In the Arena

When Extremists Attack

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I have now been called antisemitic and intellectually unstable and a whole bunch of other silly things by the folks over at the Commentary blog. They want Time Magazine to fire or silence me. This is happening because I said something that is palpably true, but unspoken in polite society: There is a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who unsuccessfully tried to get Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, and then successfully helped provide the intellectual rationale for George Bush to do it in 2003. Their motivations involve a confused conflation of what they think are Israel’s best interests with those of the United States. They are now leading the charge for war with Iran.

Happily, these people represent a very small sliver of the Jewish population in this country. Unhappily, their views have had an impact in the highest reaches of the Bush Administration–and seem to have an influence on John McCain’s campaign as well. Happily, the Bush Administration seems more interested in talking to the Iranians than in launching on them–and, according to my Israeli friends, the Israelis are not going to do anything foolish, either. I remain proud of my Jewish heritage, a strong supporter of Israel and a realist about the slim chance of finding some common ground with the Iranians. But I am not willing to grant these ideologues the anonymity they seek.

In early 2003, during my first weeks as a Time Magazine columnist, I wrote a handful of skeptical columns about the coming war in Iraq, including this one about Israel’s security as a hidden casus belli. Then, with the troops in place and the war about to begin, I said something stupid on Tim Russert’s cable TV show–reluctantly saying ok, we should proceed with the attack. It was the only statement I made in favor of the war and I quickly came to my senses–but that’s no excuse. We have lost more than 4000 Americans, tens of thousands have come home grievously injured, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed and wounded, and we are weaker, palpably and morally, as a result.

I am not going to make the same mistake twice. I don’t think a war with Iran is coming, thank God, but this time I am not going to pull any punches. My voice isn’t very important in the grand scheme of things, but I’m going to do my job–and that means letting you know exactly where I stand and what I believe. I believe there are a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who are pushing for war with Iran because they believe it is in America’s long-term interests and because they believe Israel’s existence is at stake. They are wrong and recent history tells us they are dangerous. They are also bullies and I’m not going to be intimidated by them.

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