Daily Archives: March 5, 2012

Obama’s Red Line

War with Iran has just gotten more likely


We’ve   got Israel’s back” – that is the message President Obama   sent out ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to   the US for a crucial summit at the White House, and he did it in an interview   granted to one of the leading pro-Israel voices in the media, Jeffrey   Goldberg, former Israeli prison guard and IDF soldier, now a columnist for   The Atlantic. In that interview,   Obama basically telegraphed his capitulation to the Israelis, who are demanding   the establishment of “red lines” Iran may not cross without provoking  an attack:

“[O]ur assessment, which  is shared by the Israelis, is that Iran does not yet have a nuclear  weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without  us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are  making that attempt.”

Here is the “red   line” the Israelis have been demanding:   not the act of building a nuclear weapon but evidence “they are making   that attempt.” That is, evidence of their intent to do so, without any   corroborating evidence they’ve actually succeeded. The catch is that such   an “assessment” based on fresh intelligence would be just as impossible   to check as it was in the run-up to the Iraq war, when US officials assured   us Saddam was making the Bomb – and citing all sorts of completely   invented “intelligence”   to back it up. In short, we won’t find out if we were lied into war until   well after the war has started – devastating the region, the world economy,   and all hopes for peace.

The Goldberg interview, and the   President’s speech to AIPAC, have both underscored the intensely political   nature of the debate over Iran, which is not about objectively discernible facts,   but about our perception of those facts. Obama spent thousands of words reassuring   Goldberg he means business, that the threat to attack Iran isn’t a bluff   – even as he acknowledged Iran does not now possess and lacks the capability   to produce nuclear weapons.

When he was running for President, Obama   pledged to sit down with Iran’s leaders, unconditionally, and negotiate   an end to this crisis. He lied. In spite of purely symbolic efforts to make   it look like he was indeed fulfilling his promise, in reality the prospect of   direct talks with Tehran was dropped   soon after he took office. His administration has rudely rejected all attempts   by the Iranians to come to the conference table and reach what Obama referred   to during the last presidential campaign as a “comprehensive” agreement   on the “outstanding issues” between the two countries. Instead,   he has imposed a series of escalating   sanctionsthat are punishing   the Iranian people and solidifying   the control of hardliners in the regime, even as he escalates the belligerent   rhetoric directed at Tehran.

Obama, as is his wont, has taken the path of least resistance – which   is, indeed, the   path to war. It is an easier path because to take up diplomacy would entail   the sort of political risks the President seems incapable of taking, at least   in the international policy arena. All his cards are on his domestic agenda   – thehealthcare   battle, a stimulus-driven “recovery,”   and the various appeals to identity politics that have displaced the issue of   war and peace from the “liberal” agenda.

The President dropped his purely rhetorical efforts to “engage”   the Iranians because his constituency stopped   caring about it: there was no longer any political necessity to act, and   so inaction followed. Indeed, what followed was a rapid escalation of curiously   Bush-like   threats, growing in vehemence as the Israel lobby’s war drive got   underway. How many times has this President groveled at AIPAC’s feet,   bowing and scraping as he reassures them of his undivided   fealty? Why is that?

The reason is the pervasive   influence of the Israel lobby: its power and reach, extending deep into   the leadership of both parties. On top of that, it is the sheer ferocity of   the Lobby’s wrath that inspires fear and a consequent reluctance to tangle   with such a ruthless opponent. All a blogger at a Democrat-friendly think tank   has to do is use the phrase “Israel-firster”   when describing someone like, say, Norman   Podhoretz, or the Rev.   John Hagee, and the fist of the Lobby comes down hard – in the form   of a full   page ad in the New York Times! A whole   cadre of self-appointed policemen of the discourse regularly patrol the   internet, and the nation’s print media, hunting down heretics, i.e. critics   of Israel and our Israel-centric foreign policy, openly seeking to silence them.

What the War Party fears above all is an open and vigorous discussion of a   key question: on whose behalf we will be fighting if war with Iran breaks out?   Because the answer to that question is clearly Israel, as that nation’s   government has loudly proclaimed from the beginning. The Israelis claim they   face an “existential”   threat from Iran, in effect accusing war opponents of turning away as the   Second Holocaust commences. The message is clear: save us, or be damned.

