Dual loyalty issues have once again arisen, this time in conjunction with Philip Giraldi’s astonishing essay on antiwar.com. Giraldi discusses the curious career of Dr. Lani Kass — formerly a senior military officer in the Israeli Defense Force, and now the senior Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force General Norton A. Schwartz. “Kass appears to have close and continuing ties to her country of birth, frequently spicing her public statements with comments about life in Israel while parroting simplistic views of the nature of the Islamic threat that might have been scripted in Tel Aviv’s Foreign Ministry.”
Giraldi notes that her appointment raises a host of issues, including the possibility that she is an Israeli spy and exactly how she managed to get security clearance. Given that the official policy of the Israeli government is to advocate a war with Iran, it is more than interesting that she has an important influence on US policy and that she is involved in Project CHECKMATE responsible for drawing up war plans. She is quoted as having what Giraldi characterizes as a “dismissive” comment on a possible war with Iran, and has the views on the Islamic threat usually associated with neocons.
The role of Kass in the Defense Department is at least as questionable as the role of Dennis Ross in the State Department. In fact, it would seem to be an even more clear-cut case because Kass was actually born and raised in Israel and rose to the rank of major in the IDF. Although she is a naturalized US citizen, she has doubtless retained her Israeli citizenship. It would more than a bit surprising if she did not retain an allegiance to Israel. And is there any evidence at all that she has allegiance to the US? When asked about possible war with Iran, she responded, “We can defeat Iran, but are Americans willing to pay the price?” — as if she is not an American.
By Stephen Walt’s criteria, therefore, Kass should not have any policy-making role on any issue that relates to Israel. A more difficult case is that of her boss, Gen. Norton Schwartz. Schwartz is also Jewish, although does not have the close ties to Jewish activist organizations like Ross or the strong connections to Israel like Kass. As reported in the Forward,
Schwartz’s Jewish identity did not go unnoticed after his appointment, particularly given the current military tensions with Iran. Press TV, an Iranian English language media outlet, wrote an article last week, titled “U.S. Names Jewish [sic — presumably an intentionally awkward translation] as Air Force Chief.”
There have long been rumors that Schwartz’s predecessor, Michael Moseley, was opposed to a military attack on Iran. The appointment of Schwartz has prompted speculation in the Iranian press and on some blogs that the Bush administration is yet again seriously considering the military option to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Unlike the vast majority of Americans, the Iranians assume that Schwartz’s ethnic identity would make a difference, and I must agree that it should raise red flags. The vast majority of American Jews have a very strong emotional commitment to Israel that may bias their judgment even if they are not consciously aware of their biases.
As I noted elsewhere,
In my ideal world, Jonah Goldberg’s op-eds and Paul Wolfowitz’s advice to presidents and defense secretaries should be accompanied by a disclaimer: “You should be cautious in following my advice or even believing what I say about Israel. Deception and manipulation are very common tactics in ethnic conflict, so that my pose as an American patriot should be taken with a grain of salt. And even if I am entirely sincere in what I say, the fact is that I have a deep psychological and ethnic commitment to Israel and Judaism. Psychologists have shown that this sort of deep commitment is likely to bias my perceptions of any policy that could possibly affect Israel even though I am not aware of it.”
We would certainly like to know the details of Schwartz’s ties with Jewish organizations and activist groups, as well as any ties that he has with Israel. (For example, Paul Wolfowitz has family members living in Israel.) The fact that Schwartz has hired Kass as his senior Special Assistant suggests that the taboo against discussing Jewish loyalty issues is so strong that they feel free to be entirely public about it. (There might be some sensitivity, however, since the Pentagon has removed Kass’s biography from its website.)
Nevertheless, a war with Iran would be very costly for the US and may well have huge long term implications for the region and the world. Surely if the government wanted to project the image that US policy was not being shaped by people with a strong personal ethnic attachment to Israel (as clearly happened in the war with Iraq), they would remove people like Ross, Kass, and Schwartz from any role in making policy.