By Vijay Prashad
Talk about political correctness. You can't mention Israel's Little Power ambitions and its ingenious reach into the halls of the US establishment without getting whacked. All of us who have an opinion about the role of Israel in Washington, and of groups like WINEP on Israeli politics, don't all speak with one voice. If you read the Counterpunch collection (The Politics of Anti-Semitism, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair) alongside Chomsky's writings on the Middle East, the range of opinion will become clear.
Indeed, Jeffrey Blankfort, in the Counterpunch collection, takes on Chomsky directly for an apparent underestimation of Israeli influence. There is no singular line, although with differences in emphases, there is agreement that not only does the intransigent Right in Washington model itself after Israel's forward policy, but it is also deeply influenced by various Zionist organizations that make it their business to push and prod Washington to line up with the Israeli state's Middle East policy.
That many American Jews disavow these organizations (AIPAC and WINEP) is clear to many of the writers who make this point. One of the more toxic Zionists is Robert Bartley, the editor of the Wall Street Journal, who once said, "Shamir, Sharon, Bibi - whatever these guys want is pretty much fine by me." He's a Midwestern Christian. For me, there is a fundamental distinction between calling this power bloc an "Israeli lobby" or a "Zionist lobby" and a "Jewish lobby." The two former designations are more accurate, and far less prone to misrepresentation. Although with the forces that dismiss all criticism of Israel as the delusions of an anti-Semite would hardly listen carefully for these crucial differences.
Nothing the Israeli Lobby does is unusual. It operates in the way of the hundreds of other lobbies that operate in and around Washington. The two most recently being smacked around for their article on the lobby (establishment figures John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt) go as far as to point out that what the Israeli Lobby does is vintage American politics. "This is a classic case of interest group politics," Mearsheimer told The New York Times. "It's as American as apple pie" (April 12, 2006). Some lobbies are more successful because their agenda is not averse to those of the US elite.
What Mearsheimer and Walt, as well as many others before them, suggest is that the demands of the Israeli Lobby have perverted the realistic foreign policy objectives of the US. They can only believe that because they have a neutral conception of US interests, as if the US government formulates its policies based on the interest of its population. In fact, to my mind, the US government develops it approach to the world not with its population in mind, but with the interests of the entrenched global hierarchy at heart.
For example, while the US government apparently objects to international governance in principle, it is quite happy to push international treaties that protect the intellectual property rights of those who hold the means of conception. This elite also has a very well developed sense of its need to command the basic resources of capitalism (including energy resources). For that reason, it is willing to knit itself to the forward policy of Zionism, as well as the forward policy of the Venezuelan aristocracy, the Colombian drug-land lords and the Burmese Junta (to name a few allies of the duopoly). Extravagances of the gun are of value when they ensure that the Law of Value is untroubled.
Discussion of the Israeli Lobby is crucial, as long as it does not eclipse two other central lobbies: the American Lobby and the Ares Lobby. The American Lobby is not so well known perhaps because it is ubiquitous. When George W. Bush came to India last month, for instance, the American Lobby was in full effect:
1) Certain political parties (the BJP, for instance, as well as sections of the Congress) have knit their global role to US preeminence. 2) Entire industries (not just Business Process Outsourcing, but also research and development and some export manufacturing) salivate before the US dollar. 3) A highly educated class (tens of millions of people) that is eager for upward mobility. As the Indian psychologist Sudhir Kakar puts it, "This class somehow has the ability to transmute a flame into a blaze.' The biographer of this class, Pavan K. Varma, writes that although it "thinks out of the box" and is "a hugely entrepreneurial class," it "may be bent on cloning itself on the West." The attachment of this class to the graded inequality of the global capitalist system is driven by its own aspirations to rise up the ladder.
These interests coalesce with much more powerful forces: the ruling class in places such as India, Brazil and South Africa, the organized might of the G-7, the various international financial conglomerates. This class has its annual meeting at Davos. Their mouthpiece is Thomas Friedman. We have plenty of research of this or that element of the American Lobby, but we don't often give it its rightful name.
The other Lobby also slides under the radar: the Ares Lobby. As the fracas over the Israeli Lobby broke out, I was reading Jeffrey St. Clair's new book, Grand Theft Pentagon: Tales of Corruption and Profiteering in the War on Terror (Common Courage, 2005). St. Clair marshals an enormous amount of detail that justifies President Eisenhower's premonitions about the Military Industrial Complex. For the Ares Lobby, 911 has been a real godsend. It enabled a massive expansion of the US military spending, and justified the kind of reckless expenditure only the Pentagon is allowed to get away with in this time of fiscal tightness.
There's Lockheed (daily feed from the federal treasury = $65 million). It has its fists in almost all the major arms deals, and it even makes armaments that are utterly useless in the current political environment (the F-22 Raptor, for instance, designed to battle the Soviet landmass is of no value against al-Qaeda, nor, at $300 million per plane, would it be worthwhile in a conflict against the relatively under-armed Chinese air force - even ace hawk Robert Kaplan conceded that the Chinese "navy and air force will not be able to match ours for some decades," if ever).
In St. Clair's Believe It Or Not we get the litany of corporate crimes from such familiar villains as Halliburton, Bechtel, Boeing, Pratt and Whitney, and the Carlyle Group; we also get treated to details of strategically dubious armaments (the F-22 Raptor, the A-10 Warthog, the Patriot Missile, Star Wars, et. seq.). The business of the arms merchants, one Bechtel shill says, "is a lumpy business. Some projects come through that are a billion, some are a mere $200 million." As St. Clair comments, "Note the sly emphasis on 'mere.'" Indeed.
Most of this is well known, or else has been reasonably documented by non-profit research foundations such as the Center for Public Integrity, Project on Government Oversight or CorpWatch. But few write with St. Clair's verve, and with his wit. That's a bonus.
What is less attended to in the public mind, but is well documented by St. Clair, is the Ares Lobby: the ensemble of lobbyists, political representatives and their allies assembled by the arms industry to facilitate its interests. There is little embarrassment about this in Washington because it is so banal: politicians take money from arms dealers and then push their weapons systems; when the politicians retire, they work for the arms industry. This is routine, and only occasionally does someone get into trouble for failing to cover their hypocrisy by sufficient technicalities.
St. Clair's book begins with Duke Cunningham who represented San Diego, but who worked for MZM Incorporated. It was only after eight terms of mendacity that Cunningham fell on the government's proffered sword (a loyalist for Pentagon gourmandize, Cunningham had got too flashy with MZM's gifts).
St. Clair's former colleague at Counterpunch and current LA Times reporter, Ken Silverstein, wrote in 1998, "When you consider the enormous benefits bestowed on Corporate America by the White House and Congress, the big sums companies spend to win favors are revealed as chump change." Lockheed paid $5 to lobby Congress in 1996, but won approval for a $15 billion government fund to underwrite arms sales overseas. The rate of return is staggering.
The Lobby pervades every aspect of Washington - it is not its money that buys its favors. That would be too easy (and it is what exercises liberals). The Lobby is not the lobbyists, but it includes them and encompasses the political class and the arms merchants as well. They are the Lobby. In that sense, we are today governed by the Merchants of Death.
Recent Prashad Content