A couple of weeks ago, CBS first reported that the FBI was investigating whether midlevel Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin had passed classified information to an employee of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who in turn gave it to an Israeli official. According to CBS, law enforcement figures were unsure whether the investigation, under way for a year, would eventually lead to "charges of unlawful disclose [sic] of classified material or espionage." So far, no arrests or indictments have been made, but some observers believe that the affair is far from over.
As many journalists have noted, it is almost certain that, despite official denials, Israel spies on the United States—just as U.S. clandestine services in turn spy on Israel and other allies. However, it is improbable that AIPAC would knowingly entangle itself in espionage. AIPAC is one of the most powerful, and most scrutinized, lobbies in Washington, and it is unlikely to risk its reputation and access to U.S. decision-makers for a document that has been described as a "glorified Op-Ed."
What Franklin allegedly passed to AIPAC sometime last year was an unfinished draft of a National Presidential Security Directive on Iran. The information was sensitive enough that a June 15, 2003, Washington Post story on the NPSD said, "Senior administration officials refused to talk about the status of the Bush policy directive on Iran, on the grounds that it is classified." Apparently, however, the information was not so sensitive that officials refrained from sketching for the Post some of the directive's main topics and noting that competing parties in the administration disagree over the direction of Iran policy.
In short, the U.S. government views with serious concern both Iran's nuclear program and its support of terrorist groups, including al-Qaida. Much of the State Department favors dialogue with the regime's reformers (even though it has been clear for some time now that President Khatami's reform wing has little, if any, power) while the Pentagon leans instead toward talking directly to student leaders and other democratic activists outside the government. No one is currently pressing for military action against Iran, if only because our commitments in Iraq make it impossible.
Nonetheless, Iran is still a very big problem for the United States, and perhaps a much larger one for Israel, but in the long run, the Franklin affair doesn't have much to do with Iran. Rather, it's a plot point in an ongoing story about U.S. foreign policy since Sept. 11, a story in which Franklin's role is pretty negligible. He's of interest largely because he works in an office at the Pentagon that is associated with the group of Bush administration ideologues known as the neoconservatives, who have so far mostly distinguished themselves as leading proponents of the war in Iraq. Israel is a significant part of the story insofar as a number of commentators are claiming that some of the Jewish neocons (Franklin is not Jewish) are disloyal to the United States.
Fueling the conspiracy theories is the fact that a few Bush administration officials, including the No. 3 man in the Pentagon, Douglas Feith, wrote a paper in 1996 for then newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called "A Clean Break," which described, among other ideas, the desirability of regime change in Iraq. Nowhere, however, does it say that Israel should get American soldiers to do it. Indeed, "A Clean Break" also argued for ending Israel's dependence on U.S. aid.
Regardless, while the research into the neocons' ideas about the region and their connections to Israel might have begun as a partisan exercise in aggressive political journalism and speculative intellectual history, it has now come to resemble an old narrative in Western culture that engenders rumors of a "cabal," a secret government within the government, run by people whose loyalty to the state that harbors them is dubious. The word "Jew" isn't used, but "Likud" is tossed around with an alarming facility.
For example, in a recent interview with a Turkish news source, former Pentagon desk officer Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski elaborated on some of the opinions she's been articulating in both her own writing and in other interviews, including one with a Lyndon LaRouche publication. "I think for [sic] many of these guys truly believe that what is good for Likud is good for America," she said. "This is wrong factually, and wrong philosophically, and is probably very close to being treason." On his Weblog, University of Michigan professor Juan Cole wrote, "I believe that Doug Feith, for instance, has dual loyalties to the Israeli Likud Party and to the U.S. Republican Party. … And I also think that if he has to choose, he will put the interests of the Likud above the interests of the Republican Party. … I frankly don't trust him to put America first."
Do Kwiatkowski and Cole have any factual evidence to draw on besides their own convictions and prejudices? Of course not. Their charges might not seem particularly sensationalist if they appeared exclusively on blogs, but mainstream press outfits like UPI, Knight Ridder, and Newsweek, among others, have used Kwiatkowski as a source for stories about the neocons; others, like PBS's NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, NPR, and the Washington Post have called on Cole to discuss his views on Iraq. (His opinions have also been cited in several Slate stories.) It's unclear whether these media outlets recognize what kind of larger worldview their experts' opinions issue from, but media consumers deserve to know that some of the talking heads they're hearing are advancing conspiracy theories and accusing U.S. government officials of dual loyalty verging on treason.
The fundamental issue is that had it not been for Sept. 11, the neocons' ideas that wound up winning the day—among them, regime change in Iraq, and perhaps elsewhere, and the push for democracy in the Middle East—would have remained fodder for policy papers. Up until 9/11, the premise of U.S. Middle East policy was to maintain stability in the region in order to secure our national interests. The attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center showed that those interests, including the welfare of U.S. citizens, were not secure; perhaps the region was by its very nature unstable. If so, the assumptions underlying our policies were flawed.