dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

The lobbying continues....

Part of the AIPAC convention includes lobbying of the U.S. Congress. Here is an account by Jodi Rudoren, soon to be the Times's bureau chief in Israel. The story includes a wonderful picture of PM Netanyahu, looking quite pleased with himself, accompanied by his fellow Senators Reid and McConnell.Tom Friedman weighs in; I think he's saying Obama really will bomb Iran; in any case, he declares Obama "Israel's Best Friend" (he may be right about that, if not for the reasons he offers).In the meantime in Congressional testimony, a Marine commander points to the central issue: "During an annual briefing Tuesday in the U.S. Congress, Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, head of the Central Command, issued a warning about a continued impasse in the Israel-Palestine conflict. He said that the political awakening in the Arab world has caused regimes in the region to be more attentive than ever to the emotions of their populations. The current stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians, he declared, cannot continue; what is needed is the renewal of an Israeli-Arab drive for peace based on a two-state solution. The non-resolution of the conflict, he added, exacts a "steep price" and complicates the activities of forces under his command." Ha'aretz, of course!

Following up on the question of Netanyahu's "gift" to Obama of the Book of Esther, here is Robert Wright at The Atlantic: "Why is it routine to talk about Iranian religious fanatics who are leading us toward war and so rare to acknowledge the role that religious tribalism in America--among both conservative Jews and conservative Christians--is playing in leading us to war? And why is it that when Muslim radicals use religious scripture in a way that foments belligerence we consider it primitive and vile, whereas when Bibi Netanyahu does the same thing (more subtly, I grant you) we nod politely and smile?" The whole essay is a nice bit of exegesis.The President held a press conference (March 6) in which he went into further details. Here is a nice take:Q Thank you, Mr. President. What kind of assurances did you give Prime Minister Netanyahu about the role that the U.S. would play if diplomacy and economic sanctions fail to work to convince Iran's leaders to change their behavior, and Israel goes ahead and prepares to strike a nuclear facility? What kind of assurances did you tell him? And shouldnt we -- I recognize the difference between debate and bluster -- but shouldnt we be having in this country a vigorous debate about what could happen in the case of a Middle East war in a way that, sadly, we did not do before going into Iraq?THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think there's no doubt that those who are suggesting, or proposing, or beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be. [My Emphasis]I'm not one of those people -- because what I've said is, is that we have a window through which we can resolve this issue peacefully. We have put forward an international framework that is applying unprecedented pressure. The Iranians just stated that they are willing to return to the negotiating table. And we've got the opportunity, even as we maintain that pressure, to see how it plays out." Whole thing here.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Just a thought on Obama's statement that when Iran has a nuclear weapon, it will lead to 4 or 5 other Middle East nations also arming themselves with nuclear weapons. Thus, he contends that a MAD approach would fail.He may be right but his theory reminds me of LBJ's justification for the Vietnam expansion - Domino Theory. We know how that was discredited.

It is awfully difficult for me to conjure up a scenario in which a nuclear armed Iran leads to a positive outcome. Bombing Iran will, of course, also have negative outcomes -- immediate and devastating to both peace generally and the prospects for a Palestinian - Israel resolution. The only real hope, however slim, is that somehow sanctions and international pressure deter Iran from pursuing a bomb. I think that is unlikely, but give Obama credit for trying that course and trying to hold back a fiercely independent Israel and destructive partisan political pressure.

Sanctions, diplomacy, and various forms of international pressure do seem the best hope. That is likely to require a very long-term focus by the U.S. and Europe. Will we/they have the stamina? The sanctions regime will in time be up against the pressure of a humanitarian crisis in Iran. It is not likely to be quite the same as the Iraqi crisis (1991-2003) because Iran appears to be more self-sufficient in foods, etc., but here from a recent Commonweal issue: "Better Than War?" http://commonwealmagazine.org/better-war

If I understand it correctly, the U.S. will launch a preemptive war when Iran makes the decision to build A-bombs, and Israel will launch earlier, when Iran has to capacity to make the bombs if it decides to. If the ability to make bombs were a just cause for war most of the industrial nations of the world should be under attack by someone already. If the casus belli is the decision to make bombs, then someone should be attacking the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, Israel, Pakistan, India, South Korea, and am I missing any?Well, then maybe the decision to launch a preemptive war has nothing to do with what Iran is doing; it's all about who is in charge. But are the ayatollahs really a bigger threat than the Kims of North Korea? No, it's pretty much a draw. If you need to choose, the badder bad guy probably is North Korea.So it's not desire, ability, decision or possession of WMD, and it isn't -- not really -- who has it. The basis of this coming war of aggression is that Israel especially, and we -- because we have Israel's back -- can do it.That's really a twerpy reason for mass destruction.

Pardon me. I should have had North Korea, not South, on that list of nations possibly meriting destruction for the evil thing Iran may be destroyed for being able to do.

