The question now is what to do next? How does the
nation maneuver out of the dangerous predicament in the Middle East? And
what will it take to ensure that the country is not so easily
commandeered again and piloted back toward disaster?
First, it’s important to recognize some of the key
reasons why the American voters were able to wrest at least some control
of the nation’s helm from the motley crew of neoconservative ideologues,
political operatives and war profiteers who have dominated George W.
For five years, the Bush crew had exploited the
fear and anger from 9/11 to overwhelm public doubts about Bush’s grim
vision of an interminable “war on terror” and its complementary notion
of an all-powerful President deep-sixing the Founders’ concept of checks
and balances in government and “unalienable rights” for the American
But – in one of the most encouraging examples of
grassroots democracy in decades – citizen-run Internet sites led the way
along with non-traditional TV and radio, from Comedy Central’s “The
Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to Air America and other progressive radio
shows, to pull back the veils of propaganda.
This mix of start-ups, iconoclasts and
unconventional media got enough information to the people so a majority
finally could see through the deceptions.
Meanwhile, the bellicose right-wing media voices –
from Rush Limbaugh to Fox News – were exposed as little more than water
carriers for Bush. The day after the elections, Limbaugh admitted as
said he felt “liberated,” adding: “I no longer am going to have to
carry the water for people who I don’t think deserve having their water
Many mainstream media personalities were unmasked,
too, as frauds and cowards. They had stood meekly aside as Bush’s Iraq
War parade passed by, or they jumped into line themselves, all the
better to protect and advance their careers.
Still, this match-up – pitting the well-funded
right-wing propaganda machine and the giant mainstream media against the
tiny information outlets that dared question Bush’s policies – must rank
as one of the most imbalanced contests in modern history.
Internet sites, bloggers, progressive radio
stations and Comedy Central’s “fake-news” programs lacked both the
resources and the audiences of the big-time media outlets, but amazingly
Importance of Truth
So, one of the lessons from Election 2006 should be
that investment in a “counter-media” is both the right thing to do and
the smart thing to do. Contrary to the long-held opinion of many on the
Left, media can be both cost-effective and crucial to the emergence of a
coherent popular movement of concerned citizens.
It follows that these independent and progressive
news sites could do much more to put the United States back on the right
course if they were better funded. Despite their success in setting the
stage for the Nov. 7 elections, many of these outlets survive
hand-to-mouth, and Air America has sought bankruptcy protection under
A strategy is needed to make these news and opinion
outlets financially sustainable. That would require a combination of
individual donations, ad buys and foundation grants targeted at the news
outlets that stood up to Bush’s propaganda while many others were
Along with building honest media must come a new
national commitment to valuing truthful information, honest history and
One of the dangerous lessons from this recent
political era is that the Right – and especially the neoconservatives –
learned that they could manipulate public perceptions through their vast
propaganda network. Bluster and tough-guy talk replaced reason and
In effect, the United States ended up with a
foreign policy that amounted to a distillation of the macho harangues
from Limbaugh and his many copycat talk-show hosts.
While Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush made use
of this right-wing media infrastructure, they also understood its risks.
But George W. Bush lacked the larger life lessons of his two Republican
predecessors; he simply saw these perception management techniques as a
means to unlimited power.
So, Bush rushed the nation into a war in Iraq,
exploiting both the hard-nosed right-wing propaganda apparatus and the
weak-kneed mainstream media. But what the younger George Bush didn’t
appreciate was that a manipulated reality or even an ardently wished-for
reality is not the same as real reality.
One of the lessons of the Iraq War should be that
silencing responsible dissent and shutting out cautionary advice may
help achieve short-term goals but can lead to long-term disaster.
In that sense, what happened in the United States
is interconnected to a similar dilemma that now confronts – and
endangers – Israel.
During the 1970s, the Israeli government grew
frustrated with U.S. pressure pushing the Israeli government to reach
peace agreements with its Arab neighbors and to resolve the issue of
Infuriated by acts of Palestinian terrorism, the
Israeli Likud Party rose to power with the goal of putting Jewish
settlers on occupied Palestinian territory and generally hitting back
whenever Arab threats arose, not granting concessions or making peace.
