[eDebate] levy/haaretz: "ending the neoconservative nightmare"
Wed Aug 9 10:44:52 CDT 2006
watershed israeli op-ed:
Ending the Neoconservative Nightmare
By Daniel Levy
Tuesday 08 August 2006
Witnessing the near-perfect symmetry of Israeli and American policy has
been one of the more noteworthy aspects of the latest Lebanon war. A true
friend in the White House. No deescalate and stabilize, honest-broker,
diplomatic jaw-jaw from this president. Great. Except that Israel was
actually in need of an early exit strategy, had its diplomatic options
narrowed by American weakness and marginalization in the region, and found
itself ratcheting up aerial and ground operations in ways that largely
worked to Hezbollah's advantage, the Qana tragedy included. The American
ladder had gone AWOL.
More worrying, while everyone here can identify an Israeli interest in
securing the northern border and the justification in responding to
Hezbollah, the goal of saving Lebanon's fragile Cedar Revolution sounds less
distinctly Israeli. Perhaps an agenda invented elsewhere. As hostilities
intensified, the phrase "proxy war" gained resonance.
Israelis have grown used to a different kind of American embrace - less
instrumental, more emotional, but also responsible. A dependable friend,
ready to lend a guiding hand back to the path of stabilization when
After this crisis will Israel belatedly wake up to the implications of
the tectonic shift that has taken place in U.S.-Middle East policy?
In 1996 a group of then opposition U.S. policy agitators, including
Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, presented a paper entitled "A Clean Break:
A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" to incoming Israeli prime minister
Benjamin Netanyahu. The "clean break" was from the prevailing peace process,
advocating that Israel pursue a combination of roll-back, destabilization
and containment in the region, including striking at Syria and removing
Saddam Hussein from power in favor of "Hashemite control in Iraq." The
Israeli horse they backed then was not up to the task.
Ten years later, as Netanyahu languishes in the opposition, as head of a
small Likud faction, Perle, Feith and their neoconservative friends have
justifiably earned a reputation as awesome wielders of foreign-policy
influence under George W. Bush.
The key neocon protagonists, their think tanks and publications may be
unfamiliar to many Israelis, but they are redefining the region we live in.
This tight-knit group of "defense intellectuals" - centered around Bill
Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Elliott Abrams, Perle, Feith and others - were
considered somewhat off-beat until they teamed up with hawkish
well-connected Republicans like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Newt
Gingrich, and with the emerging powerhouse of the Christian right. Their
agenda was an aggressive unilateralist U.S. global supremacy, a radical
vision of transformative regime-change democratization, with a fixation on
the Middle East, an obsession with Iraq and an affinity to "old Likud"
politics in Israel. Their extended moment in the sun arrived after 9/11.
Finding themselves somewhat bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, the
neoconservatives are reveling in the latest crisis, displaying their
customary hubris in re-seizing the initiative. The U.S. press and
blogosphere is awash with neocon-inspired calls for indefinite shooting, no
talking and extension of hostilities to Syria and Iran, with Gingrich
calling this a third world war to "defend civilization."
Disentangling Israeli interests from the rubble of neocon "creative
destruction" in the Middle East has become an urgent challenge for Israeli
policy-makers. An America that seeks to reshape the region through an
unsophisticated mixture of bombs and ballots, devoid of local contextual
understanding, alliance-building or redressing of grievances, ultimately
undermines both itself and Israel. The sight this week of Secretary of State
Rice homeward bound, unable to touch down in any Arab capital, should have a
sobering effect in Washington and Jerusalem.
Afghanistan is yet to be secured, Iraq is an exporter of instability and
perhaps terror, too, Iranian hard-liners have been strengthened and
encouraged, while the public throughout the region is ever-more radicalized,
and in the yet-to-be "transformed" regimes of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi
Arabia, is certainly more hostile to Israel and America than its leaders.
Neither listening nor talking to important, if problematic, actors in the
region has only impoverished policy-making capacity.
Israel does have enemies, interests and security imperatives, but there
is no logic in the country volunteering itself for the frontline of an
ideologically misguided and avoidable war of civilizations.
So what should be done, on both sides of the ocean?
It is admittedly difficult for Israel to have a regional strategy that
is out-of-step with the U.S. administration-of-the-day. However, the neocon
approach is not unchallenged, and Israel should not be providing its ticket
back to the ascendancy. A U.S. return to proactive diplomacy, realism and
multilateralism, with sustained and hard engagement that delivers concrete
progress, would best serve its own, Israeli and regional interests. Israel
should encourage this. Israel may even have to lead, for instance, in
rethinking policy on Hamas or Syria, and should certainly work intensely
with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in encouraging his efforts
to reach a Palestinian national understanding as a basis for stable
governance, security quiet and future peace negotiations. A policy that
comes with a Jerusalem kosher stamp of approval might be viewed as less of
an abomination in Washington.
Beyond that, Israel and its friends in the United States should
seriously reconsider their alliances not only with the neocons, but also
with the Christian Right. The largest "pro-Israel" lobby day during this
crisis was mobilized by Pastor John Hagee and his Christians United For
Israel, a believer in Armageddon with all its implications for a rather
particular end to the Jewish story. This is just asking to become the mother
of all dumb, self-defeating and morally abhorrent alliances.
Internationalist Republicans, Democrats and mainstream Israelis must
construct an alternative narrative to the neocon nightmare, identifying
shared interests in a policy that reestablishes American leadership, respect
and credibility in the region by facilitating security and stability,
pursuing conflict resolution and promoting the conditions for more open
societies (as opposed to narrow election-worship). The last two years of the
Bush presidency can be an opportunity for progress or an exercise in
desperate damage limitation. It sounds counter-intuitive, but Israel should
reflect on and even help reorient American expectations.
Daniel Levy was a member of the official Israeli negotiating team at the
Oslo and Taba talks and the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative.
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