Tom you left out So Africa and China..It was onlyyesterdayy that Israel was worried enough about Syria to bomb their nuclear attempts. Anyone worried about Syria nuclear bombs today? Iran will have an uprising very soon... sooner it the saber rattling stops..

I find President Obama's remarks concerning the costs of "loose talk" about a preemptive attack on Iran to be very reassuring.Netanyahu's coalition in the Knesset is totally dependent on ever more bellicose rhetoric. And, Netanyahu is more than capable of messing around in US domestic politics if he deems it to his benefit politically. Israel's and US's self-interests while similar, do not align perfectly.I don't think that President Obama can be bullied into an ill-conceived, election-year attack on Iran. Obama and Hillary Clinton have worked very hard to create the kind of diplomatic offensive against the regime in Tehran that has real prospects for success in the long term.Things aren't going so well for Tehran these days. Syria is the best evidence of this. As the economic sanctions continue to bite the people of Iran, especially the professional and middle classes, the people will be more incline to rid themselves once and for all of the mullahs who have brought their country to ruin.The Revolution in Iran is not over.

So sad that almost the entire conversation is driven by wealthy Zionists. Thankfully there are Jews who see that this is madness. Equally sad is that the Republicans are prostituting themselves to receive contribution money. There are, it must be acknowledged, Democrats who follow the money in this area.

Tom - what happened to China? Have you been listening to the Pizza Man again?

Bill -- Ed Gleason caught China's absence from my list. He added South Africa, which had the Bomb but reportedly gave it up. Another good example unfollowed.Jim Jenkins -- I , too, would be happy with the warning against loose talk if it hadn't been preceded by the wither-thou-goest with Netanyahu the day before.

@ Tom Blackburn: Barack Obama needs older Jewish voters if he wants to win states in the fall election like Florida and Arizona. Netanyahu's political cooperation is momentarily useful.IMO, once Obama is reelected I think that you will find him take a much more muscular approach to old Bibi Netanyahu. Because, I'm sure you understand that if the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ever resolved, any attack on Iran would be obviated.

Jim, I wouldn't count on second terms. Thanks to the 22nd Amendment, given to us by the FDR haters, the second term opens with immediate lame duck status for the president. Mr. Obama can try to get muscular, but when he turns to Congress for help he will find a bunch of politicians who still need to raise money in the 51st state and who know he can't help them in four years for sure and probably not in two years.

Tom - Obama doesn't need Congress's help on Israel - it is foreign policy. War Powers Act of Vietnam era lets him do almost anything.Agree with Mr. Jenkins.

There are significant differences between many of the nuclear powers mentioned and Iran. The first is obvious: Iran does not have a nuke. Therefore, there is still the possibility of preventing them from obtaining one, at least theoretically. For the rest, the genie is out of the bottle. Secondly, separate out the 'great powers' -- China, Russia from the pack. Neither see any likely situation where using a nuke would be advantageous. They both want economic development -- a nuclear war is counter to that national objective. Third are the balance of power States: India and Pakistan. They are each the other's major enemy and the primary reason why they maintain a nuclear capability. If they go to war, all bets are off, but otherwise they are not likely to use a nuke -- although Pak is a proliferator of capability. Then there are the States who have a bomb, South Africa, and North Korea, but see no real enemy to use it against. It is unlikely that North Korea would attack South Korea, for cultural and economic reasons. They don't have the capability to deliver a bomb much anyplace else. Iran is different. If they have a Nuke they have a clear enemy whose destruction is a national objective, they have the ability to deliver it that relatively short distance, and the have a (semi actually) fanatical government who might be willing to make the sacrifice in the face of massive retaliation that would be sure to follow, from Israel if not completely destroyed, by the US if not. So, if you look at all the capabilities and motivations, Iran, in my view, stands out as a State that, if they had a nuclear capability, might actually use it. Sorry for the length...

Why does South Africa keep popping up as a nuclear state? Is it hiding something?From Wiki: "South Africa dismantled its nuclear weapons program in 1989. All the bombs (six constructed and one under construction) were destroyed and South Africa acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty when South African Ambassador to the United States Harry Schwarz signed the treaty in 1991. On 19 August 1994, after completing its inspection, the IAEA confirmed that one partially completed and six fully completed nuclear weapons had been dismantled. As a result, the IAEA was satisfied that South Africa's nuclear program had been converted to peaceful applications. Following this, South Africa joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) as a full member on 5 April 1995. South Africa played a leading role in the establishment of the African Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty (the Treaty of Pelindaba) in 1996, becoming one of the first members in 1997. South Africa also signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996 and ratified it in 1999."

Margaret: Ooops, your right. Thanks. Point still germane, though I think.

