That's the title of a clever and insightful column by Bret Stephens, the Jerusalem Post's editor, in which he skewers the "Anyone But Bush" crowd for contradicting itself. Sometimes it blames the Israelis for undue influence over the U.S. president and sometimes the Saudis – and both cannot be to blame given their different outlooks and hostile relations. "Is the American president an Israeli shill or is he a Saudi shill? Does he do the bidding of the insidious pro-Israel neocons or of the insidious pro-Arab oil lobby? Is his foreign policy everything his father's was not – and therefore disastrous – or is it an extension of it – and therefore equally disastrous?"
Stephens notes that in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the Left propounded a blame-Israel set of views and he cites colorful instances of this thesis, starting with the analysis of University of Chicago professor Fred Donner in the Chicago Tribune. "The Bush administration paints a rosy scenario for the upcoming war in Iraq. It is a vision deriving from Likud-oriented members of the President's team – particularly Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith."
That was then. These days, the Left has found another explanation for President Bush's views – he is Prince Bandar's poodle. Michael Steinberger wrote in October 2003 in the American Prospect that "The links between the House of Bush and the House of Saud are deep, overlapping and notoriously opaque." Craig Unger picked these up in his book, House of Bush, House of Saud. Michael Moore amplified them in Fahrenheit 9/11.
Stephens concludes that "either you believe the Jews are behind it all, or you believe the Saudis are. But not both."
He is right, of course, but it is also the case that such inconsistency is a hallmark of conspiracy theorists. I have devoted a whole article ("Israel, America and Arab Delusions") to noting how Arab conspiracy theories simultaneously maintain two opposite views of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Do Arabs, I asked,
see Israel as the forward bastion of Western interests or the covert power behind Western decision making? Logic requires that either Washington tells Jerusalem what to do or Jerusalem bullies Washington. Yet many Muslims - Arabs and Iranians (though few Turks) - seem to sense no contradiction between these two cherished visions of Israel. They merrily exist side-by-side-even in the same individual and in the same speech-without so much as a hint of intellectual strain or inconsistency
This in turn fits into a deeper and darker pattern, as I explained in my 1996 book, The Hidden Hand:
Having it two contradictory ways at once recalls The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf. Those writings portray Jews as both the capitalists and middlemen who steal from the workers and as socialists who threaten the bankers. For example, Hitler declared in 1922 that "Moses Kohn on the one side encourages his [employers'] association to refuse the worker's demands, while his brother Isaac in the factory incites the masses [to strike]." Just as Germans seemed not to note the inconsistency of these claims, so Middle Easterners believe simultaneously in opposite conspiracy theories about Israel and the United States.
Nor does the American Left seem not to note the inconsistency of its theories about Israel and Saudi Arabia influencing U.S. policy.
In all these cases, believing at the same time in two opposing conspiracy theories is the hallmark of a unbalanced political mentality. It is terribly depressing to realize that the American Left – including substantial elements of the Democratic party – now fits this description. (August 20, 2004)