestic programs, including health care, if necessary to sustain and expand the military budget so the projection of U.S. power around the globe can continue unabated.
“It will be increasingly hard to be globocop and nanny state at the same time,” Boot wrote last March 25 in a Wall Street Journal article opposing Obamacare. “Something will have to give.”
But Boot clearly views U.S. military power in the world as what does not have “to give.”
His writings reflect an imperialist attitude that at times borders on racism. For instance, in a Jan 18 commentary as Haiti was reeling from a devastating earthquake, Boot wrote:
“Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti's best years - the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil - were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since.”
However, very few Haiti experts would agree that the nation, while under U.S. military occupation on behalf of a wealthy few, was any kind of testament to “freedom.” Further, the “stability” primarily benefited the light-skinned Haitian elite, in effect cementing the rigid class structure that has doomed Haiti’s democratic movements to violent resistance ever since.
But Boot goes even further in his malign neglect for the black Haitian majority.
“We desperately need a way to place dysfunctional countries like Haiti into international receivership,” Boot wrote. “Until such a mechanism is invented, it appears, alas, that Haiti will continue to experience more of the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century.”
The final sentence is striking – when he cites “the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century” – because what existed before that was a brutal plantation society run by white Frenchmen who held African slaves in the cruelest bondage, literally working many to their deaths.
Disobedient slaves were sometimes executed in ceremonies that involved inserting explosive charges up their rectums and blowing them to pieces.
While many civilized people even at the time were disgusted by the barbarity of the French system, which extracted enormous wealth from Haiti, enough to build many of the beautiful palaces around Paris, Boot sees this era as something of a golden age, disrupted only by the troublesome slave uprisings at the end of the 18th century.
Similarly, Boot has little sympathy for the Palestinians locked in Gaza. After Israel’s devastating assault in late 2008 and early 2009, which killed an estimated 1,400 Palestinians including many women and children, Boot praised the military operation in language fitting an earlier imperial time, calling the attack “more like a punitive expedition really.”
In a Weekly Standard article, Boot continued, “It may not have been as satisfying as winning the enemy's unconditional surrender, but the Gaza war nevertheless can be counted as a victory for Israel. A highly limited and attenuated victory, to be sure, but one that nevertheless restored Israelis' self-confidence and Arabs' fear of provoking Israel. …
“Many Israeli officials expressed to us the expectation that after this war Israel's enemies will view it as a ‘crazy animal’ that they cannot afford to bait.”
To Boot, the Mideast peace process is almost not worth discussing. He wrote on Jan. 5, 2008, in the Wall Street Journal that “those who insist on pursuing the ‘peace process,’ notwithstanding the low probability of success, claim that we have no choice. ‘What is the alternative?’ they ask. ‘Perpetual war?’
Boot also favors ratcheting up tensions with Iran by leaving all U.S. military options “on the table.” He cheered President George W. Bush’s 2008 firing of Admiral William “Fox” Fallon, who as head of U.S. Central Command, did what he could to block Vice President Dick Cheney’s hopes for a new war with Iran, the country that has replaced Iraq at the top of Israel’s enemies list.
According to some reports, Fallon – considered a Pentagon rival to Petraeus – was put over the ambitious four-star general as a means to “check” his maneuverings. As that power play played out, Boot knew whose boots to lick, those of his friend Petraeus.
“The problem is that Fallon is a newcomer to the Middle East and Iraq, while Petraeus has served there for years and is the architect of a strategy that has rescued the United States from the brink of defeat,” Boot wrote in a March 12, 2008, column for the Los Angeles Times, entitled “Fallon Didn’t Get It.”
However, when Obama was the new newcomer and took offense at Netanyahu’s government announcing new Jewish settlements in Arab territory in March 2010, just as Vice President Joe Biden arrived to express continued solidarity with Israel, it was the young President who didn’t get it.
Obama’s angry reaction raised the question, “Why is the administration so hard on Israel -- the most liberal and pro-American country in the region -- when it's so soft on its despotic neighbors?” Boot wrote in the Los Angeles Times on March 19, almost simultaneous with Boot’s e-mail exchange with Petraeus, who by then had replaced Fallon as CentCom commander.
At that point, Boot was clearly concerned about mounting complaints from senior Obama officials that Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians was endangering U.S. troops.
Boot noted that “two press leaks may illuminate administration thinking. First, in July 2009, President Obama reportedly told Jewish leaders at the White House that it was important to put some ‘space’ between the U.S. and Israel to ‘change the way the Arabs see us.’
“Then an Israeli newspaper claimed that in a private meeting, Biden told Netanyahu that Israeli settlements were ‘dangerous for us’: ‘What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.’”
Boot continued, “I can't vouch for the authenticity of those quotes (the second one has been denied by the administration). But in spirit they ring true. They indicate a mind-set that holds that Israeli settlements are the primary obstacle to peace and that an Israeli-Palestinian accord is necessary to defeat the broader terrorist movement. Neither proposition is terribly convincing.”
However, it now appears that in March 2010, the politically savvy Petraeus was seeking to ingratiate himself with Boot by repudiating the Senate testimony echoing Obama’s concerns that the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate risked the lives of American troops. In other words, Petraeus was putting distance between himself and the administration’s position in order to slip into a more favorable light with the neocons.
At the end of a news conference on April 13, President Obama restated his worry about the risks to the United States from the Middle East conflict, saying it will end up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.”
However, Boot and other leading neocons have made clear they don’t care much about either of those costs when extracting the “blood and treasure” from the American people is needed to protect the security interests of Israel.
And, the neocons seem to have prevailed in this internal Washington battle fought over the past 18 months. Obama appears even more locked into the Afghan War today as he presses Congress to approve $33 billion more for the conflict and as his new Afghan commander, David Petraeus, essentially dismisses Obama’s announced policy of beginning a significant U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in one year.
As for Israel, Obama welcomed Netanyahu to the White House on Tuesday and almost fell out of his Oval Office chair trying to express how much he agreed with Israel.
Obama was so effusive in his praise for Netanyahu that Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who usually positions himself safely on the neocon side of any division, termed Obama’s behavior something akin to surrender, suggesting that the appropriate flag to wave would have been a white one.
“Four months ago, the Obama administration made a politically perilous decision to condemn Israel over a controversial new settlement,” Milbank wrote. “The Israel lobby reared up, Netanyahu denounced the administration’s actions, Republican leaders sided with Netanyahu, and Democrats ran for cover.
“So, on Tuesday, Obama, routed and humiliated by his Israeli counterpart, invited Netanyahu back to the White House for what might be called the Oil of Olay Summit: It was all about saving face."
Milbank wrote that President Obama “performed the Full Monty of pro-Israel pandering: ‘The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable’ … ‘I commended Prime Minister Netanyahu’ … ‘Our two countries are working cooperatively’ … ‘unwavering in our commitment’ … ‘our relationship has broadened’ … ‘continuing to improve’ … ‘we are committed to that special bond, and we are going to do what’s required to back that up’.”
Milbank viewed Obama’s bowing to Netanyahu as a cold bath of reality.
“Obama came to office with an admirable hope of reviving Middle East peace efforts by appealing to the Arab world and positioning himself as more of an honest broker,” Milbank wrote. “But he has now learned the painful lesson that domestic politics won’t allow such a stand.” [Washington Post, July 7, 2010]
In short, the American neocons and their Likud friends in Israel still seem to deliver the most powerful one-two punch in Washington policy circles.
That is a lesson that Gen. Petraeus, who is considered by some pundits a possible Republican challenger to Obama in 2012, already appears to have learned.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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