New Jersey Jewish News
A real but limited role for neocons in the march to war
The Assassins Gate: America in Iraq
If journalists write the first draft of history, then George Packers indispensable book should be required reading for historians writing about the events that led up to the United States invasion of Iraq.
Packer made four tours of duty in Iraq on assignment for The New Yorker, and The Assassins Gate details his observations of what went wrong in a war that the Bush administration hyped with optimistic predictions in the weeks leading up to the hostilities. The book also includes Packers interpretation of the influences that prompted an American president with little foreign policy experience to order American troops into battle based on intelligence that quickly was discovered to be erroneous.
Although the American public was led to believe that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that threatened our security, as the administration projected images of mushroom clouds hovering over American cities as justification for the incursion, there were those high in the Bush administration with more ambitious reasons for going to war. Chief among the arguments for launching a military effort to unseat Saddam was the aim of establishing in Iraq, through the force of arms, a beachhead of Arab democracy in the Middle East. Bush administration officials, Paul Wolfowitz among them, promoted the war to achieve this objective so as to put an American political and military stamp, with a friendly government and permanent bases, in the heart of the region where al-Qaeda drew most of its recruits . By a chain reaction war in Iraq would weaken the Middle Easts dictatorships and undermine its murderous ideologies and begin to spread the balm of liberal democracy .
But there were additional influences on the Bush administrations push to war; among them were the weighty ideas put forth by Richard Perle and his circle of neoconservatives, which included such officials as Douglas Feith, Elliot Abrams, and David Wurmser. A brilliant defense theorist who was influential in Republican White Houses going back to Ronald Reagans, Perle was also strongly pro-Israel. Future historians, writing on the circumstances that led to the invasion of Iraq, will debate just how much the Bush administration was influenced by those promoting the idea that the removal of Saddam would lead to peace between Israel and the Palestinians and would also remove an enemy committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. Packers contribution to this argument which often remains the elephant in the room when the causes of the war are discussed is to note that Perles acolytes had begun to think about what it would mean for Saddam Hussein to be removed from the Middle East scene. They concluded that it would be very good for Israel. Perle chaired a study group of eight pro-Likud Americans, including Douglas Feith and David Wurmser, who wrote Israel should take the fight to the Palestinians and their Arab backers and create a realignment of forces in the Middle East that would guarantee Israels security.
What would this realignment look like? Packer reveals that a few weeks before the invasion, a State Department official described for me what he called the everybody move over one theory; Israel would annex the occupied territories, the Palestinians would get Jordan, and the Jordan Hashemites would be restored to the throne of Iraq. Packer notes that Feith, Perle, and Wurmser all occupied key policy positions in the Bush administration, where they were shaping the imminent war to overthrow Saddam.
Packer, however, distances himself from conspiracy theorists and the anti-Israel Left, who contend that America invaded Iraq to protect Israel. He acknowledges that for Feith and Wurmser the security of Israel was a primary concern, but for others in the administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, there were other and more important reasons for the foray into Iraq, including protection of the strategic threat to oil. Ultimately, Packer concludes, once the intelligence about the weapons of mass destruction proved to be false and the connection between Saddam and Osama bin Laden nonexistent, the president turned to the idea of creating a democratic Iraq as the central focus of the occupation.
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