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Public Eye - Summer 2009 Vol. 24, No. 2
The Taboo Truths of the Conspiracy Minded
Reviewed by Michelle Goldberg
The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel - By Stephen J. Sniegoski (Washington, D.C.: Enigma Editions, IHS Press, 2008).
Michelle Goldberg is the author, most recently, of The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World and Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. She is a consultant investigating Islamophobia and antisemitism on campuses for Political Research Associates, publisher of Public Eye.
Stephen J. Sniegoski’s The Transparent Cabal is a disturbing and revealing book, though not for the reasons the author intends. Sniegoski aims to show that U.S. neoconservatives masterminded the Iraq war in the service of Israeli hegemony, a proposition that has plenty of truth to it. In doing so, though, he veers back and forth over the often-fuzzy line separating harsh but legitimate criticism of Israel and Zionism from paranoid conspiracy mongering. His book is an almost textbook illustration of the way far Left anti-Zionism and far Right antisemitism can bend towards each other and begin to overlap.
The antisemitism in The Transparent Cabal is quite subtle – so much so that many readers probably won’t see it, and will likely dismiss criticism of it as yet another attempt by the Likud lobby to silence its foes. Such attempts exist, of course. The Right has often tried to smear opponents of both American and Israeli foreign policy as bigots. One ironic effect of this is that it offers an alibi to purveyors of prejudice, who can now cloak themselves in martyrdom. Thus Sniegoski adopts the pose of one bravely willing to reveal taboo truths. But the fact that many critics of Israel are unfairly accused of antisemitism does not make all accusations of antisemitism unfair.
There’s nothing new in The Transparent Cabal – indeed, it’s a kind of clip job. Most of its material about the neoconservatives derives from mainstream media reports and well-known books. From these secondary sources, though, Sniegoski has fashioned a monocausal narrative in which Israel and its American supporters are the preeminent drivers of American foreign policy and the sole font of turmoil in the Middle East, which they’re said to welcome because it serves Israel’s interests. In his telling, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are mere supporting players, less culpable for the catastrophe in Iraq than the editorial staff of the Weekly Standard. Sniegoski suggests that Israeli interests drove the first Gulf War as well. He joins the far Left and the far Right in sympathy for Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia, and implies that neoconservatives pushed for NATO’s Kosovo campaign in order to weaken international law, thus setting the stage for their war in Iraq.
Sniegoski also throws in some unrelated conspiracy theories for good measure. Though he argues that the second Iraq war had nothing to do with energy supplies, he strongly suggests that the war on Afghanistan was motivated by the United States’ desire to build a pipeline through that country. “Instead of serving as a pliable government that could provide requisite stability for American exploitation of energy resources, the Taliban were exporting their revolutionary Islamic fundamentalism to nearby Central Asian countries, thus destabilizing the entire energy-rich region,” he writes, citing the French book Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth. He implies that 9/11 may have been a preemptive strike by Osama bin Laden in response to U.S. threats against his host country.
This narrative, which has percolated on the political fringes in recent years, has been thoroughly debunked by Ken Silverstein in The American Prospect, Damien Cave in Salon and David Corn in The Nation, among others. A separate article would be required to recapitulate all their points. That’s the problem with conspiracy theories – they tend to jumble truth, distortion, unfalsifiable claims and willful omissions in a way that takes enormous time and energy to untangle. For marginal books, it’s often not worth the effort.
Indeed, The Transparent Cabal wouldn’t be worth bothering with at all if it weren’t receiving some notice on the Left, including a glowing review in Counterpunch. It is troubling that the book might find an audience among progressives, but probably not surprising. The taboo against criticizing Israel and discussing the power of the conservative Israel lobby has shrouded the whole subject in mystery. That fosters a kind of credulity in which outlandish claims take on the air of samizdat.
It is important to be clear here. Neoconservatives inside and outside the George W. Bush administration deserve tremendous opprobrium. They helped erect the ideological justifications for war with Iraq and seized control of the public discourse, bullying anyone who urged patience and diplomacy. Most importantly, under Vice President Cheney, a group of neoconservatives played a crucial role in distorting American intelligence to make it seem as if Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda, creating a fallacious casus belli. Neoconservatism is a movement famously founded by ex-leftists – many of them Jewish – who lost their youthful ideals but not their radical (and sometimes rigidly ideological) habits of mind. The revolutionary callousness they displayed in their grandiose plan to reshuffle the Middle East has been catastrophic for people around the world.
