Dancing for Jerusalem: Cal Thomas, Syria, and Israeli Exceptionalism

The week before last, we watched Cal Thomas slither away from a decade of cheerleading for George W. Bush’s war crime against Iraq in order to both discredit Barack Obama’s echo-like plan against Syria and refocus the country’s attention on the ultimate target of Israeli malice, Iran. Impugning the intelligence that was used to justify the Iraq war, Thomas lamented the American (not the Iraqi) deaths that resulted from a use of force he now finds misguided, and conspicuously failed to take any responsibility for his own role in selling the war. This past week, in a staggering insult to the intelligence of his Shelling of a Damascus Suburbreaders, Thomas used almost identical language to lure Americans in the opposite direction, using the Iraqi disaster not to oppose military intervention but to disparage its alternative, diplomacy. When Barack Obama had his finger on the trigger, ready to kill Syrian civilians in order to save Syrian civilians, Thomas’s hawk attempted to mimic a dove. Now that the president has – fortuitously or not – discovered a possible solution that will not add further victims to America’s Middle-Eastern body count, Thomas has rediscovered the flesh-ripping potential of his familiar talons. While Thomas’s vermicular writhing serves the perennial purpose of attacking the president, his contortions are best understood as the faithful responses of an Israeli marionette.

As the Worm Turns: Walking Back from Nonintervention in Syria

On August 29th, in a column entitled Once More Into the Snake Pit, Thomas opposed U.S. intervention in Syria in terms that should have caused this former salesman of war to seek the solace of a confession box.

By the time you read this, U.S. missiles and bombs may be falling on Syria. Why? Syria hasn’t attacked us. It does not pose a security threat to the United States.[…] Weren’t we told of the “certainty” that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons? Have we learned nothing?

The future of Iraq is in doubt after a huge American investment of lives and money. Ditto Afghanistan. After U.S. help in toppling Moammar Gadhafi, Libya is anything but stable. Egypt is in turmoil after the Obama administration backed its Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government, whose leader and elected president, Mohamed Morsi, has been ousted by the military.

What makes anyone think bombing Damascus is going to bring positive change?[…] If the only reason for U.S. intervention in Syria is humanitarian, where is the constitutional justification for that? There are many other inhumanities throughout the world. Congo is one.[…] We’re not intervening there.

Iran has threatened to strike Israel if the United States attacks Syria. There is grave danger, including possible terrorism, if we attack Syria. When will we ever learn?

For the time being, let us not belabor the fact that Cal Thomas was one of the loudest voices “telling” the American people that Saddam Hussein had WMDs (and neglecting to mention how much help the U.S. had given Saddam in developing those weapons). Let us ignore the throw-away line that the Obama Administration backed the wrong horse in Egypt, when it is painfully obvious (from the continuation of U.S. military assistance if nothing else) that the United States and Israel are both delighted to see Mubarak’s old friends reassert themselves, no matter how many civilians perish from the blunt impact of American-made projectiles. Let us not complicate matters further by suggesting that chaos in Libya (and in the Middle East generally) might be exactly what America wants. And let us forsake the opportunity to advise Cal Thomas that, as a supposedly Christian conservative, his warnings against warfare would be vastly more persuasive and respectable if they flowed from a sincere concern to prevent the needless killing of other human beings, be they Americans or not. No, the key takeaway for our present purposes is that when Thomas penned his curiously uncharacteristic admonition, Israel was very nervous about the likely consequences of U.S. intervention in Syria. And that remained the case on September 10th, when Thomas became an unapologetic apostate in order to sell the Israeli position to his American audience. Although we cited the following passage last week, it is worth repeating to highlight the transformation that would come just one week later.

In 2003, President George W. Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction. Remember the Iraqi refugee codenamed “Curveball”? He was the main provider of “intelligence” that Saddam was pursuing WMDs. No WMDs were ever found. In 2004, “Curveball” was officially classified as a “fabricator” by the CIA; too late for those thousands of Americans who died or were wounded. Now, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry say we can trust the intelligence on Syria. Do you?

Thus, a couple of days before the Russian diplomatic door opened, Cal Thomas could not have been much clearer that a military strike was the wrong course of action in Syria. But by September 17th (or the 18th for readers of The Leesburg Daily Commercial), something had changed.

