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The Neocon War on Peace and Freedom, Part 2


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In their book An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, David Frum and Richard Perle’s attitude towards civilian casualties shines through in their brief discussion of the UN sanctions imposed on Iraq from 1990 to 2003. During the first Gulf War, the United States intentionally destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure. A 1995 analysis in a U.S. Air Force magazine approvingly noted that as a result of U.S. bombing and the subsequent shutdown of water-purification and sewage-treatment plants, “epidemics of gastroenteritis, cholera, and typhoid broke out, leading to perhaps as many as 100,000 civilian deaths and a doubling of the infant mortality rate.”

By the end of the 1990s, the infant-morality rate in Iraq was triple prewar levels. Denis Halliday, the UN administrator of the oil-for-food program, resigned in 1998 and denounced the sanctions as “nothing less than genocide.” Seventy members of Congress sent a letter to President Clinton in early 2000 condemning the Iraq sanctions as “infanticide masquerading as policy.” Columbia University Professor Richard Garfield, an epidemiologist and an expert on the effects of sanctions, estimated in 2003 that the sanctions had resulted in 343,900 to 529,000 infant and young-child fatalities.

Frum and Perle are far more incensed by the profits that French bankers earned from administering oil revenues under UN control than by a half-million dead Arab kids. They remark that the sanctions “operated well enough to squeeze Saddam’s ability to purchase costly weapons.” The authors seek to dump all the blame for the dead babies on Saddam’s head — even though the UN completely barred Iraqi oil exports for five years after the war (thereby preventing almost all Iraq imports of food and medicine during that period), even though the U.S. government routinely vetoed the imports into Iraq of billions of dollars of humanitarian goods that Iraqi oil exports had already paid for, and even though the U.S. government knew for many years that the sanctions policies were scourging civilians without undermining Saddam.

The omissions are perhaps the most glaring thing about this book.

An End to Evil contains a lengthier discussion of ancient CIA disputes over the calculation of the Soviet Gross National Product in the 1970s and 1980s than it does of Israeli policies in the occupied territories. The authors’ brief passing references to Israeli policies are like the cop on South Park who is always telling people, “There’s nothing to see here folks, just move along…. Nothing to see here….” Throughout the book, Israel is the supremely virtuous innocent bystander. Yet it is impossible to understand the supposed “need” for the United States to launch wars to reform Islam without examining the Middle East conflict.

Frum and Perle effectively declare that Israeli military and occupation policies are irrelevant to Arab and Muslim rage:

The greatest — indeed, the sole — obstacle to peace is the feeling among many people in the Arab and Muslim world that anything that was once theirs can never legitimately be anybody else’s.

Israelis on the front line of terrorist attacks take a profoundly different view. Nahum Barnea, chief columnist of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest circulation newspaper, observes,

Anyone who says that there is no connection between our presence, settlement-wise and militarily, in the territories and the insane dimensions to which Palestinian hatred has grown, is lying to his people.

Since the start of the second Intifada in September 2000, Palestinians have killed more than 700 Israelis while Israelis have killed more than 2,000 Palestinians. Frum and Perle exonerate the Israeli government for any and all killings of Palestinian civilians: “Palestinian terrorists — aware of the unusual global interest in their cause — have specialized in maximizing the exposure of civilians to Israeli retaliation.” That throwaway line is supposed to deter any inquiries about Israeli curfew policies that have resulted in the killings of many Palestinians guilty of nothing more than leaving their homes at the wrong time; about the Israeli Air Force “assassination bombings” that have intentionally killed scores of innocent Palestinians in order to try to take down Hamas functionaries; about the killings that have occurred in home demolitions (the Israeli government has destroyed the homes of more than 12,000 Palestinians in the last three years), et cetera. Frum and Perle implicitly rely on the theory of “collective guilt” to justify all such policies: Because some Palestinians have carried out murderous suicide bombings against Israelis, all Palestinians become fair game for Israeli retaliation.
A Palestianian state

Frum and Perle save their greatest contempt for proposals to create an independent Palestinian state. The authors ask, “Why should the United States do that? What’s in it for Americans?” That is a superb standard — one that should be used to evaluate the entire U.S. Middle Eastern policy. Since 1973, the United States has given Israel $240 billion in aid (in 2001 dollars), according to an analysis prepared for the U.S. Army War College by economist Thomas Stauffer. Osama bin Laden specified U.S. support of Israel as a key reason for al-Qaeda’s hostility.