"I dont think that President Obama can be bullied into an ill-conceived, election-year attack on Iran. Obama and Hillary Clinton have worked very hard to create the kind of diplomatic offensive against the regime in Tehran that has real prospects for success in the long term." (Jim Jenkins).I hope you're right. Maybe I've missed it, but the issue no one seems to want to address is this: what happens if Netanyahu, against all our advice, launches a pre-emptive attack himself, and Israel finds itself in a brand new mess that it can't handle? Do we ride to the rescue, or don't we? And if so, how far do we ride? (By "everyone" I mean the newspapers I see, the Lehrer Newshour, National Public Radio and so forth, each of whom seems to maintain silence on this issue).

Nicholas: That's the thought that lurks in the back of my mind. The chief deterrent I have come up with is: Israel cannot carry this off on its own; enough U.S. military types have said so. And some of them have told Israeli officials that the U.S. will not come to their assistance. I am also inclined to think that Israeli military and intelligence are not on board.

@ jbruns -- You are so reasonable and rational. I guess that's good unless a nut case takes over one of those countries who do not now look like they are in a fighting mood. But with your same logic, can you see nuclear Israel and nuclear Iran as what you call "balance of power states" like India and Pakistan?I am aware that Israel is smaller than Pakistan or India, but if MAD keeps them from fighting regionally, then size doesn't matter. How much do you think Iran would look forward to being nuked even if historians in other countries counted it as a winner?

Mr. Clifford: I think it is obvious that there is no circumstance in which any American president, save Ron Paul, would not save Israel from being overrun or bombed to smithereens.

Mr. Blackburn. Thanks. Yes, you raise a good question. The reason I don't see Iran and Israel as BOP States is that Iran works so hard to make Israel the mortal enemy. And Israel would not be willing or able to take a first strike and retaliate...as you point out, they are too small and the population too concentrated. However, you are right to question it...none of us actually KNOWS... Stability is better assured when one can predict outcomes from various potential actions and are thereby deterred. Finally, you are right again, nut cases trump rationality every time.

jbruns -- Well, if Israel would not be willing or able to take a first strike, we are back to my original point back at 11:13 a.m. If you have a nuclear state, you are almost obligated, morally, to take the first strike. Otherwise, you are the aggressor and always in the wrong,I recognize that our current and previous presidents asserted our right to be aggressors. But they are morally wrong.

When Japan struck the US Pacific fleet in 1941 they assumed that the US would be totally occupied with the European war. That miscalculation is in Every military college textbook in the world. First strikes beg for massive retaliation.

@tom. Are there no circumstances that would warrant a preemptive first strike?

@ MOS and NC:I hope I'm right, too!My own, very "laymen" assessment is that although Israel has a very formidable military capability, modern Israel has never been able to sustain extended military campaigns of the kind that would be required to "take out" the Iranian nuclear threat [i.e., "the SIX day war, excursions into Lebanon, etc.]. Israel's military prowess has not distinguished itself during the Palestinian intifada by any means - modern weapons and military techniques are no good against rocks and suicide bombers. It would do no good to send a few missiles to fall on Iranian nuclear targets, and just blow some things up. Ed Gleason's analogy (above) of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is particularly apt- that attack only served "to awaken a sleeping giant" as Japanese raid commander, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto opined.The unspoken truth that you won't hear from Netanyahu is that Israel NEEDS the US to join them in the attack [Israel does not have the military capability to take on Iran which is over 1500 km away - how they going to get their fighting forces there?]. And as I have said, I don't see any incentive for President Obama to go along while he is in the midst of a reelection campaign.I seem to remember a JFK interview by Walter Cronkite during the summer of 1963 before Kennedy was killed, just as the 1964 reelection campaign started to heat up. Kennedy bluntly said that in the final analysis the struggle in Vietnam would have to be won by the Vietnamese.IMHO, in the final analysis Israel's struggle for peace and survival will have to be won by them and their Arab neighbors working together to find common ground. Military adventures in Iran will only lead to unintended consequences.

@ jbruns -- "Are there no circumstances that would warrant a preemptive first strike?" I'm not going to play moral theologian, and in foreign affairs it's better never to say "never." But Iran has not done anything nuclear that other countries have not done, and it is years away from doing as much as many countries, including Israel, did years ago. I don't see how anyone could justify aggression -- which is another word for "preemptive first strike" on the basis of the ability or even the decision to create one's own nuclear arsenal, like Israel's.To anticipate some responses, yes, Iran has been mouthy and threatening in recent years. But it has not had a nuclear weapon. Bluster is what countries do when they can't project power. Possession of nuclear weapons has been sobering for other countries. We cannot know what a nuclear Iran would behave. Killing people on the basis of our worst fears would be wrong.

It's silly to quote Middle East Bluster talk as a causa belli ,, it's in the DNA over there.. haven't you guys ever been to the movies?

Apologies for just sending a link. In a hurry - cat needs food.The Purim thing:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2012/03/07/purim-parallels/

Share

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.