The Making of the Republicans’ Middle East Policy
Addressing leading Manhattan financiers at a private meeting in the Metropolitan Republican Club on May 5, Jeb Bush (who is doing everything possible to act like a presidential candidate without yet officially making such an announcement) stated that former President George W. Bush (his brother) is his major advisor on Israel and the Middle East.
The mainstream media has been focusing on a related utterance—Jeb’s initial claim that he would have done the same thing as his brother in attacking Iraq, a claim that he has been in the process of qualifying and requalifying. But it is the broader claim that deserves more analysis. It is equally outrageous just on its face, but there is much more to it.For while the mainstream media is analyzing in microscopic detail Jeb’s stumbling over his Iraq war response, it naturally ignores that third rail in contemporary American politics, the power of the Israel lobby.
Now anyone who would admit relying on foreign policy advice from Dubya should be automatically excluded from any position of authority, and most certainly from the presidency. Upon entering the White House, George W. Bush admitted he did not know much about the Middle East and most of what he would claim to be true has been thoroughly disproven. More than this, however, there is no evidence that George W. had much knowledge of anything. The late political commentator Christopher Hitchens described George W. in 2000 as
“unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.”
To understand the meaning here it is necessary to understand the context in which Jeb Bush was acting. The event was organized by GOP mega-donor Paul Singer,whom antiwar commentator Justin Raimondo aptly describes as
“one of the richest men in the world, whose financial interests and devotion to Israel combine to produce what can only be characterized as a singular obsession. ”
The following is an abbreviated litany of Singer’s neocon-Israel lobby credentials: member of the board of directors of Commentary magazine and the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former member of the board of directors of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; and major funder of the Middle East Media Research Institute, Center for Security Policy, and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Moreover, his foundation, the Paul E. Singer Foundation, has funded the American Enterprise Institute (which has been called “neocon central”) and The Israel Project.
It is apparent that the rather intelligent (compared to George W.) Jeb is not going to rely on his know-nothing older brother for advice, but rather wanted to signal that he would follow his brother’s policies towards Israel and the Middle East and rely on advisors who were very similar, if not the same: namely the neocons. The special reason Jeb considered it necessary to identify with his brother was to fend off fears on the part of the Israel lobby arising from the fact that James Baker had been included on a long list of possible political consultants released by the Jeb Bush team in February. Baker is a very close friend of the Bush family, and as secretary of state under the elder Bush, he had pursued policies diametrically opposed to the wishes of Israel and its American lobby.
The Israel lobby’s animosity to Baker had been rekindled in March when the former secretary of state, in a speech at a J Street (a liberal Zionist organization) meeting, castigated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of a two-state solution and his policy of expanding Jewish settlements on the West Bank, which would be a vital part of any viable Palestinian state.
Faced with the outrage of wealthy pro-Likud Republicans, Bush quickly authorized a spokeswoman to state that Bush disagreed with Baker’s speech and that the unannounced candidate was actually giving “unwavering” support for both Israel and Netanyahu.
Peter Baker in the New York Times wrote that “[a]lthough Bush had authorized his spokeswoman to publicly differ . . . Mr. Adelson and other pro-Israel donors are said to remain incensed at Mr. Bush for not stopping the speech or dumping Mr. Baker.” Baker intensified the problem for Jeb Bush when on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN program Global Public Square(televised on April 5), he stated that he was “going to be working hard for Jeb Bush” to become president.
To understand what makes Baker such a demonic figure to hardline members of the Israel Lobby, a quick flash back to Bush the Elder’s administration is needed.
George H. W. Bush, who entered office in 1989, continued the Reagan administration’s policy of providing military hardware and advanced technology to Iraq, which it had begun during the Iran-Iraq war, in the belief that this would cause Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein to support the status quo. With the end of that war, however, tensions between Israel and Iraq worsened. Israel, which perceived Iraq as its greatest enemy, had covertly aided Iran in the aforementioned war.
