The Passion of the Clark


The most important issue in America at this hour is obviously whether the New Republic's Jonathan Chait is right or wrong about Wesley Clark. A couple weeks ago, pundits piled on Clark for suggesting that "New York money people" were distorting the debate over whether to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. I suggested that this was factual, and not anti-semitic. In rather more (and better) words, Matthew Yglesias suggested the same thing. Chait responds by calling Clark's words anti-semitic.

[T]o suggest that a tiny clique of Jewish financiers can by themselves force the American government to go to war goes well beyond any hard-headed analysis of Jewish political power. It assumes that small numbers of wealthy Jews essentially control the government.

This isn't what Clark was saying. "Rich Jews control the government" is an untrue assertion that Clark didn't make. "Rich and connected allies of Israel have a lot of influence in our politics, to the extent that candidates don't want to piss them off even when they're agitating for a scary Iran policy" is more like what Clark meant. Look, here's the context:

Clark was really angry about what he'd read in this column by UPI Editor at Large Arnaud de Borchgrave. In the piece… de Borchgrave details Bibi Netanyahu leading the charge to lobby the Bush administration to take out Iran's nuclear facilities, and paints U.S. air strikes against Iran in 2007/08 as all-but-a-done deal.

The crucial part of that column, italics mine:

Netanyahu then said Israel "must immediately launch an intense, international, public relations front first and foremost on the U.S. The goal being to encourage President Bush to live up to specific pledges he would not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons. We must make clear to the government, the Congress and the American public that a nuclear Iran is a threat to the U.S. and the entire world, not only Israel."

There are signs this is already happening in Washington. Before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld troika decided the ousting of Saddam Hussein had to become an integral part of the "war on terror." Eventually 60 percent of Americans thought Saddam was behind 9/11, even though there was no link between the two. Today, the Bush-Cheney team faces the same spin scenario: how to weave the global war on terror and the Shiite powers that be in Iran.

So de Borchgrave reports that pressure by powerful allies of Israel is increasing the likelihood of a strike on Iran. (There's even better stuff in the column, including the Blofeld-esque comments of Oded Tira: "We need to turn the Iranian issue to a bipartisan one and unrelated to the Iraq failure. Hillary Clinton and other potential presidential candidates in the Democratic Party (must) publicly support immediate action by Bush again Iran." However, Tira is a Tel Aviv money person, not a New York money person, so this is irrelevant.) Instead of debating this, pundits debate whether you can refer to wealthy political donors* who 1) support/agree with Netanyahu and 2) want to strike Iranian nuclear facilities as "New York money people." There's a sort of forest-trees thing going on here, isn't there?

*It's worth noting that of the top 10 zip codes for political giving, six are in New York. Just don't say they have money!