The house of delusions is cheap to build but drafty to live in…

As its Friday, I thought I take one of my semi-regular trips into the wilderness of journalistic insanity and pop over to Mad Mel’s to catch-up with her latest batch of apolcalyptic ravings – quite how her husband, the eminiently sensible Joshua Rozenburg, puts up with her is one of those question to which those of a religious bent would respond sagaciously by observing that ‘god moves in mysterious ways’.

Gettting back to the latest chapter in the ‘Revelations of Saint Melanie the Apoplectic’, we find her responding to a bit of fairly gentle ribbing from Guardian Diarist, Hugh Muir, who notes that BNP leader, Nick Griffin, this week praised her as being one of the few columnists capable of ‘rational, independent thought’ by alluding to the existance of a new, anti-Semetic, ‘Axis of Evil’ between the BNP and the Guardian.

Worry for Mr Justice Wall, who, having been distressed by reporting in the Daily Mail, floats the idea that only approved journalists should be admitted into family courts. Not just because the idea of the judiciary deciding which journalists deserve house room is bonkers but principally because he has now incurred the wrath of Melanie Phillips. Yesterday she was deployed to give the judge a bit of a slap, and there’s probably more where that came from. His only hope of escape is that Mel may be even more aggrieved about the BNP chairman, Nick Griffin, who this week praised her as one of the few columnists capable of “rational, independent thought”. Poor girl. Poor them. She won’t know who to slap first.

As evidence of the startling new alliance, Mad Mel offers up a set of discursive ramblings written by Griffin in 2002 on the subject of the impending war in Iraq, in which Griffin cites an article by Brian Whitaker, which appeared in the Guardian in September 2002. (Whitaker is the Guardian’s Middle East editor).

The extent of the influence of the White House Zionist lobby was exposed in The Guardian on 3rd September, in an article entitled ‘Playing Skittles With Saddam’: “The ’skittles theory’ of the Middle East – that one ball aimed at Iraq can knock down several regimes – has been around for some time on the wilder fringes of politics but has come to the fore in the United States on the back of the ‘war against terrorism’. “Its roots can be traced, at least in part, to a paper published in 1996 by an Israeli think-tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies. Entitled ‘A clean break: a new strategy for securing the realm’, it was intended as a political blueprint for the incoming government of Binyamin Netanyahu. “The paper set out a plan by which Israel would ’shape its strategic environment’, beginning with the removal of Saddam Hussein . To succeed, the paper stressed, Israel would have to win broad American support.”

Furthermore, the paper made it clear that Iraq was only the first of a number of Middle Eastern skittles that Israel should aim to knock down; it explained how Syria and Lebanon would also be dealt with once Saddam Hussein had gone. The full significance of the document, however, isn’t so much what it said, as who produced it. The Guardian explains: “The leader of the ‘prominent opinion makers’ who wrote it was Richard Perle – now chairman of the Defence Policy Board at the Pentagon. Also among the eight-person team was Douglas Feith, a neo-conservative lawyer, who now holds one of the top four posts at the Pentagon.” Two other opinion-makers in the team were David Wurmser and his wife, Meyrav. David Wurmser is now at the State Department, as a special assistant to John Bolton, the under-secretary for arms control and international security. “With several of the ‘Clean Break paper’s authors now holding key positions in Washington, the plan for Israel to ‘transcend’ its foes by reshaping the Middle East looks a good deal more achievable today than it did in 1996. Americans may even be persuaded to give up their lives to achieve it. “The six-year-old plan for Israel’s ’strategic environment’ remains more or less intact, though two extra skittles – Saudi Arabia and Iran – have joined Iraq, Syria and Lebanon on the hit list.” – Nick Griffin.

Whitaker’s original article is, in essence, a critique of the pre-Iraq War Neo-Conservative strategy for ‘re-shaping’ the Middle-East to suit their own interests; a strategy he considered, and no doubt still considers, to be hopelessly misguided and based on an abject misreading of the foreign policy dynamics of the region.