The U.S. media, especially the pro-Israel media, was reporting that Iraq was rapidly producing nuclear materials, chemical weapons, and guided missiles. For example, U.S. News and World Report, a major news magazine at the time, owned by the pro-Israel Mortimer Zuckerman, titled its June 4, 1990 cover story about Saddam Hussein, “The World’s Most Dangerous Man.”
The Bush administration, however, firmly resisted efforts to alter its relatively benign policy towards Iraq until the latter’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990 when it quickly performed a complete volte-face. Even then pro-Israel war hawks saw Baker as trying to temper American policy, first in terms of allowing Saddam a way to avoid being attacked by the U.S.and then, once the actual fighting started in January 1991, in refusing to go all out and remove Saddam and destroy Iraq’s military capacity, which reflected Israel’s goal of removing a regional rival.In his 1995 memoirs, James Baker explained why the United States did not pursue such a hardline position, maintaining that the administration’s “overriding strategic concern in the [first] Gulf war was to avoid what we often referred to as the Lebanonization of Iraq, which we believed would create a geopolitical nightmare.”
Obviously, this “political nightmare” was brought about by the George W. Bush administration, led by the pro-Israel neocons, and was exactly what the Israeli Likudniks sought in their goal of weakening all of their country’s enemies—one person’s nightmare is another person’s dream.
Problems between Israel and the United States also intensified over Israel’s housing expansion on the West Bank, which was undermining Baker’s effort to bring about a solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. In line with most members of the traditional foreign policy establishment, Baker saw the solution of this conflict as essential to establishing stability in the entire Middle East region since it was the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians that created a major Arab grievance exploited by radical anti-American elements.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a hardline Likudnik, had insisted on January 14, 1990, that the influx of Soviet Jews necessitated Israel’s retention of the West Bank. On March 1, 1990, Baker stipulated that American loan guarantees to Israel for new housing for the Soviet immigrants hinged on the cessation of settlements in the occupied territories. And on March 3, President Bush adamantly declared that there should be no more settlements in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem.
Shamir, however, rejected the Bush administration’s entire effort to bring about a solution to the Palestinian problem. And Israel’s American supporters, especially of the right, were thoroughly on the side of the Israeli prime minister.New York Times pro-Israel columnist William Safire complained that
“George Bush is less sympathetic to Israel’s concerns than any U.S. President in the four decades since that nation’s birth.”
“Mr. Bush has long resisted America’s special relationship with Israel. His Secretary of State, James Baker, delights in sticking it to the Israeli right. His national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, and chief of staff, John Sununu, abet that mind-set.”
While American pressure on Israel had abated during the move to war with Iraq, with the end of that conflict the Bush administration returned with vigor to its pre-war effort of trying to curb Israeli housing expansion in the occupied territories. It focused on a demand that Israel stop constructing new settlements in the occupied territories as a condition for receiving $10 billion in U.S. loan guarantees for the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Despite Washington’s objections, Israel had launched a building boom in the occupied territories, intended by Shamir’s rightist government to ensure permanent Israeli control there. The plan would boost the Jewish settler population by 50 percent in two years. Asked in early April 1991 how Israel would respond to a U.S. request to freeze Jewish settlement activity, Ariel Sharon, then the housing minister, adamantly stated that “Israel has always built, is building and will in future build in Judea, Samaria [biblical names for the West Bank] and the Gaza Strip.”
In May 1991, Secretary Baker harshly condemned the Jewish settlements in testimony before the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, asserting that “I don’t think that there is any bigger obstacle to peace.”
Shamir’s Likud government and Israel’s American supporters strongly resisted the Bush administration’s efforts. In his September 12, 1991 news conference, Bush went before the television cameras to ask Congress to delay consideration of the $10 billion in loan guarantees being sought by Shamir. Bush dared to speak directly of the pro-Israel pressure on this measure, saying that
“I’m up against some powerful political forces, but I owe it to the American people to tell them how strongly I feel about the deferral. . . . I heard today there was something like a thousand lobbyists on the Hill working the other side of the question. We’ve got one lonely little guy down here doing it.”
