By William K. Black
The Jerusalem Post’s columnist Shmuel Rosner has replied to, but rarely engaged, my comments on his earlier column concerning Egypt. The thrust of his prior column was that President Obama had naively “desert[ed Egypt] a valued strategic ally” because Americans are ignorant of Mideast culture.
My response was substantive, quoting directly from Rosner’s column over 15 times and discussing why I believed he had phrased many of his remarks in a manner that was intentionally misleading. Rosner’s reply is non-responsive on these points.
Rosner’s reply focuses on one point. He claims I misquoted him. “Black quotes me as saying things that A. I’ve never said, and B. Are not true.” Rosner then proceeds to cite portions of my column where I did not quote him and says that those portions where I did not quote him are not quotations from him. That, of course, is why quotation marks and indented block quotations exist. So, he self-refutes his point “A” – he does not argue that any of my quotations from his Slate column are inaccurate.
I wrote many things in my column commenting on what I believed were areas where Rosner’s column deliberately slanted his language to convey inaccurate facts, internally inconsistent arguments, and omissions of key facts that would have refuted the impression he tried to create in the reader. Rosner, of course, is welcome to respond substantively to the many arguments I made where I recurrently cited his exact language. He has a regular column in a major newspaper and has essentially unlimited space to explain why I am substantively wrong in my criticisms of his work.
Instead, he starts with the usual jibe at the fact that I am a professor. He doesn’t, of course, use these ad hominem attacks against professors who write to compliment his work. In any event, after he tries to get his readers primed he begins with the clear error of claiming that I misquoted him. After the reflexive ad hominem introduction and the clear factual error about my quotations, he moves to Part B – he asserts that I’m incorrect to write that he “paints U.S. neo-cons as Likud’s useful idiots.” Here’s the context: Rosner’s column in Slate referred at one point to an old attack on Israel by some Americans. The claim is that U.S. and Israeli neo-cons (the putative Israeli neo-cons composed Likud under this claim) sought to get the U.S. to invade Iraq for the primary purpose of destroying one of the largest Arab military forces threatening Israel with WMD and conventional forces. Under some variants of this claim the invasion was also supposed to intimidate Syria (and perhaps Iran) to keep them from attacking Israel. Under other variants the U.S. invasion of Iraq was supposed to unleash democratic forces that would bring down Israel’s most dangerous opponents (Syria and Iran).
Rosner original column noted that, from the Israeli perspective, the U.S. neo-cons’ devotion to democracy for Arabs and Persians was naïve and dangerous. Democracy would bring to power the most anti-Israeli elements and pose a grave strategic risk to Israel.
The point I was making was that Rosner paints Israelis as viewing the U.S. neo-cons as fools (so naïve that their pro-democracy fantasies posed a grave risk to Israel). The neo-cons were, however, useful to Israelis (or so many Israelis originally believed) because the neo-cons were the leading U.S. proponents of invading Iraq. Most Israelis, particularly the rejectionist members of Likud, believed that destroying Iraq’s military and its putative weapons of mass destruction would directly benefit Israel and could indirectly aid Israel by deterring Syria.
I did not say that Israelis or Likudniks believed in bringing democracy to Iraq. I explained why Rosner’s logic means that Israelis (originally) viewed the U.S. neo-cons as useful idiots who could help prompt a U.S. invasion of Iraq, but who should be ignored when they blathered about democracy in the Mideast. I also pointed out that the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which a majority of Israelis originally viewed as good for Israel and an act of U.S. pragmatism had the unexpected consequences of bringing Iran to primacy and dangerously straining the U.S. military. The combination may be harmful to Israeli interests. My point was that following allegedly pragmatic policies can often prove foolish. Again, I don’t believe that Rosner disagrees with this point, but he is welcome to point out areas in which he disagrees.
Rosner’s primary point seems to be that Prime Minister Sharon was Likud’s leader and Sharon’s defenders say that he secretly urged Bush not to invade Iraq. Maybe, but this is the kind of self-serving remembrance that requires skepticism. Historians may reach a consensus about Sharon’s true position in 30 years – after going through premature, contradictory conventional wisdoms. What we know for sure is that Netanyahu was writing in the Wall Street Journal (September 20, 2002): “The Case for Toppling Saddam” to urge the U.S. to launch a preemptive invasion.
If Rosner believes that my goal was to put the onus on Likud he misses my point. My title referred to Likud because Rosner emphasized Likud in his article. I stated my agreement with Rosner’s point that Israeli’s overwhelmingly rejected the U.S. neo-cons’ dreams of launching a wave of democracy through the Mideast by invading Iraq as a dangerous fantasy. Most Israelis, however, strongly supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Only U.S. and Israeli citizens voiced majority support for the invasion. Likud’s rejectionists, the folks that rule Israel today, were simply among the strongest proponents of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and they continue to dominate the ruling coalition through their leader, Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Likudniks were not unique among Israelis in finding the U.S. neo-cons to be useful idiots. Peres and Barak supported the invasion. Israeli intelligence supported the invasion and believed Iraq had WMD.
My argument is not that Israelis were irrational or evil because they broadly supported the invasion of Iraq. They thought the invasion was in their national interest and could remove (or at least postpone) an existential threat to Israel. They knew the U.S. neo-cons were useful because they were the leading U.S. proponents of the invasion and had access to key policy and opinion makers. I agree with Rosner that Israelis believed that the neo-cons’ claims that the invasion of Iraq would set off a wave of democracy for Arabs and Persians were foolish. The neo-cons’ belief in democracy was doubly naïve from the Israeli perspective – Israelis did not believe invading Iraq would produce a wave of democratic change in the region and they feared rather than favored Arab and Iranian democracy. That’s why, under Rosner’s analysis of Israeli politics, Israeli’s found U.S. neo-cons to be useful idiots. I never suggested that Rosner used that phrase. I said that the picture he painted of Israeli politics indicates that this is how Israelis, particularly rejectionist Likudniks, viewed the U.S. neo-cons – naïve fools, but useful fools if they could help convince the U.S. to invade Iraq.
Rosner ends his reply this way:
But I’d give him one additional advice (if one can tolerate the layman advice to a distinguished Professor): When I describe Israeli positions and actions, it doesn’t always mean I agree with these positions. A writer, a reporter, might feel the need to just lay the facts before the readers. Accurately.
No one tried to pull academic credentials on Rosner. The ad hominem jibes Rosner chose to start and end his reply refute his claim that as a reporter all he does is “lay the facts before the readers. Accurately.” My column showed that what Rosner did all too often was slant things and selectively omit essential facts (like Carter’s decisive role in producing the Camp David Peace Accords that produced the peace with Egypt).
The reason I quoted Rosner so extensively was to allow the reader to differentiate the circumstances in which he was “describ[ing] Israeli positions and actions” from those in which I was criticizing him for personally stating a position in a manner that I believed slanted the facts. I explained why I believed his writing was inaccurate in those circumstances. Readers can review my comment and confirm that I never criticized Rosner for describing an Israeli position.