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’”

Stephen Walt: Changes since The Israel Lobby book

Presentation at the National Summit to Reassess the U.S.-Israel “Special Relationship” on March 7, 2014 at the National Press Club.

Stephen M. Walt is professor of International Affairs at Harvard University; previously taught at Princeton University, University of Chicago.

The Syria Test

Two weeks back on Radio Open Source I debated Prof. Stephen Walt of Harvard on intervention in Syria. It was 3 am for me, so I wasn’t as coherent or articulate as I’d have liked to be.

[audio http://media.blubrry.com/radioopensource/p/ia600606.us.archive.org/31/items/022714OSPODCASTSyria/022714-OS-PODCAST-Syria.mp3]

With Iraq and Afghanistan bleeding in our rear-view mirror, is there a case still to be made for American intervention with anything more than words in Syria’s miserable meltdown? The news and pictures from Syria are perfectly awful – sarin gas against civilians succeeded by barrel bombs on Aleppo, millions of Syrians on the run, all varieties of torture, targeting of children and doctors, a death toll in two-and-a-half years of warfare approaching 150,000, and no end in sight. But is there anything like a constructive case for American intervention?

Continue reading “The Syria Test”

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”

Obama’s Foreign Policy and the End of the American Era

Steve Walt, co-author of the ground-breaking The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, gave a keynote address on “Obama’s Foreign Policy and the End of the American Era” at an event is co-hosted by the IIEA and UCD’s Clinton Institute for American Studies. You can download the Post Event Notes from this event here.

Continue reading “Obama’s Foreign Policy and the End of the American Era”

Nato: Going Global

From Al Jazeera’s excellent Empire with Marwan Bishara.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is the largest military force ever assembled, with a potential armed force of more than seven million. But as its original enemies, communism and the Soviet Union, were defeated two decades ago, what is the alliance’s new identity or new role?

The New Media and the Palestine Question

The Palestine Center hosted a panel entitled The New Media and the Palestine Question. In Part One, Professor Jerome Slater and Adam Horowitz discuss how blogging changes the public discussion. In Part Two (over the fold), MJ Rosenberg and Professor Stephen Walt discuss how blogging affects policy change.

Part One

Continue reading “The New Media and the Palestine Question”

Why Jeff Goldberg Is Losing It

by M.J. Rosenberg

For two days, the Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg has been calling Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer and other critics of Bibi Netanyahu “anti-Semites.” Nothing new about that. For Goldberg, a major AIPAC neocon, all critics of Israeli policies are anti-Semites by definition. (See this good piece on Goldberg).

But why is he obsessing about Walt so much now?

It is because, in August, Goldberg is coming out with his big Atlantic piece calling on the United States to bomb Iran so that Israel does not have to.

But Goldberg has a problem. As an American who chose to serve in the Israeli army (he was a guard at a Palestinian prison camp), he fears that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer — who accused the Likud lobby of promoting war with Iraq in their groundbreaking bestseller — will point out that Goldberg is just about the least credible advocate for war with Iran.

Continue reading “Why Jeff Goldberg Is Losing It”

Why aid to Pakistan won’t make a difference

MIDEAST ISRAEL LOBBY CRITICS
Stephen Walt

Stephen Walt highlights why the House of Congress’ pledge of $1.5 billion per annum non-military aid for Pakistan isn’t going to do much to change the effect of disasterous American meddling.

At the New Yorker blog, Steve Coll reports that the U.S. Congress is preparing a five-year $1.5 billion per annum non-military aid package for Pakistan, with full support from the Obama administration. (You can read the text of the legislation, entitled the “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act,” here.)

This step sounds impressive, until one remembers that Pakistan’s population is nearly 180 million and its GDP in 2006 was about $144 billion. So the aid package amounts to around a 1 percent increase in Pakistani GDP, which works out to about $8 for each Pakistani. In other words, the U.S. Congress is going to increase their per capita income from $850 per year to about $858. (It’s actually less than that, because some of the money goes to administrative expenses, auditing, and the like.) Continue reading “Why aid to Pakistan won’t make a difference”