Since the lobbyists were obviously lobbying for Israel and the “lonely little guy” was the president of the United States, George H. W. Bush was essentially saying that the Israel lobby in the United States was more powerful than the president, at least on issues dealing with Israel, which was something that no mainstream person had ever dared to state in public.
Jewish-Americans of almost all persuasions, not just hardline Zionists, were enraged by the President’s statement, assuming that Bush was tapping into latent anti-Semitism,though he was only referring to the lobby for a foreign country.
A poll showing that 86 percent of the American people supported the president on the housing issue might have made some members of the Bush administration, including James Baker, overly complacent about Bush’s ability to withstand an all-out onslaught by the Israel lobby.
When, in a private conversation, the danger of alienating Jewish Americans was broached to Secretary of State Baker, he was alleged to have uttered that most taboo-shattering of profanities: “F*ck the Jews. They didn’t vote for us.” Obviously, the publication of this alleged statement greatly intensified the opposition of Jewish Americans to the Bush administration, and especially towards Baker. As an interesting side note that would seem to militate against any charge of anti-Semitism, J. J. Goldberg in Jewish Power: Inside the Jewish Establishment pointed out:
“In 1991, at the height of the Bush administration’s confrontation with Israel, no fewer than seven of the nineteen assistant secretaries in the State Department were Jews.”
Bush’s popularity, however, turned out to be far less than solid. And as the 1992 presidential election approached, the Bush administration, seeing its popularity melt away, would try to mend fences with its pro-Israel critics. In July, Bush announced that the U.S. would provide the loan guarantees after all. His concession won him no pro-Israel support. Bush, of course, went down to defeat in his quest for a second term to Bill Clinton, who was backed by AIPAC with even some neocons defecting to him, and those who remained loyal to Bush did so in a lukewarm fashion. One of Bush’s remaining neocon backers, Daniel Pipes, acknowledged the difficulties in supporting the president.
“If there’s a lot of agreement on anything this election year,” Pipes wrote, “it’s that friends of Israel should not vote to re-elect George Bush. The mere mention of his name in Jewish circles evinces strong disappointment, even anger.”
Jewish anger toward George H. W. Bush, however, paled compared to that directed toward James Baker.
Now to return to the present. At the May 5, 2015, meeting, Jeb Bush said that he respected Baker but maintained that he was not part of his foreign-policy team and that the list of figures made public in February, which included Baker, was not indicative of the people he consults when he considers issues related to Israel. Jeb Bush also publicly embraced Israel’s Middle East policy, writing a piece in the National Journal condemning Obama’s talks with Iran as “risky” and saying that White House comments on Israeli leaders are “no way to treat an ally.”
However, it is not simply Jeb Bush but all Republican candidates who are paying obeisance not simply to Israel but also to Netanyahu’s policies. An article in the New York Times by Peter Baker was appropriately labeled,
“For G.O.P., Support for Israel Becomes New Litmus Test.”
In a reference to the New York Times article, neocon luminary Bill Kristol tweeted on March 25, in one of his infrequent strays into the domain of truth, that “Bibi would probably win the Republican nomination if it were legal.”
What has caused the Republican Party to be so infatuated with Likudnik Israel? The cause usually given in the mainstream media, when this issue is addressed at all, is the Christian evangelicals.
Political commentator Jim Lobe, however, depicts the role of the big money pro-Israel donors as paramount in shaping the Middle East positions of Republican presidential aspirants. “Now, it may be,” Lobe opines, “that Bush feels he has to say such things in order to appeal to the Republican base constituencies, including ardent Christian Zionists who are most likely to vote in the party’s presidential primaries.
