an excerpt from Chapter 4 of A
Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush
Presidency, released today.
would the president, in the midst of substantial and growing cooperation
with the Iranians, suddenly decree Iran in 2002 to be part of an
axis of evil, and all but declare Iran an enemy on whom war must
inevitably be waged? Numerous and disparate factions surrounding
the president each desired, albeit for different reasons and with
different motives, hostility and conflict with Iran. Those factions
perceive that belligerence toward Iran, rather than a negotiated
peace, would promote their respective agendas. And each was able
to depict Iran in the Manichean terms that would ensure that the
president would see Iran as an implacable foe he was duty-bound
and belief systems have played prominent roles in shaping the president's
Manichean militarism toward Iran. Initially, the president surrounded
himself with traditional, garden-variety hawks — those who are driven
by a central belief in the virtue and justification of America's
use of its superior military force to impose its will on other nations.
Such hawkishness is embodied by both Vice President Cheney and former
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and exists independent of any specific
geopolitical reasons for seeking Middle East hegemony. Hawks of
this sort have cheered on every warmongering step taken by the president.
A highly influential strain in the Bush administration seeks war
because it believes in the use of war as a principal tool for securing
America's interests and dealing with other nations that refuse to
submit to America's will.
And then there
is the related set of concerns: the emerging prospect that the world's
demand for oil will outstrip supply, and that with Saudi oil production
potentially peaking, the largest strategic reserves will be in Iran,
where U.S. access can be ensured only with a pro-American government
in place. Oil is a critical resource for a nation's strength, prosperity,
and security. It is also finite and becoming scarce. Those who insist
that such considerations are irrelevant to foreign policy decisions
regarding the most oil-rich region on the planet, and the most oil-rich
nations in that region, are advancing claims too frivolous to merit
serious consideration. Access to and control over the Middle East's
oil supply pervades, to one degree or another, virtually all power
struggles within that region.
most important issues of the Bush presidency — the invasion of Iraq,
the treatment of Iran, and enhanced and unprecedented domestic police
powers — traditional hawkishness and concern over the Middle Eastern
oil supply have worked in perfect tandem with one another. And that
agenda has also converged with two other critically influential
factions of the Bush presidency — namely, the president's base of
Christian evangelicals who view political power as a means for promoting
their theological objectives, and independently, the Israel-centric
strain of neoconservatives. The agendas of all of those factions
have been promoted by the same policies — the invasion of Iraq,
expanded police powers at home, and the treatment of anti-American
regimes in the Middle East as mortal enemies to be shunned, demonized,
faction of Christian evangelicals has loyally supported the Bush
foreign policy in the Middle East (except to complain periodically
that it is insufficiently aggressive). That faction is driven by
the general theological belief that God's will is for Jews to occupy
all of "Greater Israel," which will occur only once the
enemies of Israel are defeated.
There is no
question — because many of their key leaders have said so themselves
— that evangelicals, who compose a substantial part of President
Bush's most loyal following, have become fanatically "pro-Israel"
in their foreign policy views because they believe that strengthening
Israel is a necessary prerequisite for Rapture to occur — for the
world to be ruled by Christianity upon Jesus' apocalyptic return
to Earth — and they believe that can occur only once "Greater
Israel" is unified under Jewish control.
are among the most steadfast supporters of his aggressive and militaristic
policies toward the Islamic world, and many expressly defend those
policies on theological and moral grounds. That the president finds
some of his most loyal support for his War on Terrorism among such
theologically driven groups lends further support to the connection
between religious beliefs and President Bush's militaristic, Manichean
foreign policy in the Middle East.
