Coming Soon: "Total War" On the Middle East
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Almost thirty years ago, a prominent group of neoconservative hawks found an effective vehicle for advocating their views via the Committee on the Present Danger, a group that fervently believed the United States was a hair away from being militarily surpassed by the Soviet Union, and whose raison d'être was strident advocacy of bigger military budgets, near-fanatical opposition to any form of arms control and zealous championing of a Likudnik Israel. Considered a marginal group in its nascent days during the Carter Administration, with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 CPD went from the margins to the center of power.
Just as the right-wing defense intellectuals made CPD a cornerstone of a shadow defense establishment during the Carter Administration, so, too, did the right during the Clinton years, in part through two organizations: the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Center for Security Policy (CSP). And just as was the case two decades ago, dozens of their members have ascended to powerful government posts, where their advocacy in support of the same agenda continues, abetted by the out-of-government adjuncts from which they came. Industrious and persistent, they've managed to weave a number of issues -- support for national missile defense, opposition to arms control treaties, championing of wasteful weapons systems, arms aid to Turkey and American unilateralism in general -- into a hard line, with support for the Israeli right at its core.
On no issue is the JINSA/CSP hard line more evident than in its relentless campaign for war -- not just with Iraq, but "total war," as Michael Ledeen, one of the most influential JINSAns in Washington, put it last year. For this crew, "regime change" by any means necessary in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority is an urgent imperative. Anyone who dissents -- be it Colin Powell's State Department, the CIA or career military officers -- is committing heresy against articles of faith that effectively hold there is no difference between US and Israeli national security interests, and that the only way to assure continued safety and prosperity for both countries is through hegemony in the Middle East -- a hegemony achieved with the traditional cold war recipe of feints, force, clientism and covert action.
For example, the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board -- chaired by JINSA/CSP adviser and former Reagan Administration Defense Department official Richard Perle, and stacked with advisers from both groups -- recently made news by listening to a briefing that cast Saudi Arabia as an enemy to be brought to heel through a number of potential mechanisms, many of which mirror JINSA's recommendations, and which reflect the JINSA/CSP crowd's preoccupation with Egypt. (The final slide of the Defense Policy Board presentation proposed that "Grand Strategy for the Middle East" should concentrate on "Iraq as the tactical pivot, Saudi Arabia as the strategic pivot [and] Egypt as the prize.") Ledeen has been leading the charge for regime change in Iran, while old comrades like Andrew Marshall and Harold Rhode in the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment actively tinker with ways to re-engineer both the Iranian and Saudi governments. JINSA is also cheering the US military on as it tries to secure basing rights in the strategic Red Sea country of Eritrea, happily failing to mention that the once-promising secular regime of President Isaiais Afewerki continues to slide into the kind of repressive authoritarianism practiced by the "axis of evil" and its adjuncts.
Indeed, there are some in military and intelligence circles who have taken to using "axis of evil" in reference to JINSA and CSP, along with venerable repositories of hawkish thinking like the American Enterprise Institute and the Hudson Institute, as well as defense contractors, conservative foundations and public relations entities underwritten by far-right American Zionists (all of which help to underwrite JINSA and CSP). It's a milieu where ideology and money seamlessly blend: "Whenever you see someone identified in print or on TV as being with the Center for Security Policy or JINSA championing a position on the grounds of ideology or principle -- which they are unquestionably doing with conviction -- you are, nonetheless, not informed that they're also providing a sort of cover for other ideologues who just happen to stand to profit from hewing to the Likudnik and Pax Americana lines," says a veteran intelligence officer. He notes that while the United States has begun a phaseout of civilian aid to Israel that will end by 2007, government policy is to increase military aid by half the amount of civilian aid that's cut each year -- which is not only a boon to both the US and Israeli weapons industries but is also crucial to realizing the far right's vision for missile defense and the Middle East.
Founded in 1976 by neoconservatives concerned that the United States might not be able to provide Israel with adequate military supplies in the event of another Arab-Israeli war, over the past twenty-five years JINSA has gone from a loose-knit proto-group to a $1.4-million-a-year operation with a formidable array of Washington power players on its rolls. Until the beginning of the current Bush Administration, JINSA's board of advisers included such heavy hitters as Dick Cheney, John Bolton (now Under Secretary of State for Arms Control) and Douglas Feith, the third-highest-ranking executive in the Pentagon. Both Perle and former Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey, two of the loudest voices in the attack-Iraq chorus, are still on the board, as are such Reagan-era relics as Jeane Kirkpatrick, Eugene Rostow and Ledeen -- Oliver North's Iran/ contra liaison with the Israelis.