After the first Gulf War in 1991, when Iraqi forces were evicted from Kuwait, Saddam put on a public display in which at least some of his chemical weapons arsenal was destroyed.

In 2003, when President George W. Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was attempting to acquire more, none were found. Do we really believe Hussein destroyed them all? [Emphasis added.]

Perhaps this permanently skeptical tone plays well with viewers of Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, who see socialistic skulduggery lurking around every corner, but for anyone with a firm grasp on reality this doubting Thomas act has just descended into utter farce. One week we are told in no uncertain terms that the intelligence on Iraqi WMDs was completely fabricated and therefore constituted an insufficient basis for war. The next week we are encouraged to believe that Saddam Hussein might very well have been hiding WMDs after all. Since no explanation for this latest U-turn is provided, Thomas’s readers must surely be wondering whether he believes they are all suffering from dementia-related memory loss – or whether he is the one so afflicted. Were there WMDs in Iraq or not? If Thomas now thinks that there might have been – and he most certainly did at the time – then why was he so adamant just a few days ago that there were none? If WMDs are easily hidden by bad actors, could military action to remove them actually have been justified in Iraq after all, and if it was justified in Iraq might it also be justified in Syria or elsewhere?

Executing his latest reversal with the casualness of Jim Rockford whipping his Pontiac through one of his patented maneuvers, Thomas seamlessly ushers his readers on to the suspicion that Bashar Assad might be capable of hiding his chemical weapons from whatever inspections regime emerges from the new round of diplomacy.

According to a report in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, reprinted in Sunday’s Jerusalem Post, Syria moved “20 trucks worth of equipment and material used for the manufacturing of chemical weapons into neighboring Iraq.” If true, that would have been the day after the agreement between the U.S. and Russia was announced. The Iraqi government denies it is assisting Syria in hiding chemical weapons. Who can be believed in the murky Middle East?

Certainly not Cal Thomas. For not only has Thomas unapologetically unwound his decade of support for the Iraq War, and then promptly undercut the only reason he provided to justify his apostasy. He has also found a pretext to ignore his manifold warnings against intervention in Syria and had the hubris to fault the Obama Administration for failing to be sufficiently bellicose in the first place:

Why would a dictator like Bashar al-Assad relinquish his most potent weapon in the midst of a civil war? President Obama and his sycophants claim it was the threat of military action against Syria that focused Assad’s mind. That hardly seems credible after Kerry’s promise that any U.S. missile strike would be “unbelievably small.”[…]

[T]he cruel dictators in the Middle East… can’t be trusted to live up to any promise not in their own interest. Unless, of course, they are forced to do so through more international pressure than they are currently receiving and with a credible military option that is something larger than “unbelievably small.” [Emphasis added.]

Presumably – unless special rules of logic apply to Cal Thomas, which they very well might – a credible military option is one a country is actually willing to deploy. In other words, the United States must be willing to intervene when, dare we say it, a certain red line is crossed. Curiously, Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons against Child Victims of Alleged Syrian Chemical Weapons Usecivilians, even if true, did not constitute a red line for Cal Thomas, yet a potential failure of Bashar Assad to surrender all his chemical weapons to international inspectors apparently would. Naturally, Thomas fails to clarify why the mere possession of these weapons should be regarded as more of a casus belli than their actual use, and since Israel itself possesses chemical weapons Cal Thomas might want to give greater consideration to the location of his freshly painted red line. (In any case, all we need to do is wait one week and watch it move.)

By this point, Cal Thomas’s own credibility is unbelievably small. Failing to discern in himself a level of indecision that he has no difficulty disparaging in the president, he has boxed himself into a hopeless corner of self-contradiction. And while Thomas rejoiced (on September 12th) in declaring that Barack Obama had been “played” by Vladimir Putin, Thomas willingly allows himself to be manipulated into impossible positions by a foreign power of his own. Of course, Cal Thomas is a mere propagandist, not the commander-in-chief. Indecision on his part does not directly affect whether people live or die. But to the extent that his propaganda shapes the landscape of the possible, it most certainly does have an indirect effect on the lives of all those touched by American power. Those of us who care what our country does in our name have a right to know who Cal Thomas plans on touching next, and why.