The article does, as Griffin notes, cite the existence of a 1996 paper by the The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies entitled ‘A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm’, which one can read in full on the IASPS website and the paper does seek to press what was Israel’s then incoming Likud government to scrap the ongoing peace process of the time and adopt a hardline strategy that would reshape the Middle-East to Israel’s interests, as the section below

Israel has a large problem. Labor Zionism, which for 70 years has dominated the Zionist movement, has generated a stalled and shackled economy. Efforts to salvage Israel’s socialist institutions—which include pursuing supranational over national sovereignty and pursuing a peace process that embraces the slogan, “New Middle East”—undermine the legitimacy of the nation and lead Israel into strategic paralysis and the previous government’s “peace process.” That peace process obscured the evidence of eroding national critical mass— including a palpable sense of national exhaustion—and forfeited strategic initiative. The loss of national critical mass was illustrated best by Israel’s efforts to draw in the United States to sell unpopular policies domestically, to agree to negotiate sovereignty over its capital, and to respond with resignation to a spate of terror so intense and tragic that it deterred Israelis from engaging in normal daily functions, such as commuting to work in buses.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government comes in with a new set of ideas. While there are those who will counsel continuity, Israel has the opportunity to make a clean break; it can forge a peace process and strategy based on an entirely new intellectual foundation, one that restores strategic initiative and provides the nation the room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism, the starting point of which must be economic reform. To secure the nation’s streets and borders in the immediate future, Israel can:

  • Work closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll-back some of its most dangerous threats. This implies clean break from the slogan, “comprehensive peace” to a traditional concept of strategy based on balance of power.
  • Change the nature of its relations with the Palestinians, including upholding the right of hot pursuit for self defense into all Palestinian areas and nurturing alternatives to Arafat’s exclusive grip on Palestinian society.
  • Forge a new basis for relations with the United States—stressing self-reliance, maturity, strategic cooperation on areas of mutual concern, and furthering values inherent to the West. This can only be done if Israel takes serious steps to terminate aid, which prevents economic reform.

The paper is unashamedly right-wing and unilateralist throughout, nowhere more so than in couching its ideological appeal in terms of old-school ‘blood and sand’ Zionism and proposes that Israel adopts a shift in its foreign policy dynamic away from the pursut of a comprehensive settlement to the region’s problems to what effectively develop into to what it refers to as ‘a traditional concept of strategy based on balance of power’. What we have here amounts, in strict foreign policy terms, to little more than an attempt to apply the archaic foreign policy dictums of the ‘Cold War’ in a new regional context. Even the ‘skittles theory’ cited by Whitaker, which holds that by ‘knocking over’ Iraq one might then knock down several other hostile regimes in the region, is no more than a variant on ‘Domino theory’, which dominated thinking on foreign policy in the US throughout the Cold War era and, even today, remains hugely influential in US foreign policy circles- the paper admits as much in noting that:

To anticipate U.S. reactions and plan ways to manage and constrain those reactions, Prime Minister Netanyahu can formulate the policies and stress themes he favors in language familiar to the Americans by tapping into themes of American administrations during the Cold War which apply well to Israel.

Until the period leading into the Iraq War, the The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies was just another small and largely unknown and unregarded Jerusalem-based right-wing think-tank (with a Washington office, naturally) and was founded in 1984 by Robert Loewenberg and neither it nor this particular paper commanded any particular public attention until it noted that of the paper’s cited authors/contributors, most of whom were drawn from noted (and influential) pro-Israeli think-tanks, three were co-opted into the Bush Administration and into positions of influence over US policy toward Iraq and the Middle East; Douglas Feith became deputy undersecretary of defense for policy; Richard Perle became chairman of the Defense Policy Board; and David Wurmser became Middle East adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.

This, quite understandably, was interpreted in some quarters as evidence for the existence of a hawkish pro-Israeli cabal within the Bush Administration; one that was directly influencing US foreign policy in the Middle East and hell bent on remaking the region in their own preferred image – a view that, when it hit the media, gave rise to sufficient sensitivity within the administration that Feith was prompted to publicly disavow any significant involvement in the drafting of the ‘Clean Break’ paper in an effort create an aura of plausible deniability for all those who contributed to its content.

David Wurmser as the group’s rapporteur, drafted the report. There were no coauthors, and the discussion participants were not asked to clear the final text of the paper… [The report’s] introductory paragraph said, ‘The main substantive ideas in this paper emerge from a discussion in which prominent opinion makers, including [myself] participated.’ Thus, there is no warrant for attributing any particular idea, let alone all of them, to any one participant” ( Washington Post , September 16, 2004).

Considered rationally, one can easily see both how the contention that this supported the view that hardline pro-Israeli ‘hawks’ were overtly influencing US foreign policy on Iraq emerged and evolved and, equally, how this might readily go on to add further fuel to paranoid delusions of a global ‘Zionist conspiracy’ amongst those whose personal inclinations run to such things. The latter is, of course, a far from rational position, but nevertheless one that can be understood in rational terms in much the same fashion that an eminently sane psychiatric professional can understand the workings of paranoia.
Muir’s ribbing drew this rather tetchy and humourless rejoineder from Mad Mel:

The uncomfortable fact for the Guardian is not just that their visceral hostility towards the war in Iraq is echoed by the BNP, but that the BNP’s antisemitic fantasies about the alleged Jewish conspiracy of neocons stretching from Jerusalem to Washington are regularly echoed in the Guardian’s own pages.

