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Can the Crank Theories

March 12, 2003

Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.) created an uproar with his statement at a recent antiwar meeting that absent the "strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this." He added that American Jews had the power to stop the rush to war.

He has since apologized, and he should have. Moran's biggest mistake was portraying American Jews as a monolithic force. Some American Jews support military intervention in Iraq, some oppose it and some fall in between.

They also hold a range of views on Israel -- and it is worth noting that before the spate of Palestinian suicide bombings, the majority of American Jews and Jewish organizations backed the Oslo peace process. Even if a single Jewish community existed, it would hardly wield enough influence or power to either prevent the administration from going to war or induce it to do so.

There's no denying that the Bush administration is the friendliest to Israel in American history, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has crowed. Critics chalk this amity up to the influence of several advisors, many Jewish, whom they accuse of pushing U.S. power to secure Israel's interests -- notably Richard Perle, who heads a Defense Department advisory board, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith.

President Bush certainly appears to have signed on to the goals these advisors espouse for the Middle East. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute in late February, he argued that the U.S. could democratize the Middle East by wiping out Saddam Hussein's dictatorship -- a key tenet of the Wolfowitz worldview.

The president also endorsed the view that, because Hussein routinely pays families of Palestinian suicide bombers, the liberation of Iraq would dry up financing of these so-called martyrs. But it hardly requires an obsession with Israel to embrace the prospect of spreading democracy, reducing terrorism or similar goals.

Likewise, it is entirely legitimate to question the Bush administration's approach to the Middle East and the stands of American Jewish groups. As the administration heads toward war, what is needed is free-wheeling debate, not kooky conspiracy theories.

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