But I sense that this is more about campaign finance and wooing [Sheldon] Adelson and very wealthy colleagues, such as Paul Singer, in the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Readers of this blog, of course, remember last year’s so-called ‘Sheldon Primary’ at Adelson’s Venetian casino resort in Las Vegas where a sizable number of presidential hopefuls ‘kissed the ring’ of a man who probably contributed more money to defeating Obama in 2012 than any other. It was also where Chris Christie, that tough guy from New Jersey, felt obliged to personally apologize to Adelson for referring to the West Bank as ‘occupied territories.’”
The actions of Jeb Bush would seem to confirm Lobe’s view that support for Israel has more to do with the pro-Zionist mega-donors than the Christian evangelicals. For Bush simply does not kowtow to the Christian evangelicals to the same degree that he does to the Israel lobby magnates. For instance, in regard to same sex marriage, the opposition to which is a key issue for conservative evangelicals, Bush has two public supporters of that issue, David Kuchel and Tim Miller, on his team. And it has been reported that when Bush announces his presidential run, Kochel is slotted to lead his national campaign and Miller would be the communications director. However, despite strong criticism about these two individuals from evangelicals, Bush has resisted removing them even though they are far closer to holding positions where they could influence his policies than would have been Baker, whose name was merely on a list that included numerous individuals.
In sum, it would seem that Bush and other Republican candidates face a difficult but not insurmountable task in trying to win over the hardline pro-Zionist mega-donors without alienating a significant number of the Republican primary voters opposed to unnecessary wars.
The unexpected Baker brouhaha caught Bush and his team unprepared. Baker obviously carries weight in the mainstream, being selected by Congress to head the Iraq Study Group in 2006. Moreover, as a close friend of the Bush family, it would seem quite reasonable for him to be listed as one of the foreign policy experts behind Bush—and it might even raise questions if he were omitted.
It was the outright fear of being rejected by the mega-donors that caused Bush and his team to focus on the immediate problem and have him make some unqualified statements that have caused political trouble.
But backtracking, qualifying previous statements, and holding outright contrary positions at the same time is quite common for political candidates. And successful presidential candidates tend to be those who best manage to bridge over seemingly contrary positions. Since it is still very early in the 2016 campaign, there is no reason to think that the Jeb Bush team would not be able to do this.
In short, what has been made a major issue by the mainstream media is really a non-issue.
What is the issue, that gets little attention in the mainstream, is that the presidential candidates find it necessary to pay obeisance to ultra-powerful individuals who represent the interests of Israel, not the United States.
George Washington in his Farewell Address wrote of the grave danger posed by Americans who had such a “passionate attachment” to a foreign country; what exists now is a “passionate attachment”on steroids that undercuts American security.
 Robert Costa and Matea Gold, “One of Jeb Bush’s top advisers on Israel: George W. Bush,” May 7, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/one-of-jeb-bushs-top-advisers-on-israel-george-w-bush/2015/05/07/920fec8e-f4da-11e4-bcc4-e8141e5eb0c9_story.html
 Molly Driskoll, “10 of the more memorable quotes from journalist and author Christopher Hitchens,” Christian Science Monitor, http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/2011/1216/10-of-the-more-memorable-quotes-from-journalist-and-author-Christopher-Hitchens/Hitchens-on-George-W.-Bush
 Justin Raimondo, “Follow the Money,” Antiwar.com, May 11, 2015, http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2015/05/10/follow-the-money/
“Paul Singer,” Right Web, Last updated May 15, 2015, http://rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/singer_paul
Ed O’Keefe, “The world according to Jeb Bush,” Washington Post, April 16, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-world-according-to-jeb-bush/2015/04/16/736ef6f8-dd3d-11e4-acfe-cd057abefa9a_story.html
 Jim Lobe, “Another Likud Republican: Jeb Bush Pledges ‘Unwavering’ Support for Bibi,” March 24, 2015, LobeLog, http://www.lobelog.com/another-likud-republican-jeb-bush-pledges-unwavering-support-for-bibi/
Peter Baker, “For G.O.P., Support for Israel Becomes New Litmus Test,” New York Times, March 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/28/us/politics/republicans-criticize-james-baker-for-speech-on-benjamin-netanyahu.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0
 Kevin Bohn, “James Baker’s Netanyahu comments cause headaches for Jeb Bush,” CNN, April 6, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/06/politics/james-baker-netanyahu-jeb-bush/
 “The World’s Most Dangerous Man,” U.S. News and World Report, May 16, 2008 (story originally appeared in the June 4, 1990, issue of U.S.News & World Report), http://www.usnews.com/news/national/articles/2008/05/16/the-worlds-most-dangerous-man
 Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001), pp. 473-74, 483-84.