Yet there is nothing to justify this apocalyptic hysteria. Iran has   no nukes [.pdf], and lacks the technical   means – and the   intent – to build them. This has been confirmed for the second time   by the most recent National Intelligence Estimate. It is a fact our President   acknowledges – even as he moves the goalposts back and draws a new “red   line” in the sand.

The doctrine of America’s “right” to preemptively attack   any nation on earth, on the basis of a possible future threat, was the hallmark   “contribution” of the second Bush administration to the history   of American foreignfolly policy, and has never been   repudiated by the Obama-ites. Indeed, they are upholding and even extending   it far beyond its original parameters. For the Bush gang was targeting al-Qaeda,   and, while in theory, the preemptive principle could be applied to any potential   threat, in practice they were narrowly focused on al-Qaeda, e.g. they constructed   an elaborate justification for the Iraq war by positing an operational   connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam’s regime.

The Obama administration is  taking this preemptive strike doctrine one giant step further, and applying  it to include the alleged “threat” emanating from Tehran. This is  the concession demanded by the Israelis, and in his interview with Goldberg  the President telegraphed his surrender before Netanyahu’s plane touched  down.

Remember the fanciful “Prague connection,” and those alleged al-Qaeda   “training camps” in Iraq that turned out to be nonexistent?   Get ready for a deluge of similarly manufactured “intelligence”   indicating the Iranians are at a “breakthrough point,” i.e. they   have the materials, the know-how, and the intent to build a nuclear arsenal.   We’ll be deluged with “intelligence” churned out by the same   lie factory   that flooded the airwaves   and the internet with war propaganda   in the months before we invaded Iraq. This time it’s going to be much   worse because the “mainstream” media is in Obama’s pocket.   They hated Bush, and were eager to undermine his administration’s credibility,   and so when evidence of intelligence-tampering surfaced they were more than   willing to give it publicity: dissident CIA and others in the government who   opposed the rush to war were given a voice. Next time around it won’t   be so easy, and especially during an election year.

Netanyahu is traveling to Washington not just to persuade an American President   to take the US to war, but to persuade his own people that war with Iran is   not only a necessity but a credible option, i.e. a war they have some chance   of winning. Polls   show Israelis would support attacking Iran only if the US joined the fight.   If he is to have his war, Netanyahu must get Obama to do most of the fighting   for him.

In short, Netanyahu needs Obama more than Obama needs him. His challenge, therefore,   is to reverse that by calling on Israel’s   amen corner in the US and exerting maximum political pressure on the President   during what promises to be a difficult reelection campaign. That effort appears   to be succeeding, if preliminary indications such as the Goldberg interview   and the AIPAC speech are to be taken at face value.

Obama says he has Israel’s back – but who has America’s back?   For how long will we have to live with the “blowback” from Netanyahu’s   war – not only the threat of a renewed spate of terrorism but also the   economic blowback, which promises   to be fearsome?

What this episode dramatizes, in vivid fashion, is the central premise of what   I call “libertarian   realism,” a theory of foreign relations that attributes the actions   of states in the international arena to the internal political dynamics of the   actors rather than any objective assessment of the justification and costs of   the conflict. In a phrase: it’s all politics.

Here is how and why America goes to war in the modern era: Some special interest   group, or alliance of self-interested factions with friends in Washington, has   something to gain from provoking a war to overthrow this or that Hitler-of-the-moment,   whether it be Slobodan   MilosevicSaddam   Hussein, or Iran’s   Supreme Leader. They organize a coordinated campaign: a public relations   firm or two is hired. The political consultants come out in droves, and their   allies in the punditariat are mobilized for battle. A few billionaires are rounded   up to pay the bills, and the grassroots groups are set in motion. As if by magic,   the phones of members of Congress suddenly light up with calls about the latest   Threat from whomever is the Enemy-of-the-moment. Editorials are written, speeches   are made, “intelligence” is leaked, and the nation works itself   up into a frenzy. At which point the Commander-in-chief solemnly discharges   his grave responsibility and gets on with the moment of shock-and-awe we’ve   all been waiting for.

A multinational empire such  as the United States of America is particularly prone to this kind of  pressure. With a multitude of ethnic and religious groups making up  the Great American Mosaic, there is hardly a trouble spot on earth without  its special pleaders and partisans in the US, organized and eager to  make its case – which is usually the case for US intervention, in  some form or other, to “solve” some age-old conflict halfway around  the world.

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