No wonder Nick Griffin is clearly a keen Guardian reader.

…which strikes me as perhaps the worst possible response to Muir’s comments.

Mel’s error here is a very basic one. The correct counter-argument (and antidote) to paranoid delusions (other than medication) is rational argument and a few good old-fashioned solid facts, not a headlong retreat into an equal but opposing delusional state of mind, such that as which seeks to counter allegations of ‘Jewish conspiracy of neocons’ by means of equally wild and unfounded allegations of widespread anti-Semitism.

The central fact that is most pertinant here is, quite simply, that there is, indeed, such a thing as a ‘Jewish lobby’, which actively seeks to promote Israeli interests in Washington and exercise some measure of influence over US foreign policy in the Middle East. Not only does it exist, but it carries out its lobbying activities in a perfectly open and frank manner, inasmuch as any particular specialist interest group is required to do within the US political system, and one can easily trace it efforts and activities through everything from campaign donations to conferences to the policy output of its think-tanks and its contributions to the media in the US.

If there is, in any of this, genuinely a ‘global Zionist conspiracy’ then it is, without doubt, the most poorly executed conspiracy in history as the various efforts of Israel and its supporters to influence US foreign policy in directions that suit Israel’s own interests are conducted in such an open and obvious manner as to make it impossible to deny that such activites do take place unless one is a congential liar.
Quite to what extent this lobbying might somehow be centrally directed to particular ends as opposed to merely reflecting the existence of many diferent groups with individual but broadly coterminus interests is a matter both open to question and also largely irrelevant to the matter at hand. With the occasional exception, Noam Chomsky for example, what else does one reasonably expect a Jewish-run lobby group, think-tank, or newspaper columnist to do but advocate on behalf of Israel and those of its interests they support with whatever ‘tools’ they have at their disposal?

Does anyone bat an eyelid when Oprah Winfrey speaks up for the interests of the Black community and accuse her of being part of a global African conspiracy to take over the world? Of course not. Such a view is not only absurd but would be openly, and quite correctly, treated with all the contempt it deserves.

The situation that arises when a Jewish columnist or media figure speaks up publicly for Israel and its interests is in no way different from that in which any columnist or media figure make use of their position to advocate on behalf of a personal or political interest and any suggestion to the contrary merits only contempt, the same contempt that one should apply with equal vigour to those who respond to legitimate criticism with unfounded ad-hominem allegations of racial/religious prejudice.

(As one might be able to tell, I have no more time for those who, in a quite cynical and calculated fashion, ‘cry wolf’ and level unsustainable allegations of anti-semitism as a reflexive response to any and all criticism of Israel that I do for the purveyors of delusional ‘Zionist’ conspiracy theories – each is, after their own fashion, as bad as the other.)

There is such a thing as a ‘Jewish Lobby’ – given conditions in the Middle East ove the last sixty years, the overall size of the Jewish community in the US and the nature of the US political system, it would be bizarre and entirely incongruous if there wasn’t – the one unresolved question one faces is that of the extent to which it might actually exert an influence over US Foreign Policy, even to the extent (as some have alleged) of persuading the US to forgo or mediate its own national interests in favour of a position more favourable towards or supportive of Israel’s interests.

This, I would contend, is a question that one cannot ascribe a satisfactory answer, nor indeed is it likely that such an answer is possible, not least because in seeking to assess the parameters of any overt (or even covert) Israeli influence on US foreign policy, the only benchmark one can work to is one that is entirely counterfactual. One can only adequately assess Israel’s influence in Washington by means of trying imagine how the US might have responded differently to certain situations without such an influence in place, which is in itself both a matter of opinion and one entirely open to contention.

One can safely say that the US considers Israel a key ally in the Middle East region, and has more or less consistantly supported its interests since the 1960’s, albeit with differeing degrees of enthusiasm from Presidency to Presidency. The US has, for example, exercised its veto in the UN Security Council on more than 40 occasions to prevent the passage of resolutions critical of, or calling for action against, Israel.

One can also say with some measure of assurance that the basis for this relationship is primarily political rather than strategic – by any conventional strategic measure, Israel should be one of the least important nations at the Eastern end of the Meditterranean; it geographical position is of minimal value (certainly by comparison to both Turkey and Egypt), it neither commands nor sits astride any significant trade route nor does it harbour any important strategic or economic resources. In the absence of the ongoing conlict of the region, and disregarding its cultural significance as the crossroads at which three of the world’s major religions meet, Israel should, by rights and in global term, be a peaceful little backwater of orange trees and olive groves with a tidyand fairly comfortable income from tourism – and who knows, perhaps that’s a vision of Israel that some of inhabitants might find comforting and would like to aspire to.