Inside the Puppet’s Head: The Dilemmas of a Professional Propagandist

As we discussed last week, Cal Thomas has two primary goals as a foreign-policy propagandist: scoring points against Barack Obama, to curry favor with both domestic and Israeli constituencies; and attempting to steer the United States towards war with Iran. The absurd writhing we have just witnessed is attributable in part to Thomas’s initial failure to strike a prudent balance between these two objectives, and his need to compensate for that failure. We touched on one aspect of this failure last week:

Thomas expects the country to swallow his assertions that Iran is pursuing the ultimate weapon of mass destruction despite telling us that President Bush’s case for war against Iran’s neighbor – based on allegations of WMD development – was fabricated, and arguing similarly that President Obama’s case for war against Syria can also not be trusted. Readers may be forgiven for wondering if Mr. Thomas is destined to someday change his mind about Iran as well, should he need to reposition himself in the twinkling firmament of the American pundit class.

Every time Thomas questions the “intelligence” on Iraqi WMDs, either by placing quotation marks around the word or associating it with fabricators, he places doubt in the minds of the American people that such intelligence can ever be trusted. This risks undermining any potential case for war against Iran based on allegations that the ayatollahs are playing unholy games with atoms at the higher end of the periodic table. Although we may be giving him more credit than he is due, Thomas appears to have now recalibrated his skepticism about intelligence to highlight the danger of false negatives instead of false positives. Like an insurance salesman offering protection from unlikely but undesirable outcomes, Thomas will be able to resume selling the war against Iran even in the presence of uncertainty. We don’t know whether they can blow us all up, but we can’t afford to take the chance. A good salesman always finds a way to overcome objections, but most salesmen don’t have to deal with customers who have heard all the pitches given to everyone else.

Inseparable from this is Thomas’s argument against intervention itself. Focusing on (some of) the costs that America has paid in the Middle East hardly disposes his audience to reach deeper still into their pocket books and into the pool of young men and women recruited from the lower classes to fight the wars of the corporate elite. (It must be noted that Thomas’s failure to mention the massive suffering and death visited upon America’s various targets is accompanied by another deafening silence on the portion of the hated federal debt attributable to imperialistic adventures. Even though Thomas always blames fiscal imbalance on excessive spending, spending on foreign murder sprees is above reproach – a monstrous position that remains axiomatic for “Christian” conservatives.) If there is going to be a war against Iran – and both Israel and the American neocons want such a war desperately – then Cal Thomas needs to halt his appeals to the Tea Party before the point where spending on war becomes part and parcel of runaway government. In general, Thomas easily scores a passing grade here, since he has never missed an opportunity to call for confrontation with the “evil” of Iran. Defeating evil, one must assume, is worth any cost – especially when you’re not the one paying it.

All this being said, the ultimate cause of Thomas’s gyrations lies above the puppet’s head. He is, in a sense, only following orders; final responsibility for his absurdity accrues to his Israeli masters.

Dancing for Jerusalem

Cal Thomas’s positions had to change because Israel’s own positions have changed. For guidance on this topic, one of the best sources in the world today is not Cal Thomas (except in so far as he acts as a reflection) but the independent and award-winning British journalist, Johnathan Cook. Writing on September 18th, Cook noted that both Israel and the United States see Syria as a geographic “keystone” in an Iranian-sponsored “axis of evil” including Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. But the question of what to do about Syria has been influenced profoundly by the Iraqi experience.

Israel and the US drew different lessons from Iraq. Washington is now wary of its ground forces becoming bogged down again, as well as fearful of reviving a cold war confrontation with Moscow. It prefers instead to rely on proxies to contain and exhaust the Syrian regime.

Israel, on the other hand, understands the danger of manoeuvring [sic] its patron into a showdown with Damascus without ensuring this time that Iran is tied into the plan. Toppling Assad alone would simply add emboldened jihadists to the troubles on its doorstep.

Given these assessments, Israel and the US have struggled to envision a realistic endgame that would satisfy them both. Obama fears setting the region, and possibly the world, ablaze with a direct attack on Iran; Israel is worried about stretching its patron’s patience by openly pushing it into another catastrophic venture to guarantee its regional hegemony. [Emphasis added.]

