Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Bush/Cheney Risk Israel's Survival

By Ray McGovern
February 12, 2007

Editor’s Note: The Bush administration presents itself as Israel's staunchest

friend, but some of its reckless policies are worsening Israel's security

situation. In this guest essay, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern asks whether

Israel might begin asking the age-old question, "with friends like these, who

needs enemies?"

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are unwittingly playing

Dr. Jack Kevorkian in helping the state of Israel commit suicide.
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For this is the inevitable consequence of the planned air and missile attack on

Iran. The pockmarked, littered landscape in Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan and

the endless applicant queues at al-Qaeda and other terrorist recruiting stations

testify eloquently to the unintended consequences of myopic policymakers in

Washington and Tel Aviv.

Mesmerized. Sadly, this is the best word to describe those of us awake to the

inexorable march of folly to war with Iran and the growing danger to Israel’s

security, especially over the medium and long term.

An American and/or Israeli attack on Iran will let slip the dogs of war. Those

dogs never went to obedience school. They will not be denied their chance to

bite, and Israel’s arsenal of nuclear weapons will be powerless to muzzle them.

In my view, not since 1948 has the very existence of Israel hung so much in the

balance. Can Bush/Cheney and the Israeli leaders not see it?

Pity that no one seems to have read our first President’s warning on the noxious

effects of entangling alliances. The supreme irony is that in their fervor to

help, as well as use, Israel, Bush and Cheney seem blissfully unaware that they

are leading it down a garden path and off a cliff.

Provoke and Pre-empt

Whether it is putting the kibosh on direct talks with Iran or between Israel and

Syria, the influence and motives of the Vice President are more transparent than

those of Bush.

Sure, Cheney told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer recently that the administration’s Iraq

policy would be “an enormous success story,” but do not believe those who

dismiss Cheney as “delusional.” He and his “neo-conservative” friends are crazy

like a fox. They have been pushing for confrontation with Iran for many years,

and saw the invasion of Iraq in that context.

Alluding to recent U.S. military moves, author Robert Dreyfuss rightly describes

the neo-cons as “crossing their fingers in the hope that Iran will respond

provocatively, making what is now a low-grade cold war inexorably heat up.”

But what about the President? How to explain his fixation with fixing Iran’s

wagon? Cheney’s influence over Bush has been shown to be considerable ever since

the one-man search committee for the 2000 vice presidential candidate picked


The Vice President can play Bush like a violin. But what strings is he using

here? Where is the resonance?

Experience has shown the President to be an impressionable sort with a roulette

penchant for putting great premium on initial impressions and latching onto

people believed to be kindred souls—be it Russian President Vladimir Putin

(trust at first sight), hale-fellow-well-met CIA director George Tenet, or

oozing-testosterone-from-every-pore former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Of particular concern was his relationship with Sharon. Retired Gen. Brent

Scowcroft, a master of discretion with the media, saw fit to tell London’s

Financial Times two and a half years ago that Sharon had Bush “mesmerized” and

“wrapped around his little finger.”

As chair of the prestigious President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board

under George W. Bush and national security adviser to his father, Scowcroft was

uniquely positioned to know—and to draw comparisons. He was summarily fired

after making the comments about Sharon and is now persona non grata at the White


Compassion Deficit Disorder

George W. Bush first met Sharon in 1998, when the Texas governor was taken on a

tour of the Middle East by Matthew Brooks, then executive director of the

Republican Jewish Coalition. Sharon was foreign minister and took Bush on a

helicopter tour over the Israeli occupied territories.

An Aug. 3, 2006 McClatchy wire story by Ron Hutcheson quotes Matthew Brooks: “If

there’s a starting point for George W. Bush’s attachment to Israel, it’s the day

in late 1998, when he stood on a hilltop where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the

Mount, and, with eyes brimming with tears, read aloud from his favorite hymn,

‘Amazing Grace.’ He was very emotional. It was a tear-filled experience. He

brought Israel back home with him in his heart. I think he came away profoundly


Bush made gratuitous but revealing reference to that trip at the first meeting

of his National Security Council on Jan. 30, 2001. After announcing he would

abandon the decades-long role of honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians

and would tilt pronouncedly toward Israel, Bush said he would let Sharon resolve

the dispute however he saw fit.

At that point he brought up his trip to Israel with the Republican Jewish

Coalition and the flight over Palestinian camps, but there was no sense of

concern for the lot of the Palestinians. In A Pretext for War James Bamford

quotes Bush: “Looked real bad down there,” he said with a frown. Then he said it

was time to end America’s efforts in the region. “I don’t see much we can do

over there at this point,” he said.