After rattling off a long list of conditions for creation of a “disarmed Palestinian ministate,” Frum and Perle insist that such a ministate be “under the leadership of a president untainted by extremism.” This would be a novelty in that part of the world. What about Ariel Sharon — a leader who has been involved with carnage and massacres for over half a century? Israeli historian Benny Morris’s Israel’s Border Wars, 1949–1956 (Oxford University Press) details how an Israeli commando unit under Sharon’s command slaughtered 69 Arab villagers in 1953. Sharon was forced to resign as defense minister after he was harshly criticized by an Israeli government commission in a report on the 1982 massacres by Israeli proxies (Lebanese Christian militiamen armed and aided by the IDF) at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps that left more than 700 dead (mostly women and children).

Sharon is the foreign leader who has most closely embraced the Frum-Perle recipe for fighting terrorism. Since Sharon took power in early 2001, more Israelis have been killed in terrorist attacks than died in the 1967 Six Day War. The ongoing clashes with Palestinians have destroyed the tourist trade and left the Israeli economy in tatters. Even Sharon conceded last May, “It is not possible to continue holding three and a half million people under occupation. This is a terrible thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy.”
Terrorism, public and private

An End to Evil contains exhaustive details of abuses by Arab and Muslim governments and by Muslim terrorist groups. Specific cases of alleged terrorist attacks are repeatedly mentioned to justify a de facto all-out U.S. offensive against Muslim and Arab radicals.

But the authors never address the fact that governments kill far more people than do terrorist groups. From 1980 to 2000, international terrorists killed 7,745 people, according to the U.S. State Department. Yet, in the same decades, governments killed more than 10 million people in ethnic-cleansing campaigns, mass executions, politically caused famines, wars, and other slaughters. The 9/11 attacks made 2001 probably the only year in decades in which the number of people killed by international terrorists even approached 1 percent of the number killed by governments. Governments pose a far greater threat to peace and survival than do terrorist groups.

Many of Frum’s and Perle’s criticisms of Arab and Muslim governments in the Middle East are accurate. Yet almost all the governments in the Middle East have long records of systemic abuses against civilians — thus raising doubts about the wisdom or justice of the United States’s massively intervening on one side to smite all potential opponents.

After its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israel maintained control over a swath of land in south Lebanon, to protect itself from terrorist attacks by Hezbollah and others. From 1993 to 1999, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and its South Lebanon Army proxies killed at least 355 Lebanese civilians while Muslim guerrillas in Lebanon killed 9 Israeli civilians, according to B’Tselem, Israel’s premier human rights organization.

This 40-to-1 kill ratio of civilians was largely the result of the Israelis’ expansive use of force. In 1993 and 1996 Israel launched massive shelling campaigns on Lebanese villages in order to stampede hundreds of thousands of people north toward Beirut and to empty the territory of any possible Hezbollah supporters.

On April 18, 1996, the IDF artillery shelled a United Nations compound near Qana that was overflowing with 800 Lebanese civilians “who had fled from their villages on IDF orders.” The barrage killed 102 refugees and wounded hundreds of others. Hezbollah guerillas had fired Katyusha rockets a few hundred yards from the compound. A spokesman for UN forces in Lebanon quickly denounced the attack as a “massacre.” Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, the commander of the Israeli offensive, insisted that the shelling of the camp could not possibly have been deliberate because “that thing cannot happen in a democratic country like Israel.”

A UN investigation concluded that “it is unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors.” The IDF insisted that it was unaware that the camp was chock full of refugees. The UN report retorted, “Contrary to repeated denials, two Israeli helicopters and a remotely piloted vehicle [drone] were present in the Qana area at the time of the shelling.”

An Amnesty International report concluded that the IDF “intentionally attacked the UN compound.” A few weeks after the attack, one of the Israeli gunners involved in the shelling told a Jerusalem newsweekly, “In a war, these things happen…. It’s just a bunch of Arabs.” Ha’aretz columnist Ari Shavit, who fought at Qana 18 years earlier while serving in the IDF, observed,

An Israeli massacre can be distinguished in most respects from an Arab massacre in that it is not malicious, not carried out on orders from High Above and does not serve any strategic purpose…. An Israeli massacre usually occurs after we sanction an unjustifiable degree of violence so that at some point we lose the ability to control that violence. Thus, in most cases, an Israeli massacre is a kind of work accident.

Frum and Perle emphatically declare, “We must deter all regimes that use terror as a weapon of state against anyone, American or not.” There is no reason why the attack at Qana — as part of a premediated, coordinated effort to terrorize hundreds of thousands of people into fleeing their homes — should not be considered the use of “terror as a weapon of state.” On the other hand, it would be absurd to assume that this action somehow made Israel a threat to America or justified American retaliation against Israel.