leader James Dobson told Larry King in a November 2002 interview:
"I feel very strongly about Israel. You know it is surrounded
by its enemies. And it exists primarily because God has willed it
to exist, I think, according to scripture." Dobson is an almost
completely reliable supporter of the neoconservative line, condemning
the Baker-Hamilton report's recommendation that the United States
negotiate with Iran by predictably equating the recommendation to
appeasement of the Nazis: "That has the same kind of feel to
it as the British negotiating with Germany, Italy and Japan in the
run-up to World War II." And evangelical minister John Hagee
of Texas addressed the first annual conference of his new group,
Christians United for Israel, during the Israel-Hezbollah War in
July-August 2006. He declared that war to be "a battle between
good and evil" and insisted support for Israel was "God's
foreign policy." The following day, Hagee went to the White
House to meet with President Bush's top Middle East adviser, neoconservative
Elliot Abrams, and he delivered the same message, adding that "appeasement
has never helped the Jewish people." Hagee advised the New
York Times that Abrams largely agreed with his views.
leader Gary Bauer told the Times in November 2006 that as
a result of his intensely anti-Israeli rhetoric, Iranian President
Ahmadinejad has become one of the most despised foreign political
figures among American Christians: "I am not sure there is
a foreign leader who has made a bigger splash in American culture
since Khrushchev, certainly among committed Christians."
James Inhofe, a Republican social conservative from Oklahoma, actually
placed blame on the U.S. for the 9/11 attacks, by asserting that
the U.S. had itself opened "the spiritual door" for those
attacks by failing to support Israel steadfastly enough. Senator
Inhofe declared in a March 2002 speech on the Senate floor.
It is certainly
true that this extremist, theological commitment to Israel as a
means of facilitating Jesus' return is not shared by a majority
of Christians. But these are hardly fringe views either. Christian
evangelicals have played an important role in both of President
Bush's election victories and in the general preservation of Republican
power. Many of the evangelical leaders who spout these extremist
"pro-Israeli" theological views exert substantial influence
at high levels of the Bush administration and with the president
himself. Their doctrinal convictions have played a substantial role
in generating support for the president's militarism in the Middle
East and his Manichean approach to Israel's enemies.
And then there
is America's alliance with Israel and the role it plays in our bellicose
posture toward Iran. In examining the president's 2002 decision
to include Iran in the axis of evil despite increasing U.S.-Iran
cooperation — and to this day to insist that Iran is an enemy of
the United States — the role played by Israeli interests (as perceived
by its right-wing American supporters) simply cannot be ignored.
But when it comes to discussions of Iran in the national media and
by national political figures, that topic typically is ignored.
has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to seek cooperative relations
with the United States, relations between Iran and Israel have been
genuinely, and mutually, hostile. The depiction of Iran as pure
Evil being propagated by Bush-supporting, war-seeking Americans
has been echoed by the Israelis with increasing fervor.
As is true
for the rhetoric of the president's supporters and the president
himself, 2006 saw a marked escalation in the Israelis' hostile rhetoric
toward Iran. On October 27, 2006, Israel's prime minister Ehud Olmert
invoked the standard neoconservative "historical analogy"
by expressly comparing Iran to Nazi Germany. Referring to Iran,
Prime Minister Olmert said: "We hear echoes of those very voices
that started to spread across the world in the 1930s."
Olmert, at the start of 2007, found himself the target of
the same accusation invoking the specter of Neville Chamberlain.
As UPI editor Arnaud de Borchgrave reported regarding Israeli debates
over Iran: "In a New Year's Day message, superhawk and former
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
of the kind of appeasement that threatened Israel's very existence."
cabinet minister, Avigdor Lieberman, whose duties include strategic
affairs with Iran, visited the United States in December 2006 and
told the New York Times: "Our first task is to convince
Western countries to adopt a tough approach to the Iranian problem,"
which he called "the biggest threat facing the Jewish people
since the Second World War." Lieberman insisted that American
efforts to negotiate with Iran were worthless and should not be
attempted: "The dialogue with Iran will be a 100-percent failure,
just like it was with North Korea."
