What was Marx’s aphorism: history repeats the first time as tragedy, the second as farce? Steve Walt came to Washington’s Palestine Center last week, and referred instead to Yogi Berra’s “Deja vu, all over again.” The renowned (in some circles infamous) co-author of The Israel Lobby was in DC to talk about the similarities and differences between the neocons goading American into a war with Iraq and their ongoing efforts to ignite a war with Iran. The video and transcript is here.
Walt is sober and fact-based — always necessary on this volatile subject, especially because after the Iraq War went sour, the lobby sought to distance itself from it. In his talk (as in the book) the Harvard prof was precise in sketching both the extent and the limitations of the lobby’s role. But one of his assertions struck me afresh: the idea for the Iraq War originated with the neocons, not with the State Department, the Pentagon, the oil companies, the intelligence agencies, or anyone else. After 9/11, they had much broader Israel lobby assistance, and after Bush and Cheney were converted to neoconservatism, they had an insurmountable coalition. Israel’s leaders, reluctant at first, came on board after being persuaded that Baghdad was only the first stage along the route to triumph in Tehran. But the war was the product of a few dozen like-minded publicists and intellectuals, working effectively to turn an idea into a reality.
Thus the tragedy. The farce, if that is the word, is Washington is setting up the same path all over again. As if nothing has been learned. The neocon propaganda organs are very much in place. The war talk is similar, especially the depiction of Iran’s leaders as irrational zealots, impervious to reason. Many of the key players are the same: Bill Kristol, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, “mainstream” Jeffrey Goldberg, Elliott Abrams. AIPAC drafting congressional resolutions designed to tie the administration’s hands, which Congress rubber stamps with all the careful debate one would expect from an assembly in Pyongyang. To an extent which seems even greater than 2002, the bulk of the Republican Party seems to have fallen in line.
Some important differences remain, however. The entire Israel lobby is not on board for an Iran war, and there are major national security figures in Israel itself saying it would be a bad error. The U.S. military seems more vocally opposed. The Obama administration, despite rhetorical hedging, seems to recognize that war is neither necessary nor wise.
Of course, this is a thin reed upon which to rest ones’ hopes of sanity: a not-especially-popular administration, with an election looming. But better than none at all.