Happy New Year, Puppet Masters

This morning I came across a tweet from Blake Hounshell, the managing editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, that read, in its entirety: "Oy." This "oy" was followed by a link to today's column by Maureen Dowd, in which she claims that "neocon" puppet masters are manipulating Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan into saying things they don't believe in defense of, among other things, Benjamin Netanyahu:

Ryan bemoaned "the slaughter of brave dissidents in Syria. Mobs storming American embassies and consulates. Iran four years closer to gaining a nuclear weapon. Israel, our best ally in the region, treated with indifference bordering on contempt by the Obama administration." American foreign policy, he said, "needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose."

Ryan was moving his mouth, but the voice was the neocon puppet master Dan Senor. The hawkish Romney adviser has been secunded to manage the running mate and graft a Manichaean worldview onto the foreign affairs neophyte."

"Oy" is right. Maureen may not know this, but she is peddling an old stereotype, that gentile leaders are dolts unable to resist the machinations and manipulations of clever and snake-like Jews. (Later, Hounshell wrote, "(A)mazing that apparently nobody sat her down and said, this is not OK.")

This sinister stereotype became a major theme in the discussion of the Iraq war, when critics charged that Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, among other Jewish neoconservatives, were actually in charge of Bush Administration foreign policy. This charge relegated George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Stephen Hadley and the other Christians who actually set policy to the status of puppets.

There are other issues with the column, including the fact that Senor was actually associated with Paul Bremer, who was despised by the neocons during the Iraq mess, as Ira Stoll points out. And there's this questionable statement: "Senor got out over his skis before Romney's speech in Jerusalem, telling reporters that Mitt would say he respected Israel's right to make a pre-emptive, unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear facilities." But Obama and Biden have both said that Israel, as a sovereign country, has the right to take measures in its self-defense it deems necessary. Romney wasn't actually veering wildly at all from the bipartisan consensus on this question.

And there's also this: "If President Romney acceded to Netanyahu's outrageous demand for clear red lines on Iran, this global confrontation would be a tiny foretaste of the conflagration to come."

Why is this an outrageous demand? The White House doesn't think this is outrageous. The President and his aides understand why Netanyahu would seek red lines. They would like to keep their red lines hidden from the Iranians (the smart move, obviously), but it is not "outrageous," in the course of Netanyahu's conversations with President Obama, for him to want to know precisely what might spark the U.S. into action? Certainly the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have also asked the same question of the President.

It's not outrageous, by the way, for President Obama to say in response, "Thanks, but no thanks, I'm not laying out our red lines for you." There is a separate question here, which has to do with Netanyahu's incompetent management of the U.S.-Israel relationship (if you want to find out red lines, don't mouth off about the President and the secretary of state two months before an election), but privately, he should bring up whatever issue he wants to bring up.

And one more thing. Maureen believes that Romney would lead us more quickly to war. But  Obama is actually more likely than Romney to launch an attack on Iran. (I explain why here.)

More later.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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