In strategic terms, Israel occupies a position on the global stage out of all proportion with its actual strategic value, a position derived in broadly equal measure from its status as a key ally of the US and, in a more negative sense, as a focal point for ongoing ethnic, religious and territorial conflict. One can also certainly take the view that the US perceives there to be a considerable degree of consanguinuity between its own interest in the region and those of Israel and one can even broadly date the beginnings of this stand of thinking in US foreign policy to the 1950s and 60s and the the rise of Arab socialism under, first Nasser in Egypt and, later, the Ba’athist regimes in Syria and Iraq, not least in terms of the loose alignments forged by those nations with the Soviet Union. US support for Israel can, at least in part, be said to be a legacy of the Cold War.

This, however, is scant evidence on which to base the assertion that Israel exercises a direct influence over US foreign policy let alone the capacity to influence the US to courses of action contrary to their own national interests, not least as any such (hypothetical) influence can be seen to have both waxed and waned in line with shifts in the domestic political landscape of the US and the transfer of power (and the Presidency) from Republican to Democrat and vice versa, and will likely wane once again once Bush departs the White House.

One can, with greater justification, argue that US support for Israel has, from time to time, mitigated against and even damaged Britain’s interests in the region, not least in regards to its relationships with those Arab States with whom Britain had/had an association that pre-dated the founding of Israel, although one has both to concede that, historically, Britain has both done it own fair share of shooting such relationships in the foot, as with the Suez crisis, and that any ‘malign’ influence one might ascribe to Israel can only be considered in terms of its being ‘by association’ as it derives from the pre-eminent status accorded by Britain to its relationship with the US and not directly from its relationship with Israel.

In the absence of clear comparitor upon which to base a factual assessment of the presumed influence of Israel (and the ‘Jewish Lobby’) on US foreign policy, i.e. a period during which a US Administation adopted a policy of studied and rigorous neutrality towards Israel and its interests, on can only speculate as to the extent to which Israel and its supporters have been (or are) successful in influencing the policy of the current, or any previous, US Administration.

Consequently, a fair and balanced reading of the situation must, of necessity, concede that:

a. There is such a thing as a ‘Jewish Lobby’, although this might, perhaps, be better referred to a ‘pro-Israel Lobby’ in which Jewish individuals and groups play a prominent, and perfectly natural/understandable role.

b. This lobby, such at it exists, does endeavour to influence US foreign (and, perhaps, domestic policy also) in directions favourably to it interests, and does so quite openly.

c. This lobby, in generally accepted terms, does possess the means to promote its interests effective and may, indeed, exert some (variable) measure of influence over the thinking of the US Administration, as do other notably ‘powerful’ US lobby groups and special interests, e.g. the Oil industry, Pharamceuticals industry, Medical Insurance industry, etc.

d. It is, however, impossible to quantify the extent to which this lobby might actually influence US foreign policy and, for the most part, even disentangle the clear interests of the US from those of Israel.

e. One can, however, observe that the extent to which US and Israel interests are perceived to be coterminus can, and does, vary from Presidency to Presidency and reasonably make the case that, under the present incumbent, the view that US and Israeli interests broadly one and the same is stronger than it was under the previous incumbent – and, perhaps, stronger than they have been at any time since the founding of the Israeli state – and that this does coincide with the presence, in the current Administration, of a number of individuals with noted (and ideologically hard-line) pro-Israeli (and on the evidence, explicitly pro-Zionist) views.

None of this support or sustains, in any way, the wholly delusional view of the existence of ‘global Zionist conspiracy’ nor, however, does it delegitimise questions as to the precise extent to which individuals and groups whose commitment to and support for Israel may be be, quite validly, characteristised as ‘right-wing’, ‘ideological ‘and even ‘Neo-Conservative’ may have influenced, and still be influencing, US foreign policy and US actions in the Middle East in the recent past and at the present time.

There is equally, therefore, no justification for, or valid defence of, the deliberate and cynical smearing of such questions (and questioners) with allegations of anti-Semitism unless one can provide, also, corroborating evidence to demonstrate that this is indeed a central motive for the actions of the individual against whom such a charge is laid, and, speaking now as left-winger, one should be as vigorous in one’s opposition to such behaviour, when one encounters it and one should in opposing the promulgation of lies, falsehoods and delusions of supposed Zionist conspiracies.

One might reasonably observe, therefore, that it would appear from her comments that Mad Mel has rather more in common with Nick Griffin that she might ever like to believe or care to admit to.