The Likudnik Factor

A mostly political Weblog.
Feb. 14 2003 4:39 AM

The Likudnik Factor

Plus: Don't rush Pinch either.

Don't Rush Me, II: "The Likudniks are really in charge now."WaPo's Robert Kaiser has tried to raise an issue that Slate's Michael Kinsley attempted to raise a few months ago, namely the influence, among the administration's hawks, of what Kaiser carefully calls people with "loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud."  Kinsley wrote that "the role of Israel in the thinking of [President Bush]  is the "proverbial elephant in the room: Everybody sees it, no one mentions it."

Like the New Yorker's Nicholas Lemann, Kaiser notes without much comment that three top Bush hawks (Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser) were on an 8-person committee that in 1996 proposed to incoming Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

that he abandon the Oslo peace accords negotiated in 1993 and reject the basis for them -- the idea of trading "land for peace." Israel should insist on Arab recognition of its claim to the biblical land of Israel, the 1996 report suggested, and should "focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq." [Emphasis added]

As someone trying to make up his mind about the war, am I troubled by the unspoken, widely-acknowledged influence of the Likudniks? Yes! I'm not a Mideast expert. I'm an ordinary citizen with inherently limited and imperfect information. How close is Saddam really to having a bomb? How long would neighboring Arab states tolerate a massive U.S. troop presence to back up inspections? Even "senior government officials" don't know the answers to these questions, but I will never know as much as they do. To some extent, they are asking me – us -- to trust them. Which means it's very relevant to us ordinary citizens what conscious or subconscious motives might be skewing their decision in favor of war.

Am I suggesting these people might have dual loyalties? To paraphrase Leon Wieseltier, why only two? People have multiple loyalties; life is complicated. (If my grandfather had been a singlemindedly loyal citizen of his country, Germany, rather than a Jew with both patriotic and internationalist sympathies, he'd have loyally stayed in Frankfurt with his family when Hitler came to power, and I wouldn't be here.)

That's not to say that Bush's advisers aren't patriots who put what they perceive to be America's interests first in a crunch. (Maybe that 1996 memo was in part an attempt to nudge Israel into doing our bidding on Iraq!)  But, of course, their complicated loyalties might still subconsciously influence what they perceive to be their country's interest. Does any self-reflective person deny that such subconscious influences are at work in all of us?

Isn't it better to discuss this issue out in the open before the war starts? Surely Perle and Feith can defend themselves eloquently (and if they can't, maybe we should hear that too). On the other hand, imagine the potential for conspiratorial anti-Semitic mischief if the war goes badly and sub-rosa Web-fed resentment focuses blame on the unpublicized Likudnik factor.

P.S.: Kinsley, in his extensive "to be sure" paragraph, says that "[the] president's advisors, Jewish and non-Jewish, sincerely believe that the interests of America and Israel coincide. What's more, they are right about that, though they may be wrong about where that shared interest lies." [Emphasis added] But that's a little too neat, isn't it? Sure, ultimately the interests of America and Israel – in a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Middle East – coincide. And, sure, the main argument is about where this shared interest lies.  But in the short to medium run it's entirely possible that two countries national interests will diverge a bit. To pick the most obvious example, even a quick, victorious war with Iraq carries a huge risk to the U.S. of inciting terror strikes by enraged Islamic fundamentalists on the American mainland. Yet it's hard to see how enraged Islamic fundamentalists could inflict any more barbarous terror on Israel than they're already trying to inflict. So the marginal downside of a war for Israel (once the immediate threat of Saddam's Scuds and other weapons is removed) could be a lot smaller than the downside to the U.S..

In other respects, the risks to Israel may be greater than the risks to America. But the point is that the interests, even of two such close allies, can and almost certainly do diverge. ... 1:08 A.M.

Correction: Today's entries were written by a Microsoft contractor blogging on condition of anonymity, not by "Mickey Kaus." ... P.S.: Wasn't that NYT correction  saying that the author of a quote was "not Condoleezza Rice" a ... well, a lie. As Today's Papers suggests, it's pretty obvious it was Condoleeza Rice, isn't it? Maybe that was the Times' little joke -- to serve her right for complaining. But it's still a lie. ... Why not do what WaPo once did to one of her predecessors, and run her picture over the caption "an administration official"? ... 12:22 A.M.

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