Senator spoke for many on Hill when he blamed Israel for war

Thursday, May 20, 2004

A U.S. senator's charge that Israel is behind the Bush administrations's decision to invade Iraq has rattled American Jewish leaders.

Sen. Ernest Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat, wrote a column that appeared in several newspapers. The column asserted that the U.S. war against Iraq represented a decision by President George Bush to protect Israel and ensure American Jewish support for his reelection.

The column reflects a growing sentiment in the corridors of power in Washington according to congressional sources.

The view attributes the U.S. war in Iraq to the so-called neo-conservatives in the administration, particularly Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, Middle East Newsline reported. Both men are Jewish.

"There is a strong fear among American Jewish leadership that the whispering campaign that 'the Jews started it,' will become public," a senior congressional staffer said. "We could be seeing others get on Hollings' bandwagon."

"Bush felt tax cuts would hold his crowd together and spreading democracy in the Mideast to secure Israel would take the Jewish vote from the Democrats," Hollings said in a column first published on May 6 in the Charleston Post and Courier. "You don't come to town and announce your Israel policy is to invade Iraq."

Congressional sources said Hollings was expressing a view that has become increasingly prevalent in Congress and parts of the administration.

The column was reprinted on Hollings's website.

The administration has been debating a U.S. exit strategy from Iraq that appears to pit elements of the Defense Department against the State Department. The debate includes the affect of a short-term U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq on Washington's allies in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Such a U.S. withdrawal, Pentagon officials warned, could threaten these Gulf Arab states.

"They [Arab leaders] are more worried that we will lose our patience with the difficult tasks of stabilizing those places and will walk away and come home and bring up the drawbridges and defend Fortress America," U.S. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday." "I reassured our friends that we are tough, that we cannot be defeated militarily, and that we will stay the course."

For his part, Hollings said Israel has never claimed that Iraq maintained a weapons of mass destruction arsenal. The senator, who later refused to retract his statements, said Wolfowitz's advocacy of a plan to promote democracy among Arab states comprised an Israeli initiative.

"With Iraq no threat, why invade a sovereign country?" Hollings asked. "The answer: President Bush's policy to secure Israel. Led by Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Charles Krauthammer, for years there has been a domino school of thought that the way to guarantee Israel's security is to spread democracy in the area."

Hollings said Bush realized that he would be unable to bring about an Arab-Israeli peace to help his reelection efforts. Instead, Bush started laying the groundwork to invade Iraq days after his inauguration in 2001.

The senator said Wolfowitz persuaded Bush that the war against Iraq would take a week. Hollings said Vice President Richard Cheney was convinced U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators.

"In the Mideast, terrorism is a separate problem to be defeated by diplomacy and negotiation, not militarily," Hollings said. "Here, might does not make right right makes might. Acting militarily, we have created more terrorism than we have eliminated."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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