So much for the Sermon on the Mount. The version I read puts a premium on

actively working for justice. There is no suggestion that tears suffice.

Then-Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, who was at the NSC meeting,

reported that Colin Powell, the newly minted but nominal secretary of state, was

taken completely by surprise at this nonchalant jettisoning of longstanding

policy. Powell demurred, warning that this would unleash Sharon and “the

consequences could be dire, especially for the Palestinians.”

But according to O’Neill, Bush just shrugged, saying, “Sometimes a show of

strength by one side can really clarify things.” O’Neill says that Powell seemed

“startled.” It is a safe bet that the Vice President was in no way startled.

A similar account reflecting Bush’s compassion deficit disorder leaps from the

pages of Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine. Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi

Arabia’s de facto leader was in high dudgeon in April 2002 when he arrived in

Crawford to take issue with Bush’s decision to tilt toward Israel and jettison

the long-standing American role of honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian


With Bush’s freshly bestowed “man-of-peace” epithet for Sharon still ringing in

Abdullah’s ear, he began by insisting that before a word was spoken the

President and his aides watch a 15-minute video the prince had brought of mayhem

on the West Bank, of American-made tanks, bloodied and dead children, screaming


Then, still wordless, they all filed into another room where the Saudis

proceeded to make specific demands, but Bush appeared distracted and was non-

responsive. After a few minutes, the President turned to Abdullah and said,

“Let’s go for a drive. Just you and me. I’ll show you the ranch.”

Bush was so obviously unprepared to discuss substance with his Saudi guests that

some of the President’s aides checked into what had happened. The briefing

packet for the President had been diverted to Cheney’s office. Bush never got

it, so he was totally unaware of what the Saudis hoped to accomplish in making

the hajj to Crawford.

(There is little doubt that this has been a common experience over the past six

years and that there are, in effect, two “deciders” in the White House, one of

them controlling the paper flow.)

Not that Bush was starved for background briefings. Indeed, he showed a

preference to get them from Prime Minister Sharon who, with his senior military

aide, Gen. Yoav Galant, briefed the President both in Crawford (in 2005) and the

Oval Office (in 2003) on Iran’s “nuclear weapons program.”

Sorry if I find that odd. That used to be our job at CIA. I’ll bet Sharon and

Galant packed a bigger punch.

There is, no doubt, more at play here regarding Bush’s attitude and behavior

regarding Israel and Palestine. One need not be a psychologist to see ample

evidence of oedipal tendencies. It is no secret that the President has been

privately critical of what he perceives to be his father’s mistakes.

Suskind notes, for example, that Bush defended his tilt toward Israel by telling

an old foreign policy hand, “I’m not going to be supportive of my father and all

his Arab buddies!”

And it seems certain that Ariel Sharon gave the young Bush an earful about the

efforts of James Baker, his father’s secretary of state, to do the unthinkable;

i.e., crank Arab grievances into deals he tried to broker between Israel and the

Palestinians. It seems clear that this is one reason the Baker-Hamilton report

was dead on arrival.

Dangerous Friends

George W. Bush may have the best of intentions in his zeal to defend Israel, but

he and Cheney have the most myopic of policies.

Israeli leaders risk much if they take reassurance from the President’s

rhetoric, particularly vis-à-vis Iran. I am constantly amazed to find, as I

speak around the country, that the vast majority of educated Americans believe

we have a defense treaty with Israel. We don’t, but one can readily see how it

is they are misled. Listen to the President exactly two years ago:

“Clearly, if I was the leader of Israel and I’d listened to some of the

statements by the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my country,

I’d be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well. And, in that Israel

is our ally—and in that we’ve made a very strong commitment to support Israel—we

will support Israel if her security is threatened.”

We do no favors for Israeli leaders in giving them the impression they have

carte blanche in their neighborhood—and especially vis-à-vis Iran, and that we

will bail them out, no matter what.

Have they learned nothing from the recent past? Far from enhancing Israel’s

security, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Washington’s encouragement of Israel’s

feckless attack on Lebanon last summer resulted in more breeding ground for

terrorist activity against Israel.

This will seem child’s play compared to what would be in store, should the U.S.

and/or Israel bomb Iran.

Bottom line: there is a growing threat to Israel from suicide bombers. The most

dangerous two work in the White House.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical

Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. He was a CIA analyst for 27 years and

is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

(VIPS). His e-mail is rrmcgovern@aol.com. (The original version of this article

appeared on TomPaine.com.)

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