Nor is it any secret that the neoconservatives have longstanding ties to the Israeli Right. Despite what Sniegoski seems to think, it is well know that, in 1996, leading neocons prepared a report for then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” which advocated replacing Middle Eastern regimes hostile to Israel with more pliant rulers. Neoconservatives are aggressive American nationalists, but they conflate the interests of the United States and Israeli Right. The policies they’ve pushed have undoubtedly weakened the United States and made a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict more elusive than ever.
It’s a long way from there, however, to the claim that Israel alone inspired the Iraq war and that the catastrophic outcome there was intentional, meant to keep Israel’s enemies fractured and disorganized. By treating George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld as mere supporting players in the march to war, co-opted or manipulated by the titular “cabal,” Sniegoski is playing into old stereotypes about covert, omnipresent and almost occult Jewish influence. At one point, he calls Rumsfeld “the fall guy for the war’s failures.” (In fact, as former counterterrorism czar Richard Clark wrote in his book Against All Enemies, “By the afternoon [the day after the attack], Secretary Rumsfeld was talking about broadening the objectives of our response and ‘getting Iraq.’”) The former Vice President is barely mentioned.
For the conspiracist, there are no accidents. Thus Sniegoski assumes that since Iraq devolved into an anarchic bloodbath, that must have been the plan all along. “Now one might be tempted to attribute the rejection of the military’s caution to insane hubris on the part of [Richard] Perle and the neoconservative crowd,” he writes, before dispensing with that notion. “Richard Perle may be many things, but stupid is not one of these. Perle undoubtedly thought through the implications of his plan.” Indeed, says Sniegoski, a “complete fiasco” could work to the neocons’ advantage by throwing the region into chaos and preparing the way for a wider war. (He doesn’t bother to address how Perle’s all-seeing brilliance squares with the total discrediting of neoconservatism and the increased strength of Iran that resulted from the Iraq war.)
Likewise, he dismisses the idea that oil was part of the motive for war by arguing that if it had been, the United States would have made more of an effort to secure the country. The notion that the war-planners believed their own propaganda – a self-delusion apparent to almost every reporter who covered Iraq – is somehow impossible for Sniegoski to accept. His is a Manichean view of the world, the mirror image of the movement he aims to dissect.
Just as the neoconservatives attribute a kind of cosmic evil to many Islamic regimes, and dismiss all efforts at historical understanding as amoral relativism, so Sniegoski sees only the diabolical in Israel. Obviously, that country is in many ways richly deserving of criticism, but there’s something suspect about the reflexive way the author demonizes the Jewish state while downplaying or dismissing the aggression of its enemies. To read this book, one would think Israel started every war it ever fought. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial is explained away thusly: “It was not apparent that Ahmadinejad had actually denied the mass murder of the Jews during World War II, though he did, at various times, question various facets of the Holocaust and demanded greater evidential proof.” Here, Sniegoski’s language suggests he finds Holocaust revisionism reasonable.
To be sure, the author goes out of his way to distance himself from antisemitism, and several times he notes that not all Jews support the neoconservative agenda or the Israeli Right. Nevertheless, he quotes openly antisemitic sources as authoritative, at one point citing Kevin MacDonald, who he describes as a “rightist evolutionary biologist.” In fact, MacDonald is a sociobiologist who claims Jews are genetically extremely smart yet clannish, and subversive of whatever society they find themselves in. Among other things, MacDonald has written that eventually universities may have to establish quotas to reduce the number of Jewish students, and that higher taxes on Jews may have to be levied “to counter the Jewish advantage in the possession of wealth.” To quote MacDonald on the subject of Jewish dual loyalties is roughly equivalent to appealing to the wisdom of David Duke in an argument over affirmative action.
Sniegoski also has a tendency to identify people’s Jewish heritage whether it’s relevant or not. He notes, for instance, that British Foreign Minister Jack Straw is “of Jewish ancestry.” In fact, Straw is a Christian who had one Jewish grandfather, though both Islamist and White supremacist websites frequently identify him as a Jew.
If Sniegoski has picked up on antisemitic memes, perhaps it’s because he has placed himself in an antisemitic milieu. The Transparent Cabal was put out by Enigma Editions, an imprint of IHS press created specifically for this volume. A far-right Catholic press that publishes titles like Action: A Manual for the Reconstruction of Christendom, by French fascist Jean Ousset, IHS was described by The Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the “most nakedly antisemitic organizations in the entire radical traditionalist Catholic pantheon.” Sniegoski’s book fits in there nicely.