The Assassins' Gate

The Assassins' Gate by George Packer Read Free Book Online

Book: The Assassins' Gate by George Packer Read Free Book Online
Authors: George Packer
the theory in his 1999 book Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein, published by the American Enterprise Institute, the right-wing think tank where he was a scholar. The overthrow of Saddam would destabilize both Syria and Iran, isolate Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, and realign the entire Middle East so that—though this was never spelled out, as if the author feared making himself too clear—Israel would no longer need to negotiate with the Palestinians over the occupied territories. Tyranny’s Ally, with an introduction by Richard Perle and acknowledgments to Perle, Chalabi, Feith, Lewis, and several other intellectuals of the Iraq War, is a strange and revealing book. It reads as if a graduate student were feverishly trying to apply the half-digested concepts he’d learned in a class with Leo Strauss to subject matter he’d learned in a class with Bernard Lewis. There’s an undercurrent of deep distrust of the modern world: Modernity gave us totalitarianism, therefore modernity must be undone. Wurmser wanted to return Iraq to traditional values, especially to Shiite religious tradition (about which he knew almost nothing). “The root of the violence is a century-old radical attack on the Arab world’s traditional elite,” he wrote. “Proponents of the secular ideology assumed the prerogative to shape and reshape mankind according to their concept of perfection.” Dostoyevsky’s antirevolutionary novel Demons is invoked; the political ideas of Wurmser and a few other proponents of American intervention in the Middle East were closer to Dostoyevsky’s religious authoritarianism than to John Stuart Mill’s secular liberalism. They advocated democracy, but at bottom they were anti-Enlightenment.
    A few weeks before the start of the Iraq War, a State Department official described for me what he called the “everybody move over one theory”: Israel would annex the occupied territories, the Palestinians would get Jordan, and the Jordanian Hashemites would be restored to the throne of Iraq. By then, several of the paper’s signers, including Feith, Perle, and Wurmser, occupied key policy positions in the administration of George W. Bush, where they were shaping the imminent war to overthrow Saddam.
    Does this mean that a pro-Likud cabal insinuated its way into the high councils of the U.S. government and took hold of the apparatus of American foreign policy to serve Israeli interests (as some critics of the war have charged, rather than addressing its merits head on)? Is neoconservative another word for Jewish (as some advocates of the war have complained, rather than addressing their critics head on)? For Feith and Wurmser, the security of Israel was probably the prime mover. But for others, such as Wolfowitz, Iraq stood for different things—an unfinished war, Arab tyranny, weapons proliferation, a strategic threat to oil, American weakness, Democratic fecklessness—and regime change there became the foreign-policy jackpot. A leading Israeli journalist, Ari Shavit, answered the conspiracy theory this way: Jews are drawn to ideas. The idea of realigning the Middle East by overthrowing Saddam Hussein was first proposed by a group of Jewish policy makers and intellectuals who were close to the Likud. And when the second President Bush looked around for a way to think about the uncharted era that began on September 11, 2001, there was one already available.
    *   *   *
    MOST AMERICAN LIBERALS opposed the Gulf War in 1991. The prospect of a ground assault by half a million troops (even if this was desert and not jungle) touched the extremely sensitive place where America’s last land war remained as a muscle memory. And this anxiety played no small part in the “no” votes on the war resolution cast by two young Democratic senators who were veterans of that last war, Bob Kerrey and John Kerry.

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