The Un-American Conservative
Noah Pollock is in rare form in this Commentary Post – utilizing all the tired, typical old strawmen and red herrings against “paleos” and the unabashedly critical conservative voices at the American Conservative magazine who dare to come out against the boiler plate pro-Israel inanities of the Commentary crowd. Writes Pollack:
In my opinion, a magazine that attempts to undermine the democratic legitimacy of the contribution of Jews to the public debate by repeatedly referring to them as a “fifth column” is indeed an un-American publication. TAC also publishes the embarrassing conspiracy-theorizing of Philip Giraldi, a man whose writing is almost entirely dedicated to exposing what he believes are the Israeli or Jewish plots manipulating U.S. policy. The attempt to write one religious or ethnic group out of the debate by assigning them membership in conspiracies and imputing to them dual loyalties is indeed un-American, and there should be nothing controversial about saying so. [emphasis added]
Is that what the writers at the American Conservative are doing? I’ve read a lot of columns by a wide variety of writers at TAC, from Daniel Larison to Pat Buchanan, and I am having a very, very difficult time recalling when a single one of them referred to the “contribution of Jews to the public debate” as a “fifth column.” I have heard the Israel Lobby referenced as a “fifth column” but I certainly haven’t heard TAC’s writers calling out all Jewish contributions to the public debate as such. Of course, I’m looking for evidence and reason, two things Pollack is wholly lacking.
And that’s the point of Pollack’s rhetoric. Just insert “Jew” wherever the word “Israel” pops up and you can basically call out your opponents and critics as anti-Semites without actually having to overtly state it – and sometimes insinuations are simply more powerful than outright statements. This is what the Commentary crowd does whenever pressed with legitimate criticism of Israel. This is the neoconservative playbook on dissent management. This tactic is tragic and foolish because it really is important to have a wide variety of voices and opinions on the Israel/Palestine debate. Dissent from the status quo is necessary. If we only have the gung-ho pro-Israel hawks debating with other gung-ho pro-Israel hawks then we don’t have a debate, we have an echo chamber. If we only have the neocon talking points to reference when debating whether or not to bomb Iran – it should be telling that we’ve even gotten to that point – then we’re rarely given an opportunity to dig into the deeper historical truths of that nation. And without history we have the Iraq invasion all over again.
Now to get to the meat of this post, it seems that Pollack considers Buchanan’s critique of the Israel lobby as “un-American” to be rather “un-American” itself. Would the proper response be for me to call out Pollack as un-American in turn? Then perhaps someone could level a similarly vapid retort against me. As Andrew points out, this becomes “a slightly comic and self-defeating cycle in which those who call others un-American are thereby called un-Americans in turn.”
This is the problem with such a line of attack. Buchanan and Pollock both fail miserably in their various critiques (of each other and that dreaded “fifth column”) not so much because they lack for details – Buchanan’s column is rather flush with names and dates; Pollack is all hyperbole – but because they both overshadow any relevance by decrying their fellow citizens as “un-American.” This is where I run into difficulty when I hear the Glenn Beck’s of the world railing on about the coming totalitarianism of Obama, or when conservatives claim that liberals or anti-war conservatives are somehow not as patriotic as their more hawkish counterparts. This sort of denouncement is of the hyper-testosterone variety, which is why it is much more common to hear pro-war types denouncing anti-war types as being un-American or unpatriotic or what have you. Liberals mock and deride conservatives all the time, but it’s rarely over their patriotism.
Now, I don’t doubt for a second either Pollack’s or Buchanan’s love for this country. They both have different visions of what it means to be American, or at least different visions of where our priorities should lie. Nor do I doubt the existence of a very strong, very real Israel lobby that is well connected and powerful and quite capable of torpedoing Chas Freeman’s appointment. That there is any doubt about this strikes me as particularly odd. That Freeman’s name was sunk by anything other than the pro Israel crowd is basically unthinkable. Who else and for what other really good reason could Freeman have been swept aside? No other foreign policy lobby is as active or as strong as AIPAC and especially now that we’re more embroiled than ever in the Middle East, and Israel is more entrenched than ever in its own political trenches, it is of vital importance for Israel to have friendly faces in the intelligence community.
