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The Transparent Cabal:

The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel

by Stephen J. Sniegoski,

a Book Review

By Thomas R. Mattair

mepc, April 14, 2009

The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel, by Stephen J. Sniegoski. Light in the Darkness Publications,2008. 440 pages, including notes and index. $24.95, hardcover.

Thomas R. Mattair, author of global Security Watch Iran: A Reference Handbook (Praeger Security International, 2008)

In this well-written, well-organized book, Stephen J. Sniegoski makes some compelling arguments about neoconservatives: (1) they were the driving force behind the Bush administrations war in Iraq, (2) their motivation was based on their belief that American interests in the Middle East are virtually identical with the Israeli Likud partys beliefs about Israeli interests in the region, and (3) these mutual interests lie in destabilizing Israels adversaries and reconfi guring the environment rather than in the traditional American policy of stabilizing the Middle East. Others have plowed this same ground, but Sniegoski has marshaled a prodigious amount of evidence and added some new elements. He notes that these arguments have often elicited charges of anti-Semitism, particularly from neoconservatives themselves.

He points out, however, that they sometimes acknowledge being a largely Jewish group, and he dismisses the charge of anti-Semitism by noting that many Jewish Americans have made his basic arguments.

The author provides a good defi nition of neoconservatives: primarily Jewish individuals who began as liberals and leftists but migrated to the right in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They began to see McGovern and Carter Democrats and the Nixon and Ford Republicans as insufficiently devoted to anti-communism, military strength, interventionism and Israel and gravitated first to Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA) and then to the Reagan Republicans. Again, Sniegoski is careful to cite Jewish authors who have offered the same definition. Moreover, he identifies the leading neoconservatives along with their intellectual inspirations, family and institutional connections, financial patrons, media outlets, Christian Right supporters, ad hoc groups, liberal and conservative pro-Zionist Jewish allies, and ties to Israel.

Sniegoski argues that, while the neoconservatives were the driving force for the war with Iraq in 2003, the basic idea of offensive war to weaken Israels neighbors, induce regime change and reconfi gure the region has been an element of Zionist thinking since Vladimir Jabotinsky in the 1920s. It was part of Ben-Gurions thinking in the 1950s and has been ascendant among Likud leaders since their electoral victory in 1977. His claim that by reconfiguration Likudniks have meant destabilizing and fragmenting the region into a mosaic of weak ethnic and sectarian entities draws heavily perhaps too heavily on a 1982 article by Oded Yinon, who argued that the ongoing Iran-Iraq War would result in an ethno-sectarian division of Iraq, and also on a 1982 article in which Yoram Peri warned against this. After the unhappy consequences of Israels invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Sniegoski argues, Likud drew an important lesson: Such a war must not alienate Israeli public opinion and must be supported by the United States. Therefore, U.S. support for a stable Middle East, an uninterrupted flow of oil, and Arab-Israeli compromises for peace had to be changed.

The author effectively shows the similarity of Israeli Likudnik and neoconservative thinking during the past two decades. The Reagan administration supported Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War as a bulwark against the revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran. This concerned Israel, which viewed Iraq as a major adversary and thought even post-revolutionary Iran could be a potential ally. Israel and neoconservatives, particularly Michael Ledeen, promoted U.S. arms sales to Iran in 1985-86 as part of an ultimately unsuccessful effort at rapprochement. Sniegoski also recounts Israeli Likudnik and neoconservative concern when George H.W. Bushs administration continued to support Iraq for two years after the end of this war in 1988. This administrations effort to tie U.S. housing-loan guarantees for Soviet Jewish immigrants in Israel to a halt to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was also a sore point. In fact, Israeli Labor party leaders and a wide range of Jewish Americans also shared these views. Sniegoski then asserts that Israel and the neoconservatives sought not only the overthrow of Saddam Husseins regime but also the destabilization and ethno-sectarian fragmentation of Iraq as their favored outcome of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. He provides no evidence to support this, however. He does show that, when Israeli leaders again including Labor leaders saw that Iraq was contained and shifted their concerns to an Iranian threat, neoconservatives like Ledeen, who had argued for rapprochement with Tehran, quickly shifted to emphasizing an Iranian threat.