In his 2007
New Year's speech, Netanyahu made clear that he shares the same
goal — convincing the U.S. to consider Iran as an American problem,
not just an Israeli one. He said that Israel must immediately launch
an intense, international, public relations front first and foremost
on the U.S., the goal being to encourage President Bush to live
up to specific pledges he would not allow Iran to arm itself with
nuclear weapons. "We must make clear to the government, the
Congress, and the American public that a nuclear Iran is a threat
to the U.S. and the entire world, not only Israel."
UPI's de Borchgrave
quoted from an article in Ynet by Oded Tira, chairman of
the Israeli Manufacturers Association and former chief artillery
officer in the IDF, in which he made clear that many Israelis are
committed to finding a way to make an American attack on Iran a
political necessity (emphasis added):
the political power to attack Iran. As an American air strike
in Iran is essential for our existence, we must help pave
the way by lobbying the Democratic Party, which is conducting
itself foolishly, and U.S. newspaper editors.
to turn the Iranian issue into a bipartisan one and unrelated
to the Iraq failure. Hillary Clinton and other potential presidential
candidates in the Democratic Party (must) publicly support immediate
action by Bush against Iran.
As the prewar
"debate" over the invasion of Iraq demonstrated, the key
to persuading Americans to support a new war is to convince them
that the country targeted for attack is governed by terrorists and
those who support international terrorism. Those terms, by design,
evoke images of the 9/11 attacks, and the accusation is designed
to tie the accused to those attacks even where the so-called terrorist
supporters have nothing to do with 9/11.
claim that a country "supports international terrorism"
is the most inflammatory accusation that can be made, as it will
be understood by many Americans to designate specifically that the
accused "participated in the 9/11 attacks," or more generally
that they are close allies of Al Qaeda. Even with Americans' growing
emotional distance from the 2001 attacks, many Americans will reflexively
— one could even say understandably — support military action against
not just anyone who directly participated in the 9/11 attacks but
anyone who seems to have close proximity to those responsible.
This same manipulative
tactic — accusing the Iranians of "supporting international
terrorism" as a means of implicitly persuading Americans that
Iran bears some responsibility for, or at least connection to, the
9/11 attacks, so therefore it, too, must be attacked — is the principal
one on which the president and his supporters are relying to justify
antagonism toward Iran. And the tactic is no less honest than it
was when employed against Iraq. If anything, it is far more dishonest.
The evidence that Iran sponsors or in any way abets terrorist attacks
on the U.S. is nonexistent.
the ongoing threat posed to the United States by international terrorism,
the Bush administration's 2006 National Security Strategy
focuses on Al Qaeda and the type of terrorist attacks that have
been directed at Americans or Westerners generally during the last
decade — in London, Madrid, Bali, and New York during the first
World Trade Center attack and on 9/11. But Iran had nothing to do
with any of those. That country does not sponsor Al Qaeda or any
groups affiliated with Al Qaeda, nor does it sponsor any other groups
devoted to staging terrorist attacks on the United States.
Quite the contrary,
Shiite Iran has long-standing animosities with Sunni-dominated Al
Qaeda. That was one reason, among others, why Iran stalwartly opposed
the Al Qaeda–sheltering Taliban and worked extensively with the
U.S. in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in order to bring about
an end to their rule.
To the extent
that Iran can be said to have an association with "terrorist"
groups, those groups are devoted to supporting the Palestinians
against Israel as part of the conflict over the West Bank (Hamas)
or devoted to supporting the Lebanese against Israel (Hezbollah).
Iran is not devoted to fighting along with Al Qaeda or any
other group devoted to staging terrorist attacks on Americans or
against the United States. Iran's support for what the Bush administration
calls "international terrorist groups" is limited to those
groups that are hostile to Israel, not those which pose a threat
to the U.S.
The 2003 Congressional
Research Service Report documented that "U.S. concerns about
Iran's support for terrorism center on its assistance to groups
opposed to the Arab-Israeli peace process, primarily Hamas,
Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, and the Popular Front for
the Liberation of Palestine-General Command" (emphasis added).
