Days after 9/11, a senior Pentagon official lamented the lack of good targets in Afghanistan and proposed instead U.S. military attacks in South America or Southeast Asia as "a surprise to the terrorists," according to a footnote in the recent 9/11 Commission Report. The unsigned top-secret memo, which the panel's report said appears to have been written by Defense Under Secretary Douglas Feith, is one of several Pentagon documents uncovered by the commission which advance unorthodox ideas for the war on terror. The memo suggested "hitting targets outside the Middle East in the initial offensive" or a "non-Al Qaeda target like Iraq," the panel's report states. U.S. attacks in Latin America and Southeast Asia were portrayed as a way to catch the terrorists off guard when they were expecting an assault on Afghanistan.
The memo's content, NEWSWEEK has learned, was in part the product of ideas from a two-man secret Pentagon intelligence unit appointed by Feith after 9/11: veteran defense analyst Michael Maloof and Mideast expert David Wurmser, now a top foreign-policy aide to Dick Cheney. Maloof and Wurmser saw links between international terror groups that the CIA and other intelligence agencies dismissed. They argued that an attack on terrorists in South America—for example, a remote region on the border of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil where intelligence reports said Iranian-backed Hizbullah had a presence—would have ripple effects on other terrorist operations. The proposals were floated to top foreign-policy advisers. But White House officials stress they were regarded warily and never adopted.
As far as I can tell, there's no grand, carefully plotted, centrally controlled neocon conspiracy. There is just a small, somewhat loose network of energetic and overly excitable intellectuals who continue to have far more influence than their track record would suggest they deserve, and far more immunity from criticism of their network and their tendencies than is wise. They have a number of tendencies -- a love of international Rube Goldberg schemes; a love of conspiracy theorizing; dual loyalties; a strong willingness to play the anti-Semitism card to bully skeptics into silence; an aversion to leave well enough alone, to let sleeping dogs lie, and to try to fix things that aren't all that broken; an unhealthy love of violence in the abstract; and so forth. Not all of the neocons share all these tendencies, but there is plenty of overlap. And these problems generally get worse over time, because not only are they backed by powerful and wealthy interests so that they don't suffer much from their world-historical screw-ups like pushing the Iraq Attaq, but they aren't even exposed much to more than piecemeal criticism.
Let me go back to an incident I blogged about in 2005:
You may recall that prominent neocon Francis "End of History" Fukuyama jumped ship awhile ago and criticized Charles Krauthammer in The National Interest for his lack of realism about the Iraq War. Krauthammer responded, predictably, by playing the anti-Semitism card. Here is part of Fukuyama's rebuttal:
"Krauthammer says I have a "novel way of Judaizing neoconservatism", and that my argument is a more "implicit and subtle" version of things said by Pat Buchanan and Mahathir Mohamad. Since he thinks the latter two are anti-Semites, he is clearly implying that I am one as well. If he really thinks this is so, he should say that openly."
A little late, perhaps, Francis? "First they came for Pat Buchanan, but I was not Pat Buchanan, so I said nothing. Then they came ...". But better late than never. Fukuyama continues:
"What I said in my critique of [Krauthammer's] speech was, of course, quite different. I said that there was a very coherent set of strategic ideas that have come out of Israel's experience dealing with the Arabs and the world community, having to do with threat perception, preemption, the relative balance of carrots and sticks to be used in dealing with the Arabs, the United Nations, and the like. Anyone who has dealt with the Arab-Israeli conflict understands these ideas, and many people (myself included) believe that they were well suited to Israel's actual situation. You do not have to he Jewish to understand or adopt these ideas as your own, which is why people like Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld share them. And it is not so hard to understand how one's experience of Arab-Israeli politics can come to color one's broader view of the world: The 1975 "Zionism is racism" resolution deeply discredited the UN, in the eyes of Jews and non-Jews alike, on issues having nothing to do with the Middle East. This is not about Judaism; it is about ideas. It would be quite disingenuous of Charles Krauthammer to assert that his view of how Israel needs to deal with the Arabs (that is, the testicular route to hearts and minds) has no impact on the way he thinks the United States should deal with them. And it is perfectly legitimate to ask whether this is the best way for the United States to proceed."
Well said. America's foreign policy blunders since early 2002 have less to do with the fact that so many highly influential people in Washington and New York, like Krauthammer, think about Israel and its welfare all the time, as to the fact that it has become extremely dangerous to one's career to point out that they do. People like Feith and Krauthammer like to believe deep down that are tough sabras, who would do whatever it takes. Feith wasn't acting on orders from Tel Aviv, he was fantasizing about what his Israeli heroes would have done. Similarly, Krauthammer wasn't acting on orders from Ariel Sharon when be demanded America invade Iraq. Sharon was a smart, fairly realistic guy. Iraq was way down the list of countries he'd like America to attack. The Iraq Attaq was something neocons dreamed up themselves and the Israelis said, in effect, "Iraq? Well, okay, sure, go for it if that's what you want to do."
As Gene Expression blogged:
And I'm sorry, but ethnicity will and should legitimately be a topic brought up in the ensuing debate. Consider an analogy. Suppose that Wolfowitz, Perle, Shulsky, Feith, Ledeen, and all the rest were South Asian Americans rather than Jewish Americans and had names like Ramachandran, Patel, and Choudhury. Again they'd be selected from a highly educated group that was less than 2% of society (there are about 2 to 3 million South Asian Americans, about 1/2 to 1/3 the number of American Jews depending on how you count).
Now suppose they were pushing the US to invade Pakistan, and talking about how the Islamic terrorists killing Indian citizens in Kashmir were the same ones bombing the US on 9/11. Assume that they did this whilst having relatives, extended families, and significant contacts in India.
Now, their arguments would not - and should not - be dismissed out of hand. After all, it is probably more accurate to say that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the ISI are/were more closely involved in Muslim terrorism in Kashmir than they are with anti-Israeli terrorism in Palestine. (As far as I know, Al Qaeda has never directly attacked Israel.)
But while their arguments would not be dismissed out of hand, clearly their visible ethnicity would figure into the debate. Plenty of people would take their opinions with a grain of salt, knowing that humans tend to be ethnocentric on the population level if not the individual level. It would be scurrilous to dismiss their arguments simply because they were of Indian ancestry, especially if they were born in America. But it would be foolish to think their ethnicity wasn't impacting any of their arguments, and to rule out mention of their ethnicity as "anti-Subcontinental."
What we need, now more than ever, is free discussion. Policing the "bounds of public discourse" helped get us into Iraq.