by JEAN BRICMONT and DIANA JOHNSTONE
Counterpunch, September 13 2013: The past ten days have seen what could be the start of an historic turning point away from endless war in the Middle East. Public opinion in the United States, in harmony with the majority of people in the world, has clearly rejected U.S. military intervention in Syria.
But for this turn away from war to be complete and lasting, greater awareness is needed of the forces that have been pushing the United States into these wars, and will surely continue to do so until they are clearly and openly rejected.
An American friend who knows Washington well recently told us that “everybody” there knows that, as far as the drive to war with Syria is concerned, it is Israel that directs U.S. policy. Why then, we replied, don’t opponents of war say it out loud, since, if the American public knew that, support for the war would collapse? Of course, we knew the answer to that question. They are afraid to say all they know, because if you blame the pro-Israel lobby, you are branded an anti-Semite in the media and your career is destroyed.
One who had that experience is James Abourezk, former Senator from South Dakota, who has testified: “I can tell you from personal experience that, at least in the Congress, the support Israel has in that body is based completely on political fear – fear of defeat by anyone who does not do what Israel wants done. I can also tell you that very few members of Congress–at least when I served there – have any affection for Israel or for its lobby. What they have is contempt, but it is silenced by fear of being found out exactly how they feel. I’ve heard too many cloakroom conversations in which members of the Senate will voice their bitter feelings about how they’re pushed around by the lobby to think otherwise. In private one hears the dislike of Israel and the tactics of the lobby, but not one of them is willing to risk the lobby’s animosity by making their feelings public.”
Abourezk added : “The only exceptions to that rule are the feelings of Jewish members, who, I believe, are sincere in their efforts to keep U.S. money flowing to Israel. But that minority does not a U.S. imperial policy make.”
Since we do not have to run for Congress, we feel free to take a close look at that highly delicate question. First, we’ll review the evidence for the crucial role of the pro-Israel lobby, then we’ll discuss some objections.
For evidence, it should be enough to quote some recent headlines from the American and Israeli press.
First, according to the Times of Israel (not exactly an anti-Zionist rag): “Israel intelligence seen as central to U.S. case against Syria.” (Perhaps the fact that it is “central” also explains why it is so dubious.)
Then, in Haaretz: “AIPAC to deploy hundreds of lobbyists to push for Syria action”. Or, in U.S. News and World Report: “Pro-Israel lobby Seeks to Turn Tide on Syria Debate in Congress”. According to Bloomberg: “Adelson New Obama Ally as Jewish Groups Back Syria Strike”. The worst enemies of Obama become his allies, provided he does what “Jewish groups” want. Even rabbis enter the dance: according to the Times of Israel, “U.S. rabbis urge Congress to back Obama on Syria”.
The New York Times explained some of the logic behind the pressure: “Administration officials said the influential pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC was already at work pressing for military action against the government of Mr. Assad, fearing that if Syria escapes American retribution for its use of chemical weapons, Iran might be emboldened in the future to attack Israel. … One administration official, who, like others, declined to be identified discussing White House strategy, called AIPAC ‘the 800-pound gorilla in the room,’ and said its allies in Congress had to be saying, ‘If the White House is not capable of enforcing this red line’ against the catastrophic use of chemical weapons, ‘we’re in trouble’.”
Even more interesting, this part of the story was deleted by the New York Times, according to M.J. Rosenberg, which is consistent with the fact that the lobby prefers to act discreetly.
Now, to the objections:
There are indeed forces other than the Israel lobby pushing for war. It is true that some neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia or Turkey also want to destroy Syria, for their own reasons. But they have nowhere near the political influence on the United States of the Israel lobby. If Saudi princes use their money to try to corrupt a few U.S. politicians, that can easily be denounced as interference by a foreign power in the internal affairs of the United States. But no similar charge can be raised against Israeli influence because of the golden gag rule: any mention of such influence can be immediately denounced as a typical anti-Semitic slur against a nonexistent “Jewish power”. Referring to the perfectly obvious, public activities of the Israel lobby may even be likened to peddling a “conspiracy theory”.
But many of our friends insist that every war is driven by economic interests. Isn’t this latest war to be waged because big bad capitalists want to exploit Syrian gas, or use Syrian territory for a gas pipeline, or open up the Syrian economy to foreign investments?
There is a widespread tendency, shared by much of the left, especially among people who think of themselves as Marxists (Marx himself was far more nuanced on this issue), to think that wars must be due to cynically rational calculations by capitalists. If this were so, these wars “for oil” might be seen as “in the national interest”. But this view sees “capitalism” as a unified actor issuing orders to obedient politicians on the basis of careful calculations. As Bertrand Russell put it, this putative rationality ignores “the ocean of human folly upon which the fragile barque of human reason insecurely floats”. Wars have been waged for all kinds of non-economic reasons, such as religion or revenge, or simply to display power.