Now that President Obama has in fact named Chuck Hagel as his new Secretary of Defense, can we finally get one thing off the table, for now and forever more?
The ugly, facts-optional anti-Hagel campaign was never about Israel—and no matter how often the word “Israel” is uttered, neocon fear-mongering never is, in fact, about Israel.
Neocon attacks on President Obama—as channeled through the likes of Bill Kristol, the Emergency Committee for Israel, Jennifer Rubin, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, etc and so on—are about American power. They are about how a certain (pretty well discredited) ideology envisions the use of American power in the world, and they are about how power is shared within America’s borders.
The neoconservative movement is predicated on wanting to see American muscle used everywhere, at all times, for reasons that, as far as I can tell, pretty much boil down to looking tough and profiting from same. And by “profiting,” I mean literal profiting, in the form of America’s corporate interests gaining hegemony over the world’s resources (oil comes to mind), which as far as I’m concerned, doesn’t always translate to defending our shores, no matter how the Right tries to spin it.
Beyond the dream of brute force on the global stage, however, neocons (just like every political subset everywhere) are also heavily invested in wanting to be in charge. They want to set the tone and determine the discourse and, much more importantly, have their hands on the levers. They want to be in power. But they’re not, and that really peeves them off.
I don’t mean to suggest that there isn’t a genuine worldview underpinning the longing for power. It’s about as pretty and reality-based as the attacks on Hagel have been. In the neocon world, “we” are objectively better than “they” (whoever “they” may be), and the only language “they” will ever understand is force. If we’re to get what’s rightfully ours (by virtue of being Better Than), we’ll have to beat them into submission. Again and again. Ad infinitum.
And lo! The Israeli right wing’s worldview is strikingly similar!
Diplomacy, cooperation, compromise—all are signs of weakness, and all will prevent us from getting and holding on to what is ours by right. And just to sweeten the deal, Israel gets to frame its muscle-flexing as the reflexes of a victim, all while wielding the Middle East’s greatest military force—a force bristling with American-made arms, and pointed at some of America’s least-beloved peoples. Mazel tov! It’s a marriage of convenience!
Of course, there are plenty of Jews (some of them neocons, some of them Israeli) who genuinely fear that Israel’s future depends entirely on maintaining a belligerent and well-armed posture. That’s an argument that supporters of Israel (such as myself) are free to have, and in fact must have. How are we to ensure Israel’s future safety and wellbeing? What are the limits of force, to what extent is our future entwined with that of the region’s other peoples? Israelis themselves—some of them security veterans—have that conversation every day.
But can we please stop pretending that’s the conversation America’s Right is trying to have, too?
Neocons need Israel to be a place marked by bellicosity and arms purchases, to both undergird the neocon idea, and provide extra military might to back it up. Only when Israel is a place forever in peril, existentially threatened not only by every Arab and/or Muslim on Earth but also by honest words out of American politicians’ mouths, will it serve their ideological needs.
The problem being, of course, that Israel is an actual place lived in by actual people. It is not a prop, or a trope, or a tool to be used either on the world stage or in spittle-flecked op-eds.
The people of Israel desperately need a genuine, durable peace. The “pro-Israel” hissy fits that have become stock in trade for America’s right do not serve that need, on any level.
But then, they aren’t meant to, because they’re not about Israel. They’re about American power.