According to its website, JINSA exists to "educate the American public about the importance of an effective US defense capability so that our vital interests as Americans can be safeguarded" and to "inform the American defense and foreign affairs community about the important role Israel can and does play in bolstering democratic interests in the Mediterranean and the Middle East." In practice, this translates into its members producing a steady stream of op-eds and reports that have been good indicators of what the Pentagon's civilian leadership is thinking.
JINSA relishes denouncing virtually any type of contact between the US government and Syria and finding new ways to demonize the Palestinians. To give but one example (and one that kills two birds with one stone): According to JINSA, not only is Yasir Arafat in control of all violence in the occupied territories, but he orchestrates the violence solely "to protect Saddam.... Saddam is at the moment Arafat's only real financial supporter.... [Arafat] has no incentive to stop the violence against Israel and allow the West to turn its attention to his mentor and paymaster." And if there's a way to advance other aspects of the far-right agenda by intertwining them with Israeli interests, JINSA doesn't hesitate there, either. A recent report contends that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge must be tapped because "the Arab oil-producing states" are countries "with interests inimical to ours," but Israel "stand[s] with us when we need [Israel]," and a US policy of tapping oil under ANWR will "limit [the Arabs'] ability to do damage to either of us."
The bulk of JINSA's modest annual budget is spent on taking a bevy of retired US generals and admirals to Israel, where JINSA facilitates meetings between Israeli officials and the still-influential US flag officers, who, upon their return to the States, happily write op-eds and sign letters and advertisements championing the Likudnik line. (Sowing seeds for the future, JINSA also takes US service academy cadets to Israel each summer and sponsors a lecture series at the Army, Navy and Air Force academies.) In one such statement, issued soon after the outbreak of the latest intifada, twenty-six JINSAns of retired flag rank, including many from the advisory board, struck a moralizing tone, characterizing Palestinian violence as a "perversion of military ethics" and holding that "America's role as facilitator in this process should never yield to America's responsibility as a friend to Israel," as "friends don't leave friends on the battlefield."
However high-minded this might sound, the postservice associations of the letter's signatories -- which are almost always left off the organization's website and communiqués -- ought to require that the phrase be amended to say "friends don't leave friends on the battlefield, especially when there's business to be done and bucks to be made." Almost every retired officer who sits on JINSA's board of advisers or has participated in its Israel trips or signed a JINSA letter works or has worked with military contractors who do business with the Pentagon and Israel. While some keep a low profile as self-employed "consultants" and avoid mention of their clients, others are less shy about their associations, including with the private mercenary firm Military Professional Resources International, weapons broker and military consultancy Cypress International and SY Technology, whose main clients include the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, which oversees several ongoing joint projects with Israel.
The behemoths of military contracting are also well represented in JINSA's ranks. For example, JINSA advisory board members Adm. Leon Edney, Adm. David Jeremiah and Lieut. Gen. Charles May, all retired, have served Northrop Grumman or its subsidiaries as either consultants or board members. Northrop Grumman has built ships for the Israeli Navy and sold F-16 avionics and E-2C Hawkeye planes to the Israeli Air Force (as well as the Longbow radar system to the Israeli army for use in its attack helicopters). It also works with Tamam, a subsidiary of Israeli Aircraft Industries, to produce an unmanned aerial vehicle. Lockheed Martin has sold more than $2 billion worth of F-16s to Israel since 1999, as well as flight simulators, multiple-launch rocket systems and Seahawk heavyweight torpedoes. At one time or another, General May, retired Lieut. Gen. Paul Cerjan and retired Adm. Carlisle Trost have labored in LockMart's vineyards. Trost has also sat on the board of General Dynamics, whose Gulfstream subsidiary has a $206 million contract to supply planes to Israel to be used for "special electronics missions."
By far the most profitably diversified of the JINSAns is retired Adm. David Jeremiah. President and partner of Technology Strategies & Alliances Corporation (described as a "strategic advisory firm and investment banking firm engaged primarily in the aerospace, defense, telecommunications and electronics industries"), Jeremiah also sits on the boards of Northrop Grumman's Litton subsidiary and of defense giant Alliant Techsystems, which -- in partnership with Israel's TAAS -- does a brisk business in rubber bullets. And he has a seat on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, chaired by Perle.
About the only major defense contractor without a presence on JINSA's advisory board is Boeing, which has had a relationship with Israeli Aircraft Industries for thirty years. (Boeing also sells F-15s to Israel and, in partnership with Lockheed Martin, Apache attack helicopters, a ubiquitous weapon in the occupied territories.) But take a look at JINSA's kindred spirit in things pro-Likud and pro-Star Wars, the Center for Security Policy, and there on its national security advisory council are Stanley Ebner, a former Boeing executive; Andrew Ellis, vice president for government relations; and Carl Smith, a former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee who, as a lawyer in private practice, has counted Boeing among his clients. "JINSA and CSP," says a veteran Pentagon analyst, "may as well be one and the same."