According to Cook, to the extent that Israel desired a military strike against Syria, that desire was – to borrow a term used by one of Cal Thomas’s friends – a derivative of its overarching goal to put Tehran on notice that it will be next in the crosshairs. Cal Thomas’s previous columns have made Israel’s obsession with Iran abundantly clear. And, ever the faithful puppet, his more recent argument against the proposed confiscation of Syria’s chemical weapons under international auspices is informed by evolving Israeli assessments of the current situation.

As Silvan Shalom, a senior government minister, observed: “If it is impossible to do anything against little Syria, then certainly it’s not possible against big Iran.”

But the new US-Russian deal to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons can probably be turned to Israel’s advantage, so long as Israel prevents attention shifting to its own likely stockpiles.[…]

Israel also suspects that Damascus is likely to procrastinate on disarmament. In any case, efforts to locate and destroy its chemical weapons in the midst of a civil war will be lengthy and difficult.

And that may provide Israel with a way back in. Soon, as Israeli analysts are already pointing out, Syria will be hosting international inspectors searching for WMD, not unlike the situation in Iraq shortly before the US-led invasion of 2003. Israel, it can safely be assumed, will quietly meddle, trying to persuade the West that Assad is not cooperating and that Hizbullah and Iran are implicated.

In a vein Israel may mine later, a Syrian opposition leader, Selim Idris, claimed at the weekend that Damascus was seeking to conceal the extent of its stockpiles by passing them to Lebanon and Iraq.[…]

Israel still desperately wants its chief foe, Iran, crushed. And if it can find a way to lever the US into doing its dirty work, it will exploit the opening – regardless of whether such action ramps up the suffering in Syria. [Emphasis added.]

Obviously, Cal Thomas has already started mining that particular vein. But as he swung his pick axe against the coal face, he failed to draw attention to the fact that the “intelligence” on the alleged movement of Assad’s weapons came from a Syrian opposition leader. Having just lectured a gullible world a few days ago about the fabrications of “Curveball,” might it not behoove our Israeli puppet to protect himself from future revelations regarding the credibility of parties in a civil war who have an interest in stirring the pot? Will he never learn? Since his audience does not seem particularly interested in holding him to account, this would appear to be an occupational hazard that Thomas is willing to accept in order to steer the conversation in the desired direction.

The Other Exceptional Nation

As Cook explained on September 20th, Israel’s nervousness about the emerging diplomatic solution is reaching fever-pitch as international attention starts to focus on Israel’s own arsenal of nuclear and chemical weapons. Cal Thomas made a great fuss about “cruel dictators” failing to live up to treaty obligations, invoking the gold standard of depravity, Adolf Hitler,1 to make an impression on elderly Americans with timeworn conceptions of good and evil. Apart from the fact that the United States itself also has a dismal record of honoring its own treaty obligations – just ask any native American, or anyone tortured by the CIA – the preferred practice of more sophisticated evildoers is Israeli Chemical Weapons Facility at Dimonato simply fail to sign treaties in the first place. Israel, which considers itself entitled to play by a completely different set of rules from everyone else because of the Holocaust, has signed neither the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nor the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, placing itself in some truly dismal company. So far, the United States has protected Israel from Arab attempts to make the Middle-East a nuclear-free region, while Israel has protected the United States from the embarrassment of acknowledging that it has broken domestic law by providing billions in aid to a country that has violated the NPT. (One might add that U.S. domestic law really doesn’t mean much anymore, and one has to wonder what, beyond its existing record of atrocities, could possibly cause the U.S. to be embarrassed – or to care if it were.)

Thus, the stakes are now very high. This is, perhaps, a make-or-break moment for Israel. If it can embroil its powerful patron in an all-out war against Iran, it could win the lottery. But if the Syrian situation leads to international pressure for Israel to abide by the same standards it expects from its neighbors, then Israel’s exceptionalism could be mortally wounded. Barack Obama, Cal Thomas, and the state of Israel have all allowed themselves to be boxed into a corner. There’s no telling what such cornered animals might do.

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  1. The ever-incisive media critic J.P. Sottile has ably excoriated the universal use of Hitler as a rallying cry for phony moralizers of all stripes.

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