 James A. Baker III, with Thomas M. DeFrank, The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War, and Peace, 1989–1992 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995), p. 435.
Steven Hurst, The Foreign Policy of the Bush Administration (London: Cassell, 1999), pp. 29-34, 72-76.
 William Safire, “Bush versus Israel,” New York Times, March 26, 1990, p. A-17.
Tom Diaz, “Israelis aren’t making Baker’s job any easier,” Washington Times, April 8, 1991, p. A-9.
 Warren Strobel, “Baker condemns Israeli settlement policy,” Washington Times, May 23, 1991, p. A-8.
 George H. W. Bush, The President’s News Conference, September 12th, 1991, Public Papers of George Bush: 1989-1993, The American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=19969; Warren Strobel, “Bush won’t back loan to Jewish state,” Washington Times, March 18, 1992, p. A-7; Benjamin Ginsberg, The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 218-23.
 Warren Strobel, “Bush won’t back loan to Jewish state,” Washington Times, March 18, 1992, p. A-7; Michael Hedge, “Israeli lobby president resigns over promises,” Washington Times, November 4, 1992, p. A-3; “Loan Guarantees for Israel,” Washington Times, September 11, 1992, p. F-2; Frank Gaffney, Jr., “Neocon job that begs for answers,” Washington Times, October 13, 1992, p. F-1; Andrew Borrowed, “Group counters Bush on Israel,” Washington Times, February 27, 1992, p. A-1; Benjamin Ginsberg, The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 218-23; Baker quoted in John Herman, The Rise of Neo-conservatism: Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1994 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 197
J. J. Goldberg, p, 234.
 Daniel Pipes, “Bush, Clinton, and the Jews: A Debate,” Commentary, October, 1992, http://www.danielpipes.org/223/bush-clinton-and-the-jews
Saul Jay Singer, “George Bush, James Baker, and the Jews,” Jewish Press, March 12, 2015, http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/feautures-on-jewish-world/george-bush-james-baker-and-the-jews/2014/10/31/
Philip Weiss, “Jeb Bush bashes Iran talks as ‘foolish’ and hails Israeli settlements as ‘new apartment buildings in Jerusalem,’” Mondoweiss, March 25, 2015,http://mondoweiss.net/2015/03/settlements-apartment-buildings
 Peter Baker, “For G.O.P., Support for Israel Becomes New Litmus Test,” March 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/28/us/politics/republicans-criticize-james-baker-for-speech-on-benjamin-netanyahu.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0
Bill Kristol, “Bibi would probably win the Republican nomination if it were legal,” Twitter, March 28, 2015, https://twitter.com/BillKristol/status/581786731046936576
Lobe, “Another Likud Republican: Jeb Bush Pledges ‘Unwavering’ Support for Bibi,” March 24, 2015, http://www.lobelog.com/another-likud-republican-jeb-bush-pledges-unwavering-support-for-bibi/
 Ralph Halliwell, “Jeb Bush misfires with evangelicals over gay marriage supporters in inner circle,” Washington Times, May 5, 2015, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/may/5/jeb-bush-misfires-with-evangelicals-over-gay-marri/?page=all;Jennifer Jacobs,“Iowa’s David Kochel goes all in for Jeb Bush,” Des Moines Register, January 29, 2015, http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/elections/presidential/caucus/2015/01/29/iowan-david-kochel-goes-jeb-bush/22538909/;