Is the Weekly Standard’s “Historian Friend” Israel’s Ambassador? Eliot Cohen Perhaps?

Israel's Ambassador the United States, Michael Oren

I’d love to know the identity of The Weekly Standard‘s “historian friend” featured in a brief post this morning by Daniel Halper and wonder if it may have been Israel’s ambassador here, Michael Oren. Here’s the quote:

Military service in and of itself does not convey an absence of prejudice. Besides it is certainly not his service we disparage–we respect it. It is his lack of appreciation for what Israelis endure each day or the reason this tiny state came into being and refuses to die in order to win praise from the chattering classes.


And a man who confuses a great religion with a lobbying organization that enjoys the support of the vast majority of non-Jews is unfit to serve as Secretary of Defense. Nor is a man who disparages the loyalties of 99 other Senators.


Only God knows what really was in the hearts of Joe Kennedy and Charles Lindbergh. We have their words and know how they used their prominence to undermine American security interests. History also records that a visionary President named Franklin Roosevelt kept them at arms length away from power. There is an opportunity here for Obama to follow that wise example. This is a test of his character and sensibilities as much as it is about Hagel’s.


The question I have is why would a historian want to maintain anonymity under these circumstances unless s/he is a close friend or business or think-tank associate of Hagel himself. As someone who graduated with highest honors in history at Williams College and who subsequently organized courses and lecture series on historical subjects at the University of Washington, I can testify that the historians with whom I have come in contact over the years have, almost without exception, craved any public attention they could get on their expertise, particularly if it could be made relevant to contemporary events or personalities. But, of course, if the historian is also a diplomat and his words could have negative diplomatic consequences, then naturally he or she would not want to be quoted on the record. A U.S. native, who emigrated to Israel in 1979, Oren, of course, is a historian, having earned degrees at Columbia and Princeton. While he has specialized in Israeli and Zionist history, his best-known work is Power, Faith and Fantasy: A History of American Involvement in the Middle East published by Norton in 2007.

Another possibility for a historian who obviously thinks Hagel must be an anti-Semite (or wants others to believe that he is) but might want to remain unidentified is Michael Makovsky, the foreign-policy director at the Bipartisan Policy Center, who also emigrated to Israel as a young man, has a doctorate from Harvard in diplomatic history, wrote a 2008 history on the evolution of Winston Churchill’s positions on Zionism (Churchill’s Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft), and worked for Douglas Feith‘s Office of Special Plans where he focused on re-organizing Iraq’s post-invasion oil industry. His clear sympathies for the Likud — he has never denied reports that he lived on a West Bank settlement — would clearly incline him to oppose Hagel’s nomination. But such a hostile quote could make it difficult for him to continue working at the BPC whose founders included George Mitchell, Tom Daschle, Howard Baker, and Bob Dole — all former colleagues of Hagel. Makovsky, a serious Iran hawk, has also written occasionally for the Standard. (Incidentally, Makovksy just wrote an interesting meditation last week on how the Middle East may be redrawn over the next century that suggested that the break-up of the existing states, like Syria, may not be such a terrible thing. It reminded me a little of David Wurmser’s writing in the late 1990’s when his work at the American Enterprise Institute was funded by the ultra-Zionist casino king, Irving Moskowitz, including the infamous “Clean Break” paper of 1996.)

Yet a third could be Eliot Cohen at the Nitze School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS), who served as counselor to Condoleezza Rice during Bush Jr.’s second term and whose extremely well-timed book, Supreme Command, on how great political leaders who have overridden the advice of their generals during critical wars helped inspire Bush to invade Iraq with a disastrously small force. Cohen was a habitual signer of Project for the New American Century letters (Word has it that it was he who came up with “New American Century” as the theme of Romney’s major 2011 foreign policy speech); he also reportedly coined the Islamophobic phrase “World War IV” in describing the challenge faced by the U.S. in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published shortly after 9/11. Richard Perle recruited him for the Defense Policy Board under Rumsfeld.

His writing also has a certain literary flair that both Oren’s and Makovsky’s lack, and he thinks he has an unerring ear for anti-Semitism, a major pre-occupation of his. After Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer published their first draft of The Israel Lobby on the Harvard academic website, he denounced their work in a Washington Post op-ed entitled, Yes, It’s Anti-Semitic.

Inept, even kooky academic work, then, but is it anti-Semitic? If by anti-Semitism one means obsessive and irrationally hostile beliefs about Jews; if one accuses them of disloyalty, subversion or treachery, of having occult powers and of participating in secret combinations that manipulate institutions and governments; if one systematically selects everything unfair, ugly or wrong about Jews as individuals or a group and equally systematically suppresses any exculpatory information — why, yes, this paper is anti-Semitic.

And here he is in a transcript from the 2003 BBC “Panorama” program entitled “The War Party” (You can see it here; it got me declared persona non grata at the American Enterprise Institute) being asked by the reporter, Stephen Bradshaw, as follows:

BRADSHAW: You’ve expressed some concern over the idea that this is all a conspiracy whipped up by a group of “Neo- conservative hawks” somehow allied to Israel, and you’ve expressed worries about them. Explain what you’re concerned about.

COHEN: Well sometimes the word Neo-conservative is used when what they really would like to say is ‘Jew’.

BRADSHAW: ‘They’ being?

COHEN: People who use that kind of language, and as a Jew I find it offensive. There are two things that are despicable about it. The first is the imputation of dual loyalties.

BRADSHAW: Between America and Israel.

COHEN: Right. And just speaking as somebody who’s father served in the United States Army, who’s served in United States Army himself, who has a son serving in the United States Army, I find it deeply, deeply offensive and untrue. And the other thing that I find deeply offensive about it is it contains a very old anti-Semitic canard which is that the Jews, this scattered little people around the world, have these occult powers and are pulling the strings of the naïve and duped non-Jews, and it wasn’t that long ago that those kinds of beliefs led to hideous things which impinged upon people like me very directly. So yes, I feel very strongly about it.

As I reflect on it, it seems to me Cohen is the most likely candidate. Military history, eloquence and a no-doubt genuine — if overwrought, perhaps somewhat delusional — concern about anti-Semitism. But why, you ask, would he not want to be identified by name, particularly after being so public in his attack on Walt and Mearsheimer? Perhaps it’s because his relationship to the Pentagon — which is clearly of long-standing — is not something he would ever wish to jeopardize; he even may have earned some consultancy fees and/or coveted teaching posts at the behest of the OSD from it from time to time. It’s one thing, after all, to call a couple of IR academics anti-Semites, however prominent they may be; it’s quite another to use that epithet against a someone who could very well be the next SecDef. Better to smear from the shadows…

Now, I may just be too suspicious. The Standard’s consulting historian may not be a Washington insider at all. It could be just someone who labors in the dark recesses of the 19th century library basement stacks, poring through thick eyeglasses over the yellowed pages of long-forgotten newspapers with specially-treated gloves, disdainful of money or fame, desperately shy, scared stiff of the limelight, but in a rage over Hagel’s possible appointment. But I suspect not.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.