The clout of Washington's neoconservatives and the political fear induced by Israel's Likud hardliners were on display again with recently released e-mails in which Gen. David Petraeus grovels before a key neocon and in White House meetings at which President Obama pandered to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The e-mails from Petraeus to Max Boot reveal the four-star general renouncing his own congressional testimony in March because it included the observation that "the enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests" in the Middle East.
Petraeus's testimony continued, "Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. " Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support."
Though the testimony might strike some readers as a no-brainer, many neocons regard any suggestion that Israeli intransigence on Palestinian peace talks contributes to the dangers faced by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan or by the U.S. public from acts of terrorism at home as a "blood libel" against Israel.
So, when Petraeus's testimony began getting traction on the Internet, the general quickly turned to Boot, a neocon writer based at the high-powered Council on Foreign Relations, and began backtracking on the testimony.
"As you know, I didn't say that," Petraeus said, according to one e-mail to Boot timed off at 2:27 p.m., March 18. "It's in a written submission for the record."
In other words, Petraeus was arguing that the comments were only in his formal testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee and were not repeated by him in his brief oral opening statement. However, the written testimony is treated as part of the official record at congressional hearings with no meaningful distinction from oral testimony.
In another e-mail, as Petraeus solicited Boot's help in tamping down any controversy over the Israeli remarks, the general ended the message with a military "Roger" and a sideways happy face, made from a colon, a dash and a closed parenthesis, :-) .
The e-mails were made public by James Morris, who runs a Web site called "Neocon Zionist Threat to America." He said he apparently got them by accident when he sent a March 19 e-mail congratulating Petraeus for his testimony and Petraeus responded by forwarding one of Boot's blog posts that knocked down the story of the general's implicit criticism of Israel.
Petraeus forwarded Boot's blog item, entitled "A Lie: David Petraeus, Anti-Israel," which had been posted at the Commentary magazine site at 3:11 p.m. on March 18. However, Petraeus apparently forgot to delete some of the other exchanges between him and Boot at the bottom of the e-mail.
Morris sent me the e-mails at my request after an article by Philip Weiss appeared about them at Mondoweiss, a Web site that deals with Middle East issues. This week, I sought comment from Petraeus and Boot regarding the e-mails, specifically giving them a chance to deny their authenticity. Neither man has responded.
The e-mails also reveal Petraeus brainstorming with Boot regarding how to finesse the potential controversy over the Senate testimony.
At 2:37 p.m. on March 18, Petraeus asks Boot, "Does it help if folks know that I hosted Elie Wiesel and his wife at our quarters last Sun night?! And that I will be the speaker at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps in mid-Apr at the Capitol Dome [?]"
Eight minutes later, Boot responded, "No don't think that's relevant because you're not being accused of being anti-Semitic."
That's when a relieved Petraeus responds, "Roger! :-) "