Not long ago, I was talking about reporting news on Israel with a young journalist who works for a major metropolitan daily newspaper.
When it was pointed out that the Jewish press had an obligation to fill the gap in unbiased information and perspective on the Middle East, this man piped up, saying that was all well and good, but were Jewish journalists telling the truth about Israel being the reason America was a terror target?
When I responded that this was nonsense, he replied insouciantly that we all knew very well that American support of Israel lay behind the war on terror and that it was fruitless to deny it.
Is this view typical of most or even many Americans? Probably not, thank heaven. For the most part, it has been limited to the anti-Zionist fever swamps of the left or right where the likes of far-right-wing pundit Pat Buchanan or left-wing propaganda film auteur Michael Moore live.
But it is gaining traction, and one of the sources for this new respect for a bogus theory was the favorable reaction from many in America's chattering classes for a book published earlier this year.
"Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror" spent several weeks on The New York Times best-seller list during the recent presidential campaign, as it edged ahead of a spate of other books bashing the Bush administration.
But what made "Hubris" different was its author, a guy publishers called "Anonymous," but who was described as a "senior U.S. intelligence official."
The mystery about Anonymous' real identity didn't last long, and was soon traced back to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. The author was revealed to be none other than one of the agency's chief spooks, Michael Scheuer, who was formerly the head of the C.I.A.'s unit dedicated to tracking down none other than terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Predictably, Scheuer does not take responsibility for the failure of his unit's main task. But he does have a lot to say about the faults of the Bush administration and, rather pointedly, the flaws in American foreign policy that have led us to war with fundamentalist Islam.
The No. 1 answer on that impressive list of faults is American support for Israel.
Writing as if he stole Buchanan's playbook, Scheuer's chapter head on this topic is called "The Burden of an Eternal Dependent." He blasts what he calls America's "overwhelmingly one-way alliance with Israel," and, like Buchanan and other sniveling weasels of the far right, complains that any criticism of the alliance is branded anti-Semitic.
He dismisses Israel as a "far-away theocracy in all but name," disputes its rightful label as a democracy, and preposterously blames the Jews for keeping millions of Palestinian refugees in "eternal exile," instead of rightly naming the Arab states that have incarcerated them in camps rather than resettle them, as Israel has done with equally numerous Jewish refugees from Arab countries and other parts of the world.
According to Scheuer, friendship for Israel comes at too high a price for Americans. American friends of Israel, he says, have "succeeded in lacing tight the ropes binding the American Gulliver to the tiny Jewish state." Scheuer also says that Al Qaeda statements about the U.S.-Israel alliance are accurate, and is not shy about bizarrely referring to his former quarry bin Laden as a "great" man.
After reading this pitiful stuff, readers are forced to come to some conclusions that Scheuer probably didn't intend; namely, that for all of the flaws in the Bush administration's strategies and the usual screwups that occur in any war, maybe some of the problems America has encountered ought not to be blamed on the Jewish "neoconservatives," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or even on the president himself.
Maybe the problem was the CIA.
Because if an idiot like Scheuer could be entrusted with U.S. intelligence, then maybe the people running the CIA weren't as smart as we were led to believe. Maybe it's the people who are always being anonymously quoted expressing their dismay about administration policy (usually in stories that start on the front page of The New York Times, quoting unnamed CIA officials and suspiciously leaked CIA documents) that we should be worrying about, not the "Jewish lobby" that Scheuer obsesses about.
A NATIONAL PRIORITY
A close reading of Scheuer's book and his public statements makes it clear that a complete housecleaning of this "rogue agency," as it has been termed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), isn't merely appropriate, it is a national priority.
Indeed, it is the motives of those who have criticized new CIA director Porter Goss' wholesale ousting of top agency operatives the ones who gave Scheuer the okay to publish a partisan book in the middle of a presidential campaign that ought to be put in question, not his.
Of course, the problem is that lies about Israel and the willingness to "blame the Jews" for the war on terror and, by extension, the Sept. 11 attacks, have a tendency to spread far beyond the limited number of readers of Scheuer's book or even those who saw the author's appearances on "Sixty Minutes" or "Meet the Press" during his proverbial 15 minutes of fame.
When former CIA officials wind up on the same page as Michael Moore and Pat Buchanan, you know something was very wrong at Langley. It's high time these fools were turned out on their ears.