Freeman and the Coming War on Iran

Bob Dreyfuss has a postmortem on the scuttling by the Israel lobbies of the Chas Freeman appointment to the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council. Dreyfuss shows that well-known figures in the Israel lobbies openly led the charge against Freeman, crowed at how they had succeeded, and then simultaneously denied their own existence. He argues that the lobbies were forced out into the open, which is bad for them, since lobbies thrive in obscurity. And he foresees their problems in shaping the Obama administration’s policies toward Israel, as well as great difficulties in putting lipstick on the pig of the forthcoming Netanyahu-Lieberman government, which consists of soft fascists and outright racists.

Dreyfuss is a long-time observer of the Neoconservatives and of the less savory activities of the Israel lobbies, but he is likely wrong.

The Israel lobbies and the Neoconservative element among them in particular want the US to do to Iran what it did to Iraq, i.e. attack it, put it to the flames, and break its legs for decades to come.

The National Intelligence Estimates of the 16 US intelligence agencies on Iran of 2005 and 2007 were greeted with howls of outrage by the Israel lobbies. The first concluded that Iran was at least a decade from having the technical capacity to create a nuclear weapon, even if the international community let it freely import all the equipment it would need for that endeavor. The second concluded that there is no good evidence Iran even has a nuclear weapons program at all, or has done any weapons-related experiments since early 2003. (That is, the likelihood is that Tehran was afraid of Saddam’s (non-existent) program, which the US had hyped, and gave up the experiments when they saw that he was about to be overthrown).

Freeman would have been in charge of editing future National Intelligence Estimates. As Andrew Sullivan rightly hinted, the Israel lobbies did not want someone there so unsympathetic to their conviction that Iran is an imminent and existential threat to Israel, and so unlikely to report out conclusions that would underpin a US war on Iran, or US permission to Israel to strike Iran. The NIC chairman’s tenure can last for a decade, and the Israel lobbies’ best hope for a war on Iran would come if the Republicans regained the presidency and at least the Senate in 2012. They would want cooked-up NIEs ready to go, as the deeply flawed 2002 Iraq NIE supported that war.

As for the idea that the Israel lobbies have been weakened by the affair, that does not follow. They have been operating in the open for decades. They torpedoed George Ball for secretary of state way back in the Carter administration, and everyone knew it then and knows it now. AIPAC set up the Washington Institute for Near East Policy explicitly to offset the then perceived even-handedness toward Israel of Brookings, and WINEP directors went on to hold highly influential and even decisive positions in the Clinton and W. Bush administrations. WINEP head Dennis Ross has a position in the Obama administration related to Iran policy, even though the WINEP web page hosted articles urging the bombing of Iran. These appointments are not made despite the WINEP connection, but because of it.

The strength of these lobbies comes from their passionate commitment to their cause, from excellent organizing skills, and from their ability to unify around it across religious and ideological boundaries, and above all from ability to leverage support serially on issues from likely allies. Thus, the leadership can arrange for millions of protest emails to be sent by evangelical Christians as well as by Jewish congregations. The New Republic takes the same side as Commentary. They succeed even though their most passionate projects are not supported, and are even opposed, by probably a majority of the American Jewish community. I doubt much hangs on money per se; real lobbying is often a relatively inexpensive affair. But behind-the-scenes concurrence of big players like the military-industrial complex on the desirability for a war is crucial if you are a lobby trying to get up a war for other reasons. They are very good at getting their way, and can think and plan carefully a good decade out, and have virtually no effective opposition, which is the real secret of their strength. Did Obama get even 5,000 emails complaining that he did not stand by Freeman? And that would be a tiny number compared to what Freeman’s opponents can muster.

Since it is obvious that the Israel lobbies are working toward a war on Iran, and since I believe that a US or Israeli war on Iran would have extremely damaging effects on the US and on Israel, I am very worried about these lobbies’ efficacy and proven track record in accomplishing their goals.

Gen. Jones should seek someone as level-headed on these issues as Freeman who has not expressed himself so publicly.

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