Wednesday, March 31, 2004

What role did the threat to Israel play in the decision to go to war?

Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 commission and former member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, apparently told a crowd at the University of Virginia on Sep. 10, 2002, that Iraq was more of a threat to Israel than it was to the United States:

”Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990 -- it's the threat against Israel,” Zelikow told a crowd at the University of Virginia on Sep. 10, 2002, speaking on a panel of foreign policy experts assessing the impact of 9/11 and the future of the war on the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation.

”And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don't care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell,” said Zelikow.

Emphasis mine.

Unfortunately, while Zelikow was undoubtedly correct that selling the American people on a war in Iraq to protect Israel would be "unpopular", it will also probably be "unpopular" to suggest that protecting Israel played a significant role in the decision to march on Baghdad. It's a topic that a lot of people would rather not talk about, even critics of the Bush administration, because it opens up a whole can of very nasty worms.

Of course, the lack of a clear justification for going into Iraq is a natural breeding ground for all kinds of speculation:

”They (the administration) made a decision to invade Iraq, and then started to search for a policy to justify it. It was a decision in search of a policy and because of the odd way they went about it, people are trying to read something into it,” said Nathan Brown, professor of political science at George Washington University and an expert on the Middle East.

But he downplayed the Israel link. ”In terms of securing Israel, it doesn't make sense to me because the Israelis are probably more concerned about Iran than they were about Iraq in terms of the long-term strategic threat,” he said.

Still, Brown says Zelikow's words carried weight.

”Certainly his position would allow him to speak with a little bit more expertise about the thinking of the Bush administration, but it doesn't strike me that he is any more authoritative than Wolfowitz, or Rice or Powell or anybody else. All of them were sort of fishing about for justification for a decision that has already been made,” Brown said.

(link courtesy The Agonist)

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