The Great Turnaround


Many Jewish organisations supported the decision to invade Iraq in the misguided belief that a regional enemy of Israel would be obliterated. A number of Zionist groups still back the occupation, and are now advocating military action against Iran.

However, last week the New York Jewish newspaper Forward featured an intriguing article by Yossi Alpher, a former senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Alpher states that Ariel Sharon was in fact against the Iraq war:

Publicly, Sharon played the silent ally; he neither criticised nor supported the Iraq adventure. One reason for his relative silence was Washington’s explicit request that Israel refrain from openly backing its invasion of an Arab country or in any way intervening, lest its blessing damn the United States in Arab eyes.


The article attempts to neuter a growing fear among many members of the US Jewish community that critics of the war may start blaming Jews for the Iraq debacle, because so many of its leadership boldly advocated the invasion. Alpher dishonestly tries to whitewash the political and financial pressure exerted by the Zionist lobby on the Bush Administration before 2003, including his own cheerleading for the invasion.

Prominent New York Jew Phil Weiss damns Alpher for his intellectual trickery and his attempts to change the historical record. Weiss writes:

I’ve said before that the war represents a crisis for Jewish identity: it reveals the degree to which Jewish identity is now built upon the demonisation of Arabs, hundreds of thousands of whom are now dying and fleeing and suffering in incomprehensible ways in part because of crazy ideas hatched in thinktanks. The Forward is responding with cowardice to an intellectual chore: What was the Jewish role in this mess? Progressive Jews have a part to play in this soul-searching.

When I met Alpher at his home near Tel Aviv in early 2005, he was already criticising the Iraq war and voicing the growing realisation, stated by many of us before the war, that Iran would be the great winner in the conflict. His criticism of the Bush Administration’s mission in Iraq wasn’t based around the morality or legality of the project, rather its botched implementation.

It almost beggars belief that many of the same figures that demanded Saddam’s removal are now calling for military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities: there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Bush Administration’s recent announcement that it will send more troops to Iraq is a disturbing sign that the war is about to escalate even further (although Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s attempt to call the escalation an ‘augmentation’ surely takes the Orwellian trophy of the week.) During her trip to the Middle East this week, Rice even acknowledged that Bush’s plan may well fail but said, ‘we’re not pulling the plug on Iraq. I think we’ll worry about making Plan A work for now. And obviously, if it doesn’t we’re not going to say, oh my goodness, that didn’t work, there’s nothing that can be done.’ The stunning indifference to the Iraqi people displayed in such a statement is almost comical.

Thanks to Scratch

Capitol Hill is highly sceptical about Bush’s escalation, the Iraqi Government doesn’t even want the troop increase and US soldiers in Iraq are scared about the ramifications. Bush himself remains mired in delusions. He told US 60 Minutes this week that although his actions have made Iraq more unstable, ‘I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude and I believe most Iraqis express that’.

The US, ever keen to find a new enemy to target, has chosen Shia nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Removing al-Sadr will in fact inflame the situation, not pacify it, and the more perceptive commentators have noted that this is in fact Bush’s plan. A wider Middle East war has never been more likely. Those advocating such a move, including many Iraq-war backers, should be challenged on the likely positives from a conflagration involving Syria and Iran.

Liberal Jew and Time magazine writer Tony Karon explains that the object of this latest escalation is Iran:

Bush suggested that the Iraqi people had voted for [a]united country at the polls, and seen their dreams dashed by the manoeuvring of Iran and Syria and others. That’s a crock. Iran enthusiastically supported those elections, and why wouldn’t they? The Shiite majority voted overwhelmingly in favour of parties far closer to Tehran than they are to Washington. Moreover, while Bush implies that sectarianism was somehow a deviation from what the electorate had chosen, in fact the electorate had voted almost entirely on sectarian and ethnic lines. The sectarian principle is at the heart of the democratically elected government; it’s not some imposition by al-Qaeda or Iran.

His conclusions are frightening:

So, essentially we’re now being asked to believe that the Iraqi Government, dominated by Iran-friendly Shiite religious parties, is going to act in concert with Bush’s plan and even Bush admitted that their support is the critical factor giving US forces the green light to take control of Sadr City from the Sadrists and so on, even as Washington moves its assets into position for a military strike on Iran. It may be, of course, that Washington is posturing in order to sweat Tehran into believing that a military strike is coming in order to intimidate the Islamic Republic into backing down, but frankly I wouldn’t bet on the collective strategic wisdom of Cheney-Rice and Khamenei-Larijani-Ahmedinajad combining to avoid a confrontation. And if the US is raising the stakes, you can reliably expect Iran to do the same, probably starting in Iraq.

Even within the narrow Iraqi context, no matter what [Prime Minister] Maliki has told Bush, I wouldn’t bet on him coming through for the US when the battle for Sadr City starts in earnest, and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, appalled by the violence, begins demanding that the US go home.

Equally important, though, the new Bush moves give Iran no incentive to cooperate, and plenty of incentive to tie the US up in an increasingly messy situation in Iraq. And my suspicion is that Tehran has hardly begun to exercise its ability to cause chaos in Iraq.

Again, the Bush Administration has failed to grasp the most basic lesson of his failures in Iraq and elsewhere that military force has its limi
ts, and that power is a more complex thing.

Karon doesn’t address the role of Saudi Arabia or Israel, however. As noted by muckraking journalist Greg Palast, Riyadh desperately wants the US occupation to continue:

According to Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi who signals to the US Government the commands and diktats of the House of Saud, the Saudis are concerned that a US pull-out will leave their Sunni brothers in Iraq to be slaughtered by Shia militias. More important, the Saudis will not tolerate a Shia-majority government in Iraq controlled by the Shia mullahs of Iran. A Shia combine would threaten Saudi Arabia’s hegemony in the OPEC oil cartel.

In other words, it’s about the oil.

Australia ‘s role in this mess is negligible, though telling. John Howard will support whatever actions taken by Bush no matter the consequences and has effectively outsourced our foreign policy to the White House. Howard may duck and weave about his government’s role, but history has already chosen its verdict.

‘Baghdad is dying, we are all just waiting in line’, said an Iraqi employee of CNN last week. What have we done?

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.