Likud’s hostility was especially intense toward
President Jimmy Carter because he had pressed Israel into a negotiated
settlement with Egypt that involved returning the Sinai. Carter also
demanded progress toward creating a Palestinian homeland.
The Likud view was expressed bluntly by Israeli
intelligence officer David Kimche in his book, The Last Option.
Kimche bitterly described how Carter had pressured Israeli Prime
Minister Menachem Begin to surrender territory to the Arabs in exchange
“Begin was being set up for diplomatic slaughter by
the master butchers in Washington, while Israel was being taken to the
cleaners by the experts of the National Security Council and the Middle
East specialists of the State Department,” Kimche wrote.
“They had, moreover, the apparent blessing of the
two presidents, Carter and [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat, for this
bizarre and clumsy attempt at collusion designed to force Israel to
abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967,
including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian
state,” Kimche wrote.
In that time frame – late in the Carter
administration – Likud opted for a different course. It began
collaborating with Christian fundamentalists on the American Right (the
likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson) and worked with a rising group
of political intellectuals known as the neoconservatives, many of whom
were Jewish with strong affections for Israel.
Israeli leaders also encouraged friendly lobbying
groups, such as the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC],
to punish U.S. lawmakers who were viewed as insufficiently supportive of
As these allied forces amassed greater clout within
the U.S. government and inside the American news media, the pressure on
Israel to seek a lasting peace with its neighbors mostly dissipated.
Reagan and Bush I peace initiatives were half-hearted, and President
Bill Clinton's last-minute stab at an Israeli-Palestinian deal fell
Then, when George W. Bush became President in 2001,
he abandoned any notion of pushing Israel toward a peace agreement.
Bush, who as Texas
governor once had been the
guest of Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on a helicopter tour over
the cramped Palestinian city of Gaza, made clear he was ready to remove
all restraints on what Israel could do to break the will of the
Ten days after the Inauguration,
at the first meeting of the National Security Council, Bush signalled a
“hands-off” policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to
Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill who later gave an insider account to
author Ron Suskind for the book, The Price of Loyalty.
“We’re going to correct the
imbalances of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict,” Bush
was quoted as saying. “We’re going to tilt it back toward Israel. And
we’re going to be consistent.”
Secretary of State Colin Powell
expressed strong misgivings, predicting that U.S. disengagement would
lead to “dire consequences.” But Bush shrugged off the concerns, saying
“Maybe that’s the best way to get things back in balance.” Bush added,
“Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things.”
The Long War
So, years of U.S. diplomatic
efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict abruptly
ended. The Likud-led government soon launched some of
the deadliest attacks ever seen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and
Palestinians countered with suicide bombings that killed Israeli
civilians. The cycle of violence spiralled out of control.
Meanwhile, the political clout of the Christian
Right/neocons/AIPAC alliance, combined with the intimidating style of
the right-wing news media, silenced any meaningful debate within the
United States about the Middle East.
The 9/11 attacks added explosive fuel to the fire,
with Bush and the neocons suddenly empowered to target all cases of
Muslim militancy as part of a broad “war on terror,” which would give no
quarter and make no concession to Islamic radicalism, whether tied to
9/11 or not.
In effect, Likud’s enemies had become America’s
enemies. So, after a brief war against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in
Afghanistan, Bush turned his attention to one of Israel’s most hated
adversaries, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
Bush’s neoconservative advisers promoted a strategy
that, in effect, aimed at resolving the security threat to Israel by
projecting American military power into the heart of the Arab world,
Iraq, and then using that strategic foothold to intimidate neighboring
Muslim nations with the goal of eventually forcing the Palestinians to
submit to Israel’s terms.
This theory held that the solution to the problems
faced in Jerusalem ran through Baghdad. The neocons also joked that
after Iraq, they would have the choice of either taking Damascus in
Syria or Tehran in Iran. “Real men go to Tehran,” they quipped.