Frum and Perle reveal that a sinister foreign lobby controls American foreign policy:

The reason our policy toward Saudi Arabia has been so abject for so long is not mere error. Our policy has been abject because so many of those who make the policy have been bought and paid for by the Saudis — or else are looking forward to the day when they will be bought and paid for…. Saudi Arabia presents a unique problem: Unlike Mexico and unlike Britain, it has over a quarter century spent hundreds of millions of dollars to corrupt the American political system.

The authors are outraged that the media does not highlight Saudi influence in daily press reports:

When journalists follow policy debates over tobacco or health care or any other domestic issue, they identify which people are expressing their conscientious beliefs and which are the paid lobbyists. The American public should expect equal information when the topic is national security — and they are especially entitled to it when the lobbyist is lobbying for an unfriendly power.

The Saudis fiercely opposed the Bush administration’s plans to invade Iraq last year. On the flip side, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported on April 5, 2003, “The war in Iraq was conceived by 25 neoconservative intellectuals, most of them Jewish, who are pushing President Bush to change the course of history.” A week before Bush started the war, the Wall Street Journal noted, “The U.S. is soon likely to go to war in Iraq in no small part because of the arguments of thinkers who have graced the pages of Commentary magazine over the years.” The American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) is widely perceived as the most powerful lobby in Washington, and AIPAC was gung-ho for the war.

Frum and Perle are correct that the Wahabi school of Islam — especially popular with the Saudis and their outreach missions — is noxious and backward. They are correct that Iran’s mullahs have been brutal and repressive. They are correct that women receive far too little respect in many Muslim countries. Arab nations have tended to be authoritarian and reactionary though often as a result of U.S. interventions and the propping up of dictators who serve America’s short-term political interests.

The authors cheerfully conclude, “This is a scenario for a long war, but it is not a scenario for endless war. No lie lasts forever, and militant Islam is a lie.”

Nowhere in the book do Frum and Perle even attempt to estimate how many Americans will need to die to fulfill their vision of victory over Islam. This may be tactical on their part, as such numbers would not spur converts to their cause. Or perhaps the authors don’t consider American casualties relevant in the grand scheme of things.

Frum and Perle offer nothing to justify the book’s basic thesis that the United States must choose between “victory or holocaust.” There is no evidence that Islamic governments or movements threaten the survival of America. America’s survival is far more likely to be threatened by launching an endless series of religiously motivated unnecessary wars.

Frum and Perle repeatedly urge the U.S. government to intervene to suppress anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic incitements at home or around the world. Yet, if someone wrote about Zionism the way An End to Evil writes about Islam, Frum and Perle would be first in line to accuse the writer of anti-Semitism — and rightly so.

Frum and Perle boast, “Now that the U.S. has become the greatest of all great powers in world history, its triumph has shown that freedom is irresistible.” But the more aggressive the U.S. government has become, the less its military triumphs have anything to do with freedom. For Frum and Perle to portray their war on terrorism as a crusade for freedom is a joke. (The authors, perhaps inspired by the ghost of Richard Nixon, ominously warn, “We may be so eager to protect the right to dissent that we lose sight of the difference between dissent and subversion.”)

An End to Evil would have American policymakers always err on the side of inflicting carnage. If this book becomes “conventional wisdom” for the Bush administration, the president will very likely have far more military funerals to avoid.

The Middle East is a quagmire and no amount of U.S. bombing will turn it into a Garden of Eden. We are far more likely to reduce terrorist attacks on the United States by exiting the quagmire than by tripling or quadrupling military assaults in that region. It is a delusion to assume that the more wars America starts, the more peace and liberty Americans will eventually enjoy.

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    James Bovard is a policy adviser to The Future of Freedom Foundation. He is a USA Today columnist and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New Republic, Reader’s Digest, Playboy, American Spectator, Investors Business Daily, and many other publications. He is the author of Public Policy Hooligan (2012); Attention Deficit Democracy (2006); The Bush Betrayal (2004); Terrorism and Tyranny (2003); Feeling Your Pain (2000); Freedom in Chains (1999); Shakedown (1995); Lost Rights (1994); The Fair Trade Fraud (1991); and The Farm Fiasco (1989). He was the 1995 co-recipient of the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties work, awarded by the Center for Independent Thought, and the recipient of the 1996 Freedom Fund Award from the Firearms Civil Rights Defense Fund of the National Rifle Association. His book Lost Rights received the Mencken Award as Book of the Year from the Free Press Association. His Terrorism and Tyranny won Laissez Faire Book’s Lysander Spooner award for the Best Book on Liberty in 2003. Read his blog. Send him email.