Not a hard sell: There's always been considerable overlap beween the JINSA and CSP rosters -- JINSA advisers Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard Perle and Phyllis Kaminsky also serve on CSP's advisory council; current JINSA advisory board chairman David Steinmann sits on CSP's board of directors; and before returning to the Pentagon Douglas Feith served as the board's chair. At this writing, twenty-two CSP advisers -- including additional Reagan-era remnants like Elliott Abrams, Ken deGraffenreid, Paula Dobriansky, Sven Kraemer, Robert Joseph, Robert Andrews and J.D. Crouch -- have reoccupied key positions in the national security establishment, as have other true believers of more recent vintage.
While CSP boasts an impressive advisory list of hawkish luminaries, its star is Frank Gaffney, its founder, president and CEO. A protégé of Perle going back to their days as staffers for the late Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson (aka the Senator from Boeing, and the Senate's most zealous champion of Israel in his day), Gaffney later joined Perle at the Pentagon, only to be shown the door by Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci in 1987, not long after Perle left. Gaffney then reconstituted the latest incarnation of the Committee on the Present Danger. Beyond compiling an A-list of influential conservative hawks, Gaffney has been prolific over the past fifteen years, churning out a constant stream of reports (as well as regular columns for the Washington Times) making the case that the gravest threats to US national security are China, Iraq, still-undeveloped ballistic missiles launched by rogue states, and the passage of or adherence to virtually any form of arms control treaty.
Gaffney and CSP's prescriptions for national security have been fairly simple: Gut all arms control treaties, push ahead with weapons systems virtually everyone agrees should be killed (such as the V-22 Osprey), give no quarter to the Palestinians and, most important, go full steam ahead on just about every national missile defense program. (CSP was heavily represented on the late-1990s Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, which was instrumental in keeping the program alive during the Clinton years.)
Looking at the center's affiliates, it's not hard to see why: Not only are makers of the Osprey (Boeing) well represented on the CSP's board of advisers but so too is Lockheed Martin (by vice president for space and strategic missiles Charles Kupperman and director of defense systems Douglas Graham). Former TRW executive Amoretta Hoeber is also a CSP adviser, as is former Congressman and Raytheon lobbyist Robert Livingston. Ball Aerospace & Technologies -- a major manufacturer of NASA and Pentagon satellites -- is represented by former Navy Secretary John Lehman, while missile-defense computer systems maker Hewlett-Packard is represented by George Keyworth, who is on its board of directors. And the Congressional Missile Defense Caucus and Osprey (or "tilt rotor") caucus are represented by Representative Curt Weldon and Senator Jon Kyl.
CSP was instrumental in developing the arguments against the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Largely ignored or derided at the time, a 1995 CSP memo co-written by Douglas Feith holding that the United States should withdraw from the ABM treaty has essentially become policy, as have other CSP reports opposing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the International Criminal Court. But perhaps the most insightful window on the JINSA/CSP policy worldview comes in the form of a paper Perle and Feith collaborated on in 1996 with six others under the auspices of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies. Essentially an advice letter to ascendant Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" makes for insightful reading as a kind of US-Israeli neoconservative manifesto.
The paper's first prescription was for an Israeli rightward economic shift, with tax cuts and a selloff of public lands and enterprises -- moves that would also engender support from a "broad bipartisan spectrum of key pro-Israeli Congressional leaders." But beyond economics, the paper essentially reads like a blueprint for a mini-cold war in the Middle East, advocating the use of proxy armies for regime changes, destabilization and containment. Indeed, it even goes so far as to articulate a way to advance right-wing Zionism by melding it with missile-defense advocacy. "Mr. Netanyahu can highlight his desire to cooperate more closely with the United States on anti-missile defense in order to remove the threat of blackmail which even a weak and distant army can pose to either state," it reads. "Not only would such cooperation on missile defense counter a tangible physical threat to Israel's survival, but it would broaden Israel's base of support among many in the United States Congress who may know little about Israel, but care very much about missile defense" -- something that has the added benefit of being "helpful in the effort to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem."
Recent months in Washington have shown just how influential the notions propagated by JINSA and CSP are -- and how disturbingly zealous their advocates are. In early March Feith vainly attempted to get the CIA to keep former intelligence officers Milt Bearden and Frank Anderson from accepting an invitation to an Afghanistan-related meeting with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld at the Pentagon -- not because of what the two might say about Afghanistan, according to sources familiar with the incident, but likely out of fear that Anderson, a veteran Arabist and former chief of the CIA's Near East division, would proffer his views on Iraq (opposed to invading) and Israel-Palestine (a fan of neither Arafat nor Sharon). In late June, after United Press International reported on a US Muslim civil liberties group's lambasting of Gaffney for his attacks on the American Muslim Council, Gaffney, according to a fellow traveler, "went berserk," launching a stream of invective about the UPI scribe who reported the item.