Sniegoski also does an excellent job of documenting the important role neoconservatives played during the George W. Bush administration. They insisted that Iraq was a greater terrorist threat than al-Qaeda and were developing military plans for overthrowing Saddam Husseins regime in the earliest months of 2001. He also stresses the role they played after 9/11 in arguing that Iraq should be an initial target and later that Iraq, Iran and Syria should become targets soon after the first stage of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan was complete. They also argued that Israeli military actions against Arafats Palestinian Authority should not be criticized. Other questionable actions of the neocons are recounted:
producing erroneous intelligence to support the war against Iraq
opposing cooperation with Iran and Syria after 9/11, including the grand bargain
claiming that the United States faced a monolithic Middle Eastern terrorist threat, not because of U.S. policies but because of the very existence and values of the United States, and that the terrorist threat to Israel was part of this threat and should be jointly confronted
advocating democracy promotion to combat tyranny (not all neoconservatives agreed with this)
wanting to widen Israels summer 2006 war with Hezbollah into Israeli and/or U.S. military action against Syria and Iran
opposing the December 2006 Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group recommendations to include Iran and Syria in regional efforts to stabilize Iraq
opposing the gradual withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq
proposing and supporting Bushs surge of additional forces to Iraq in 2007
criticizing the December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate conclusion that Iran had suspended a nuclear-weapons program in 2003
calling continually for war against Iran and Syria.
Sniegoski also shows that, with a few possible exceptions, the positions and actions of the neoconservatives were in synch with Israel under Likud leader Ariel Sharon and Kadima leader Ehud Olmert. Israel may have initially thought that war against Iraq would be a mistake, in that Iraq was necessary to balance Iran, and that Iran should be the U.S. target after Afghanistan. However, Israel did support war against Iraq before Iran and Syria when it learned that this was the commitment of the Bush administration. It also advocated most of the rest of the neoconservative program for expanding the global war on terror
through military action to bring about regime change in Iran and Syria.

One of the most interesting elements of this story, which has been told before, is that a small group of neoconservatives and Israelis, including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser and Meyrav Wurmser, recommended to Benjamin Netanyahus Likud government in 1996 that Israel engage in preemptive military action to overthrow Saddam Husseins regime as a first step in creating a more favorable regional environment for Israel, and that they explained how Israel could obtain U.S. support. This small group recommended the establishment of a Hashemite monarchy in Iraq, aligned with Hashemite Jordan. They also advised Netanyahu to weaken, contain and roll back Syria, particularly to break its influence in Lebanon. According to Sniegoski, Wurmser explained in subsequent writings that he envisioned a Hashemite Iraq with a weak central government and maximum autonomy for tribal, ethnic and sectarian communities. Wurmser also clarified that he sought regime change in Syria for the same purpose. This tends to support the authors argument that fragmentation of neighboring states has been an Israeli and neoconservative objective. This goes beyond what one fi nds in Mearsheimer and Walts The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Sniegoski also mentions some Israeli and American support for ethnic opposition forces in Iran and provides evidence of individual neoconservatives who proposed detaching Saudi Arabias oil rich Eastern province. It is also clear that Netanyahu and others oppose returning the Golan to Syria, which means that Syria is already fragmented. However, much more evidence about a wider range of leading Israelis and neoconservatives, particularly inside the Bush II administration, would have been needed to make the case.

It might be difficult to provide suffi cient evidence that neoconservatives or Israeli Likudniks seek fragmented, powerless states surrounding Israel as a desired outcome except for the fact that they are carrying out such a plan in the West Bank, which Likudniks and neoconservatives want to divide into non-contiguous enclaves. On the other hand, deductive reasoning would suggest that military action to overthrow an authoritarian government ruling over diverse ethnic and sectarian communities might very well lead to fragmentation. It would have helped, however, if Sniegoski had examined the positions of these individuals in 2002-03 on what Iraq might look like after Saddam. Did they foresee a weak central government and provinces with very extensive autonomy? It would also have helped if the author had examined their positions on Iran after regime change. Did they expect successful movements of ethnic separatism or autonomy? Which ones were seeking a fragmentation of Lebanon as a result of the summer 2006 war?

Sniegoski argues that neoconservative claims about threats from Iraq and the possibilities for a flowering of democracy in the region have been deliberate deceptions to mobilize public support. It is likely that some individuals found democracy promotion to be a convenient idea; others may have merely been engaging in wishful thinking or underestimating the challenges. The neocons clearly did not accept the result of the Palestinian election in 2006. The recent election in Iraq seems promising, but the situation remains fragile.

Aside from whether Sniegoski proves his thesis about fragmentation, however, this is a very good book that will make readers think about the price the United States has paid for accepting and acting on the neoconservative agenda.

Middle East Policy; Spring 2009, Vol. 16 Issue 1, p146-162, 17p




Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent