The neocons' next war
By secretly providing NSA intelligence to Israel and undermining the
hapless Condi Rice, hardliners in the Bush administration are trying
to widen the Middle East conflict to Iran and Syria, not stop it.
By Sidney Blumenthal
08/03/06 "Salon" -- --
The National Security Agency is providing
signal intelligence to Israel to monitor whether Syria and Iran are
supplying new armaments to Hezbollah as it fires hundreds of
missiles into northern Israel, according to a national security
official with direct knowledge of the operation. President Bush has
approved the secret program.
Inside the administration, neoconservatives on Vice President Dick
Cheney's national security staff and Elliott Abrams, the
neoconservative senior director for the Near East on the National
Security Council, are prime movers behind sharing NSA intelligence
with Israel, and they have discussed Syrian and Iranian supply
activities as a potential pretext for Israeli bombing of both
countries, the source privy to conversations about the program says.
(Intelligence, including that gathered by the NSA, has been provided
to Israel in the past for various purposes.) The neoconservatives
are described as enthusiastic about the possibility of using NSA
intelligence as a lever to widen the conflict between Israel and
Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is said to have been "briefed"
and to be "on board," but she is not a central actor in pushing the
covert neoconservative scenario. Her "briefing" appears to be an
aspect of an internal struggle to intimidate and marginalize her.
Recently she has come under fire from prominent neoconservatives who
oppose her support for diplomatic negotiations with Iran to prevent
its development of nuclear weaponry.
Rice's diplomacy in the Middle East has erratically veered from
initially calling on Israel for "restraint," to categorically
opposing a cease-fire, to proposing terms for a cease-fire
guaranteed to conflict with the European proposal, and thus to
thwarting diplomacy, prolonging the time available for the Israeli
offensive to achieve its stated aim of driving Hezbollah out of
southern Lebanon. But the neocon scenario extends far beyond that
objective to pushing Israel into a "cleansing war" with Syria and
Iran, says the national security official, which somehow will redeem
Bush's beleaguered policy in the entire region.
In order to try to understand the neoconservative road map, senior
national security professionals have begun circulating among
themselves a 1996 neocon manifesto against the Middle East peace
process. Titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the
Realm," its half-dozen authors included neoconservatives highly
influential with the Bush administration -- Richard Perle,
first-term chairman of the Defense Policy Board; Douglas Feith,
former undersecretary of defense; and David Wurmser, Cheney's chief
Middle East aide.
"A Clean Break" was written at the request of incoming Likud Party
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and intended to provide "a new set
of ideas" for jettisoning the policies of assassinated Israeli Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Instead of trading "land for peace," the
neocons advocated tossing aside the Oslo agreements that established
negotiations and demanding unconditional Palestinian acceptance of
Likud's terms, "peace for peace." Rather than negotiations with
Syria, they proposed "weakening, containing, and even rolling back
Syria." They also advanced a wild scenario to "redefine Iraq." Then
King Hussein of Jordan would somehow become its ruler; and somehow
this Sunni monarch would gain "control" of the Iraqi Shiites, and
through them "wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hezbollah,
Iran, and Syria."
Netanyahu, at first, attempted to follow the "clean break" strategy,
but under persistent pressure from the Clinton administration he
felt compelled to enter into U.S.-led negotiations with the
Palestinians. In the 1998 Wye River accords, concluded through the
personal involvement of President Clinton and a dying King Hussein,
the Palestinians agreed to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel and
Netanyahu agreed to withdraw from a portion of the occupied West
Bank. Further negotiations, conducted by his successor Ehud Barak,
that nearly settled the conflict ended in dramatic failure, but
potentially set the stage for new ones.
At his first National Security Council meeting, President George W.
Bush stunned his first secretary of state, Colin Powell, by
rejecting any effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace
process. When Powell warned that "the consequences of that could be
dire, especially for the Palestinians," Bush snapped, "Sometimes a
show for force by one side can really clarify things." He was making
a "clean break" not only with his immediate predecessor but also
with the policies of his father.
In the current Middle East crisis, once again, the elder Bush's wise
men have stepped forward to offer unsolicited and unheeded advice.
(In private they are scathing.) Edward Djerejian, a former
ambassador to Israel and Syria and now the director of the James
Baker Institute at Rice University, urged on July 23, on CNN,
negotiations with Syria and Iran. "I come from the school of
diplomacy that you negotiate conflict resolution and peace with your
enemies and adversaries, not with your friends," he said. "We've
done it in the past, we can do it again."