It's incidents like this, say knowledgeable observers and participants, that highlight an interesting dynamic among right-wing hawks at the moment. Though the general agenda put forth by JINSA and CSP continues to be reflected in councils of war, even some of the hawks (including Rumsfeld deputy Paul Wolfowitz) are growing increasingly leery of Israel's settlements policy and Gaffney's relentless support for it. Indeed, his personal stock in Bush Administration circles is low. "Gaffney has worn out his welcome by being an overbearing gadfly rather than a serious contributor to policy," says a senior Pentagon political official. Since earlier this year, White House political adviser Karl Rove has been casting about for someone to start a new, more mainstream defense group that would counter the influence of CSP. According to those who have communicated with Rove on the matter, his quiet efforts are in response to complaints from many conservative activists who feel let down by Gaffney, or feel he's too hard on President Bush. "A lot of us have taken [Gaffney] at face value over the years," one influential conservative says. "Yet we now know he's pushed for some of the most flawed missile defense and conventional systems. He considered Cuba a 'classic asymmetric threat' but not Al Qaeda. And since 9/11, he's been less concerned with the threat to America than to Israel."
Gaffney's operation has always been a small one, about $1 million annually -- funded largely by a series of grants from the conservative Olin, Bradley and various Scaife foundations, as well as some defense contractor money -- but he's recently been able to underwrite a TV and print ad campaign holding that the Palestinians should be Enemy Number One in the War on Terror, still obsessed with the destruction of Israel. It's here that one sees the influence not of defense contractor money but of far-right Zionist dollars, including some from Irving Moskowitz, the California bingo magnate. A donor to both CSP and JINSA (as well as a JINSA director), Moskowitz not only sends millions of dollars a year to far-right Israeli settler groups like Ateret Cohanim but he has also funded the construction of settlements, having bought land for development in key Arab areas around Jerusalem. Moskowitz ponied up the money that enabled the 1996 reopening of a tunnel under the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, which resulted in seventy deaths due to rioting.
Also financing Gaffney's efforts is New York investment banker Lawrence Kadish. A valued and valuable patron of both the Republican National Committee and George W. Bush, Kadish helps underwrite CSP as well as Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, an offshoot of conservative activist William Bennett's Empower America, on which he and Gaffney serve as "senior advisers" in the service of identifying "external" and "internal" post-9/11 threats to America. (The "internal" threats, as articulated by AVOT, include former President Jimmy Carter, Harper's editor Lewis Lapham and Representative Maxine Waters.) Another of Gaffney's backers is Poju Zabludowicz, heir to a formidable diversified international empire that includes arms manufacturer Soltam -- which once employed Perle -- and benefactor of the recently established Britain Israel Communication and Research Centre, a London-based group that appears to equate reportage or commentary uncomplimentary to Zionism with anti-Semitism.
While a small but growing number of conservatives are voicing concerns about various aspects of foreign and defense policy -- ranging from fear of overreach to lack of Congressional debate -- the hawks seem to be ruling the roost. Beginning in October, hard-line American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin (to Rubin, outgoing UN human rights chief Mary Robinson is an abettor of terrorism) arrives at the Pentagon to take over the Defense Department's Iran-Iraq account, adding another voice to the Pentagon section of Ledeen's "total war" chorus. Colin Powell's State Department continues to take a beating from outside and inside -- including Bolton and his special assistant David Wurmser. (An AEI scholar and far-right Zionist who's married to Meyrav Wurmser of the Middle East Media Research Institute -- recently the subject of a critical investigation by London Guardian Middle East editor Brian Whitaker -- Wurmser played a key role in crafting the "Arafat must go" policy that many career specialists see as a problematic sop to Ariel Sharon.)
As for Rumsfeld, based on comments made at a Pentagon "town hall" meeting on August 6, there seems to be little doubt as to whose comments are resonating most with him -- and not just on missile defense and overseas adventures: After fielding a question about Israeli-Palestinian issues, he repeatedly referred to the "so-called occupied territories" and casually characterized the Israeli policy of building Jewish-only enclaves on Palestinian land as "mak[ing] some settlement in various parts of the so-called occupied area," with which Israel can do whatever it wants, as it has "won" all its wars with various Arab entities -- essentially an echo of JINSA's stated position that "there is no Israeli occupation." Ominously, Rumsfeld's riff gave a ranking Administration official something of a chill: "I realized at that point," he said, "that on settlements -- where there are cleavages on the right -- Wolfowitz may be to the left of Rumsfeld."
Jason Vest is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and a contributing editor to The Village Voice and In These Times.