Enter AIPAC. Since when do these organizations not act in their own self-interest? That’s the very purpose of them to begin with. AIPAC is like any other strong lobby. This isn’t some massive “Jewish conspiracy” a la The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This is meat and potatoes – every man for himself, pure and simple politics. Israel wants American aid and friendship, which is why they have a lobby in the first place. They also happen to be very well connected in the American government, to power-brokers who no doubt still love America but also have a great affinity for Israel, like Joe Lieberman and countless others.
Now, the existence or purpose of the Israel Lobby doesn’t speak at all to the merits or qualifications of Chas Freeman. I believe he was a good choice for the job, and I keep hoping that our foreign policy apparatus will become better rounded for the sake of America and our allies, including Israel, because at this point we’ve learned that this sort of one-dimensional approach to the Middle East and to Israel just isn’t working. The Israel Lobby is only a “fifth column” because of continued American delusions about the importance of maintaining a constant military presence in the Middle East to begin with. If American interests were shifted away from the region, you can count on American interest in Israel gradually drying up. This is important because this day will, out of necessity, come and Israel needs to be on better ground to face its arrival. Israel needs to be less dependent on America if they want to survive, just like America needs to be less dependent on foreign oil if we want to survive. The fact of the matter is that Israel shouldn’t count on sustained support out of Washington. A better solution is a lasting peace, and while Israel is not the only one responsible for such a peace, as the stronger party involved (is there any dispute that Israel is the stronger party between Israel and the Palestinians?) they hold the vast majority of the burden, whether or not that’s fair. Their burden is certainly far greater than America’s in this matter.
And, quite frankly, I don’t care if I’m smeared as un-American in saying so.
Update. Daniel Larison weighs in and asks a good question:
On a related matter, does Andrew actually disagree with anything Mr. Buchanan said in his latest column on Freeman?
I wondered that also, since aside from Buchanan’s use of the “un-American” critique it was a fairly sharp column all around. I just think Buchanan playing the un-American card, after it has been dealt him so many times over, is a bit silly…
Update II. Scott McConnell defends TAC:
Commentary blogger Noah Pollak has produced a post attacking TAC for what he considers “un-American” language criticizing the lobby. TAC takes its polemical manners seriously, and Pollak’s charge deserves an answer.
He links to one Pat Buchanan syndicated column, on the TAC website, though he flags another website’s title for the column. He claims the magazine “repeatedly” refers to “Jews” as a “fifth column”—asserting “the attempt to write one religious or ethnic group out of the debate by assigning them membership in conspiracies and imputing to them dual loyalties is indeed un-American, and there should be nothing controversial about saying so.”
But TAC had done nothing of the kind. It published the phrase “fifth column” in a Justin Raimondo piece four years ago about convicted spy Larry Franklin. This was a focused and limited usage—unless Pollack wants to imply that all American Jews support Israeli espionage against the United States, a position that really would be absurd. Another syndicated Buchanan column, published in TAC last summer, said, “Israel and its Fifth Column in this city seek to stampede us into war with Iran.” One can debate the language—though it sadly obvious that Israel hopes for an American war against Iran—but clearly “Israel and its Washington fifth column” refers to a very specific group of people, including bellicose Christians. No honest reader could conclude that it referred to “the contribution of Jews to the public debate”—unless, of course, Pollak seeks to insinuate that all American Jews are pushing the United States to attack Iran, a truly loony proposition.
There is a deeper motive to Pollak’s attack. A monumental sea change is underway in the American Jewish community. For many years, liberal Jews more or less let AIPAC or Commentary or The New Republic speak for them on the issues of Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East. That’s over. J Street has emerged as a new pro-peace PAC to challenge AIPAC. It opposes the war with Iran that Pollak would like to start. So do dozens of important bloggers—M.J. Rosenberg, Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Philip Weiss, Tony Karon, Josh Marshall, and David Bromwich, to name a few. Joe Klein, the popular Time writer has been challenging Freeman’s attackers. Taken together, these writers are challenging the entire Likudnik ideological complex that stretches from Jerusalem to the offices of Commentary and The Weekly Standard.