Charles Freeman, the elder Bush's ambassador to Saudi Arabia,
remarked, "The irony now is that the most likely candidate to back
Hezbollah in the long term is no longer Iran but the Arab Shiite
tyranny of the majority we have installed in Baghdad." Indeed, when
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came to Washington in the last
week of July he preceded his visit with harsh statements against
Israel. And in a closed meeting with U.S. senators, when asked to
offer criticism of Hezbollah, he steadfastly refused.
Richard Haass, the Middle East advisor on the elder Bush's National
Security Council and President Bush's first-term State Department
policy planning director, and now president of the Council on
Foreign Relations, openly scoffed at Bush's Middle East policy in an
interview on July 30 in the Washington Post: "The arrows are all
pointing in the wrong direction. The biggest danger in the short run
is it just increases frustration and alienation from the United
States in the Arab world. Not just the Arab world, but in Europe and
around the world. People will get a daily drumbeat of suffering in
Lebanon and this will just drive up anti-Americanism to new
heights." When asked about the president's optimism, he replied, "An
opportunity? Lord, spare me. I don't laugh a lot. That's the
funniest thing I've heard in a long time. If this is an opportunity,
what's Iraq? A once-in-a-lifetime chance?"
The same day that Haass' comments appeared Brent Scowcroft, the
elder Bush's national security advisor and still his close friend,
published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post written more or less as an
open letter to his erstwhile and errant protégé Condoleezza Rice.
Undoubtedly, Scowcroft reflects the views of the former President
Bush. Adopting the tone of an instructor to a stubborn pupil,
Scowcroft detailed a plan for an immediate end to the
Israel-Hezbollah conflict and for restarting the Israeli-Palestinian
peace process, "the source of the problem." His program is a last
attempt to turn the president back to the ways of his father. If the
elder Bush and his team were in power and following the Scowcroft
plan, a cease-fire would have been declared. But Scowcroft's plan
resembles that of the Europeans, already rejected by the Bush
administration, and Rice is the one offering a counterproposal that
has put diplomacy into a stall.
Despite Rice's shunning of the advice of the Bush I sages, the
neoconservatives have made her a convenient target in their effort
to undermine all diplomatic initiatives. "Dump Condi," read the
headline in the right-wing Insight Magazine on July 25.
"Conservative national security allies of President Bush are in
revolt against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying that she
is incompetent and has reversed the administration's national
security and foreign policy agenda," the article reported. Former
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a member of the Defense Policy Board,
was quoted: "We are sending signals today that no matter how much
you provoke us, no matter how viciously you describe things in
public, no matter how many things you're doing with missiles and
nuclear weapons, the most you'll get out of us is talk."
A month earlier, Perle, in a June 25 Op-Ed in the Washington Post,
revived an old trope from the height of the Cold War, accusing those
who propose diplomacy of being like Neville Chamberlain, the British
prime minister who tried to appease Hitler. "Condoleezza Rice,"
wrote Perle, "has moved from the White House to Foggy Bottom, a mere
mile or so away. What matters is not that she is further removed
from the Oval Office; Rice's influence on the president is
undiminished. It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of and
increasingly represents a diplomatic establishment that is driven to
accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when)
such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries."
Rice, agent of the nefarious State Department, is supposedly the
enemy within. "We are in the early stages of World War III,"
Gingrich told Insight. "Our bureaucracies are not responding fast
enough. We don't have the right attitude."
Confused, ineffectual and incapable of filling her office with
power, Rice has become the voodoo doll that Powell was in the first
term. Even her feeble and counterproductive gestures toward
diplomacy leave her open to the harshest attacks from
neoconservatives. Scowcroft and the Bush I team are simply ignored.
The sustained assault on Rice is a means to an end -- restoring the
ascendancy of neoconservatism.
Bush's rejection of and reluctance to embrace the peace process
concluded with the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections.
This failure was followed by a refusal to engage Hamas, potentially
splitting its new governmental ministers from its more radical
leadership in Damascus. Predictably, the most radical elements of
Hamas found a way to lash out. And Hezbollah seized the moment by
staging its own provocation.
Having failed in the Middle East, the administration is attempting
to salvage its credibility by equating Israel's predicament with the
U.S. quagmire in Iraq. Neoconservatives, for their part, see the
latest risk to Israel's national security as a chance to scuttle
U.S. negotiations with Iran, perhaps the last opportunity to realize
the fantasies of "A Clean Break."
By using NSA intelligence to set an invisible tripwire, the Bush
administration is laying the condition for regional conflagration
with untold consequences -- from Pakistan to Afghanistan, from Iraq
to Israel. Secretly devising a scheme that might thrust Israel into
a ring of fire cannot be construed as a blunder. It is a deliberate,
calculated and methodical plot.