Israelpolitik, the Neocons and the Long Shadow of the Iraq War—A Review of Muhammad Idrees Ahmad’s book ‘The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War’

This essay first appeared in The Drouth (‘The Thirst’), a quarterly magazine published in Glasgow (Issue 50, Winter 2014/2015). I wrote it in December 2014.

The Road to Iraq book coverThe Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War
By Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
Edinburgh University Press
£19.99

Reviewed by Danny Postel

I was reluctant to review this book. With all the dramatic developments in the Middle East today—the ISIS crisis, the siege of Kobanê, the deepening nightmare in Syria, the escalating repression in Egypt, the fate of Tunisia’s democratic transition, the sectarianization of regional conflicts driven by the Saudi-Iranian rivalry—delving back into the 2003 invasion of Iraq seemed rather less than urgent. It’s hard enough just to keep up with the events unfolding day-to-day in the region. Reading—let alone reviewing—a detailed study of the internal processes that led to the United States toppling Saddam Hussein over a decade ago seemed remote, if not indeed a distraction.

But I’m glad I set these reservations aside and took the assignment. This forcefully argued and meticulously researched (with no fewer than 1,152 footnotes, many of which are full-blown paragraphs) book turns out to be enormously relevant to the present moment, on at least three fronts:

  • ISIS emerged from the ashes of al Qaeda in Iraq, which formed in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Without the 2003 invasion, there would be no ISIS as we know it—and the region’s political landscape would look very different.
  • The US Senate report on CIA torture has brought back into focus the rogues gallery of the Bush-Cheney administration—the same cast of characters who engineered the 2003 Iraq invasion. This book shines a heat lamp on that dark chapter and many of its protagonists.
  • There is talk of a neoconservative comeback in Washington. This thoroughly discredited but zombie-like group are now angling for the ear of Hillary Clinton, who might be the next US president. Ahmad’s book provides a marvelously illuminating anatomy of the neocons, which has lessons that apply directly to this movement’s potentially ominous next chapter.

The central question Ahmad attempts to answer is: Why did the 2003 Iraq War happen? In one of the book’s most valuable sections, felicitously titled ‘Black Gold and Red Herrings’, he goes through several prevalent explanations/theories and takes them apart one by one: Continue reading “Israelpolitik, the Neocons and the Long Shadow of the Iraq War—A Review of Muhammad Idrees Ahmad’s book ‘The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War’”

A Pillar Built on Sand

The great John Mearsheimer has a brilliant piece on the LRB Blog. It is the most comprehensive historical and political analysis of recent developments in Gaza. Two passages in particular bear highlighting. The first one is about Israel’s long-standing strategy:

John Mearsheimer

Israel’s leaders have a two-prong strategy for dealing with their Palestinian problem. First, they rely on the United States to provide diplomatic cover, especially in the United Nations. The key to keeping Washington on board is the Israel lobby, which pressures American leaders to side with Israel against the Palestinians and do hardly anything to stop the colonisation of the Occupied Territories.

The second prong is Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s concept of the ‘Iron Wall’: an approach that in essence calls for beating the Palestinians into submission. Jabotinsky understood that the Palestinians would resist the Zionists’ efforts to colonise their land and subjugate them in the process. Nonetheless, he maintained that the Zionists, and eventually Israel, could punish the Palestinians so severely that they would recognise that further resistance was futile.

Israel has employed this strategy since its founding in 1948, and both Cast Lead and Pillar of Defence are examples of it at work. In other words, Israel’s aim in bombing Gaza is not to topple Hamas or eliminate its rockets, both of which are unrealisable goals. Instead, the ongoing attacks in Gaza are part of a long-term strategy to coerce the Palestinians into giving up their pursuit of self-determination and submitting to Israeli rule in an apartheid state.

The second passage is about the timing of this particular assault:
Continue reading “A Pillar Built on Sand”

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy under Obama

Eminent international relations scholar John J. Mearsheimer takes the measure of Obama’s Middle East policy under the lobby’s influence in this highly informative talk delivered at Turkey’s Koç University.

What role does the pro-Israel lobby play?

What role do pro-Israel lobby groups, and AIPAC in particular, play in the US election and why are they courted by those competing to be the next US president? Guests: Professor John Mearsheimer; Larry Greenfield; Hillary Mann Leverett.

Obama must stand up to Israel on Iran

Update: We have added below excerpts from Avi Shlaim’s piece in the Independent which echoes the same line. (via War in Context)
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have a blistering piece in today Financial Times. Here are some excerpts:

US president Barack Obama today welcomes arguably his least favourite foreign leader to the White House. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit neatly coincides with the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). That event offers both men a chance to appeal to some of Israel’s most ardent American supporters. We can therefore expect to hear repeated references to the “common interests”, “unshakeable bonds” and “shared values” of the two countries.

This familiar rhetoric is misleading at best and at worst simply wrong. No states have identical interests, and Israel and America are at odds on two vital issues: Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr Obama should continue to rebuff Israel’s efforts to push him into military confrontation with Tehran, while reminding Mr Netanyahu the true danger to Israel lies in its refusal to allow a viable Palestinian state…

Continue reading “Obama must stand up to Israel on Iran”

Mr Netanyahu goes to Washington…and Washington quails

Former Ambassador Chas Freeman on AIPAC’s campaign against Barack Obama, despite the latter’s extraordinary efforts to appease the lobby group.

John Mearsheimer thinks that Obama is doomed to disappoint.

Barack Obama gave a major speech on the Middle East on Thursday, May 19, and it is clear from the subsequent commentary that he impressed few people. The main reason for this is that he did not say much new or indicate that there would be any serious changes in US policy in the region. It was essentially more of the same with some tweaking here and there. Nevertheless, he did manage to anger some people. For example, Israel’s hard-line supporters were outraged that he said: “Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” For them, the 1967 borders are “Auschwitz borders” and thus can never serve as a basis for negotiations.

Continue reading “Mr Netanyahu goes to Washington…and Washington quails”

John Mearsheimer on WikiLeaks Iraq logs

John Mearsheimer debates the WikiLeaks war logs with Patrick Mansoor, a former Petraeus aide.

JOHN MEARSHEIMER, University of Chicago:
[I]t does make it very clear how horrible the violence has been in Iraq since we invaded in 2003. And it also is quite clear from the documents that the United States has played an important role in making that violence happen.

Not only do the documents show that American soldiers and airmen have killed large numbers of civilians. It’s also clear that we didn’t do much at all to stop the Iraqis from torturing and murdering prisoners. This was a huge mistake on our part. […]

Continue reading “John Mearsheimer on WikiLeaks Iraq logs”

John Mearsheimer on the State of the Israel Lobby

John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and co-author, along with Stephen Walt, of ‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy ,’ spoke with IPS about the Israel lobby.

Cléa Thouin, Assistant Editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies, asked Mearsheimer about the state of the Lobby and the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Continue reading “John Mearsheimer on the State of the Israel Lobby”