The agendas of those groups are confined to anti-Israeli positions,
and none stages attacks on the U.S.
vague claims that Iran "supports international terrorism"
are virtually always predicated on its support for anti-Israeli,
not anti-U.S., groups. When Michael Gerson issued his call to war
against Iran in the pages of Newsweek in August 2006, for
instance, he accused Iran of supporting "terrorist groups like
Hizbullah and Hamas." In Joe Lieberman's December 2006 op-ed
in the Washington Post, which essentially declared the U.S.
at war with Iran, he warned Americans of what he called "Iran's
terrorist agents," whom he then identified as "Hezbollah
It is true
that Hezbollah, a group created to defend Lebanon against military
invasions from Israel, was responsible for the attack on U.S. troops
in 1983 when American troops were inside that nation. Ronald Reagan
then withdrew American troops from that country, and ever since,
over the next twenty-four years, Hezbollah has staged no attacks
of any kind on the United States.
also quite possibly responsible for two bombings in Buenos Aires,
Argentina, in the early 1990s — a 1992 car bomb attack at the Israeli
embassy in Argentina and a similar 1994 bombing of a Jewish community
center in Buenos Aires. But even assuming that those attacks were
engineered by Hezbollah with Iranian backing — a precarious assumption
for which, particularly with regard to Iranian involvement, there
is no confirmation — the target of Hezbollah is plainly Israel,
not the United States.
There are countless
groups around the world engaged in what could be called terrorism,
and the vast majority have nothing to do with attacks on the U.S.
Some have domestic agendas and some have regional agendas. Only
a tiny fraction have anything to do with Al Qaeda or are devoted
in any way toward attacking America.
is (or is not) a good case to be made that U.S. interests are so
inextricably linked with Israel's that America cannot, or should
not, attempt to distinguish between terrorist attacks directed at
Israel and those directed at the U.S. If there are valid arguments
for deeming Israel's enemies to be enemies of the U.S., then they
should be made explicitly and clearly, without the type of misleading
obfuscation that President Bush and his supporters clearly intend
to create by implying that Iran supports anti-U.S. terrorist groups.
From its inception,
the campaign to depict and treat Iran as pure, unadulterated Evil
has been driven by this manipulative and dishonest attempt to conflate
Iran's posture toward Israel with its posture toward the U.S. Whether
the president himself was a victim of that manipulation or a knowing
propagator of it is something one can debate, and the truth likely
lies somewhere in between. But what is beyond dispute is the centrality
of Israel and its right-wing American supporters in shaping the
president's moralistic and absolutist view of Iran.
are more threatening to Israeli interests than deceitfully
securing American policies based on pretext, conflation, and contrivance
whereby Americans are manipulated into supporting policies based
on false pretenses. People can be fooled for only so long, and people
who feel deceived generally backlash against the deceivers.
It is not the
case that those who attempt to trigger U.S. military action against
Israel's enemies are guilty of doing too much to help Israel. Though
"helping Israel" might be their motive, they achieve the
precise opposite result.
A strong argument
can be made that Americans are likely to be supportive of a democratic,
long-standing ally like Israel and to sympathize with the need for
America to protect all of its allies — including Israel — from genuine
existential threats. But if Americans are being induced to support
wars not in American interests but rather Israel's, and if American
lives and treasure are being squandered in wars justified by false
pretenses, by a hidden agenda, they will realize that at some point
— likely at the point when such a war has gone particularly awry
and they begin to search for the real reasons we entered it in the
the realization begins to dawn that at least one substantial factor
as to why America waged Middle Eastern war(s) is because influential
individuals with an overarching devotion to Israel pushed for war
against Israel's enemies, then an anti-Israeli backlash is highly
likely to occur. And the backlash is likely to be far more severe
and hostile than anything that would ever happen naturally, meaning
in the absence of such manipulation.
Greenwald [send him mail]
is the author of A
Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush
Presidency and How
Would a Patriot Act? See his blog Unclaimed