But the conquest of Iraq did not go exactly as
planned. A stubborn insurgency, complicated by jihadist terrorism and
sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, threw Iraq into
Though leading U.S. neocons complained about the
incompetence of Bush's execution of the Iraq War, their solution to the
overall problem was mostly to up the ante, expanding the “long war” to
take on other enemies of Israel, such as Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a longtime
Likud politician who had switched to the new Kadima party, entered the
fray in summer 2006. He responded to a round of tit-for-tat violence in
Gaza and along the Lebanese border with major military escalations
against the Palestinians in Gaza and against Hezbollah-related targets
According to press accounts, the Bush
administration even encouraged Israel to widen its military campaign to
include Syria, a recommendation that the Olmert government rejected.
Still, the Israeli offensive against Lebanon degenerated into a fiasco.
[For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Israeli
Leaders Fault Bush on War.”]
A Republican victory on Nov. 7 would have given
Bush what he surely would have viewed as a new mandate to continue and
broaden his tough-guy strategies in the Middle East. But it was becoming
increasingly apparent to millions of Americans that Bush's approach
represented a dead end that was quickly filling with a staggering number
of bodies, both of U.S. soldiers and Middle Easterners.
To a large degree, the fallacy of Bush’s neocon
strategy was the belief that force almost alone could defeat Islamic
militancy. By essentially ruling out any meaningful concessions to
legitimate Muslim grievances, such as the plight of the Palestinians,
Bush and the neocons set a course for a bloodbath in the Middle East.
Beyond the inhumanity of the neocon strategy, it
also carried a virtual certainty of failure. Nearly six years into the
Bush administration, CIA Director Michael Hayden explained one of its
unintended consequences, the resurgent power of Iran’s Islamic
“The Iranian hand appears to be powerful and I
would offer the view: It appears to be growing and Iranian ambitions in
Iraq seem to be expanding,” Hayden, a four-star Air Force general, told
the Senate Armed Services Committee on Nov. 15. “I would suggest to you,
right now [Iran] seems to be conducting a foreign policy with a feeling
of almost dangerous triumphalism.”
Bush, the neocons and the hardline Israelis had
become victims of their success in shouting down or discrediting critics
who favored a less violent course. The peace advocates were routinely
smeared as “soft on terror” or “anti-Israel.”
To this day, neocons still rant and rave against
Jimmy Carter. However, from the perspective of more than a quarter
century later, Carter’s advice about resolving the Palestinian dispute
and reaching peace accords with Israel’s Arab neighbors does not look
like such a bad idea.
So, another lesson from the Nov. 7 elections is
that manipulating perceptions and creating false one-sided realities –
like those that have guided U.S. policy in the Middle East – can be
dangerous even for those doing the manipulating.
The Republican defeat in Election 2006 opens the
door slightly for a reexamination of the overall U.S. strategy toward
the Middle East. But it’s hard to envision a serious rethinking of the
policy without a substantial growth in the fledgling independent news
media and a stiffening of spines among American politicians.
Fearful of losing Jewish-American votes to
Republicans, Democrats have shown little interest in reasserting the
traditional U.S. role as Israel’s concerned friend, offering both
military protection and sage advice, whether always welcomed or not.
If such a broader debate were possible, it might
make sense to suggest that U.S. forces now caught in Iraq’s sectarian
strife could serve the cause of regional peace much more if they helped
Israel remove its settlements from the Golan Heights and the West Bank,
clearing the way for peace treaties with Syria and the Palestinians.
The United States also could achieve substantial
goodwill in the Muslim world by shifting some U.S. reconstruction money
from Iraq to improving the economic infrastructure of the Palestinians.
That way, there might be some attractive life alternatives to young
people otherwise tempted to join the ranks of suicide bombers.
But these options have little hope as long as the
American political/media structure remains closed to fresh ideas.
In that sense, the Nov. 7 elections represented
less a decisive victory against Bush’s grim vision than a hopeful
opportunity to turn the American Republic back toward its great
traditions and forward into a rational future.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine,
the Press & 'Project Truth.'