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Obama Protects Pro-Israel Right Flank, Beating Iran War Drums – OpEd


Pres. Obama is attempting to steal a march on Bibi Netanyahu, who will be arriving in Washington in four days, by giving pro-Israel journalist, Jeffrey Goldberg, an interview heavy with martial overtones:

President Obama…stiffened his pledge to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, even as he warned Israel of the negative consequences of a pre-emptive military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Seeking to reassure a close American ally that contends it has reached a moment of reckoning with Iran, Mr. Obama rejected suggestions that the United States was willing to try to contain a nuclear-armed Iran.

The other half of Obama’s message, and the one that I hope is operative and that Bibi hopes is window-dressing, is Obama’s warning that an Israel attack is a helluva bad idea:

The president also said he would try to convince Mr. Netanyahu, whom he is meeting here on Monday at a time of heightened fears of a conflict, that a premature military strike could help Iran by allowing it to portray itself as a victim of aggression. And he said such military action would only delay, not prevent, Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

But this leaves his argument fatally flawed. An Israeli attack would not prevent an Iranian bomb, but somehow an American attack at a later unspecified date would. Of course, it’s true that the U.S. could inflict a great deal more damage on Iran’s nuclear program than an Israeli attack. But even the U.S. military likely could not entirely destroy an Iranian program. We heard a week ago or so that Leon Panetta does not believe that America’s most potent bunker buster can penetrate the Fordow facility.

And listen to what would be involved if we attacked Iran:

The United States could open a broad, sustained attack with long-range B2 stealth bombers, F-18 fighter jets based on aircraft carriers and hundreds of cruise missiles launched from submarines in the Arabian Sea. The United States has plentiful refueling capability, and drone aircraft to assess damage to help direct further strikes.

Given that we did not do this to Pakistan, India or North Korea when they created their own nuclear weapons, do we really think the world will sit back and say nothing as we proceed to pulverize Iran to little pieces? Given the bad blood that our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have generated not just in the Arab/Muslim world, but internationally, do we really believe the world will welcome such new forms of mayhem?

Obama even said it himself:

Mr. Obama said that any military action could deflect attention from other factors in the region that were eroding Iran’s influence.

“At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally is on the ropes,” the president said, referring to Syria, “do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim, and deflect attention from what has to be the core issue, which is their potential pursuit of nuclear weapons?”

An excellent question that Obama shouldn’t just be asking Bibi Netanyahu, but himself and his own Iran war planners.

An alarming element of Obama’s interview was his renunciation of the policy of containment:

Administration officials have signaled that they are not open to a “containment” strategy toward Iran…Such a strategy…would run “completely contrary” to his nuclear nonproliferation policies, and raise a host of dangers the United States could do little to control.

The president [said] Iran’s acquisition of a weapon would set off an arms race in the Middle East, offering a robust case for why the West could not contain Iran the way it did the Soviet Union during the cold war.

There is a “profound” danger that an Iranian nuclear weapon could end up in the hands of a terrorist organization, Mr. Obama said. Other nations in the region would feel compelled to push for nuclear weapons to shield themselves from a nuclear Iran.

So a policy that worked reasonably well for four decades in maintaining a balance of power between Soviet Russia and the U.S. and kept the world safe and peaceful, won’t work in the case of Iran.

As for an “arms race,” does Obama mean a race other than the one that’s brought nuclear weapons to Israel and Pakistan (in the region) and North Korea and India (outside it)? Who else will join the race? Saudi Arabia? But they’re one of our allies, aren’t they? Egypt? Given the upheaval to which it’s been subject over the past year, not to mention the financial emergency it faces, I doubt it will be seeking to spend billions on a nuclear program.

Why does Obama believe Iran would be any more likely to promote nuclear proliferation than, say Pakistan, whose leading nuclear scientist single-handedly helped two nations get nuclear weapons? In fact, Iran exercises far more controls over its program than Pakistan or North Korea (which is also rumored to have contracted with other countries to export its nuclear know-how). Why do we only hear about imagined Iranian vulnerabilities, but not about actual floodgates of nuclear technology released by these countries?

In short, this is once again another pathetic performance by the Obama administration. It turns its back on decades of successful foreign policy in return for dickering with Israel over how many Iranians we’ll kill and when we’ll do it. Sure, our target will be the nuclear program alone. But do we think we won’t kill thousands, if not tens of thousands of others? Not to mention what will happen after Iran counter-attacks and kills some of ours, and the pressure for massive retaliation rises. This isn’t laser-based brain surgery we’re talking about. It’s dropping 30,000 pound bombs and firing 2,000 mile-an-hour missiles.

Meanwhile, back in the Hall of Mirrors that is Israeli strategic thinking, Bibi today said the world would understand if Israel attacked Iran:

“…Israel, like any sovereign country…reserve[s] the right to defend [itself] against a country that calls and works for our destruction.”

Well, er, not quite, Mr. Prime Minister.  Iran never called for Israel’s destruction.  You only claim it did.  As for “defending itself,” usually nations defend themselves after they directly attacked.  If Israel attacks, it might be the first time in history one country struck another for saying bad things about it.  It might be the first time in history that one country (with nuclear weapons) has attacked another (without them) because the victim nation might be developing them.

There are those who point to Iran’s alleged support of Hezbollah and Hamas, as justification for attacking Iran.  To them I’d ask, Iran has presumably supported these groups for years.  If Iran’s so-called support of terror against Israel is so damaging, why didn’t Israel attack Iran directly earlier?  For example, if Hezbollah received those 20,000 missiles from Iran with which it attacked Israel in 2006, why not attack Iran to punish it?  You didn’t then, why now?

Bibi has the chutzpah to demand that Iran stop its uranium enrichment program, something Iran is entitled to under the Non Proliferation Treaty it signed, and which Israel hasn’t.  If Iran ends its uranium enrichment, why not Israel ending its own?  Why is Israel entitled to the bomb, but not Iran?  Israel has enemies?  Iran doesn’t?  You claim Iran only has enemies because it’s earned them?  Many say precisely the same about Israel.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

If Israel attacks Iran, and even more so if the U.S. supports such aggression in any significant way, this will be the triumph of delusional thinking and psychopathology in Middle East relations.  If we want to explore the sorts of conflicts that could lead to the end of the human race through mass violence, you have only to watch the gathering storm unfold.

What is almost as sad about this is that if Iran wants a nuclear weapon, it will get one.  After it gets one, Obama and Bibi, for all their fulminating, will look very small and insignificant in the eyes of the world.  There is no way that Obama can physically prevent Iran from getting a bomb short of invading the country and toppling the regime.

Most analysts who view this subject pragmatically, believe that Iran will not create a nuclear bomb.  Rather, it will assemble the various components of such a program so that if it needed one it would put one together for preventive.  So far, Obama has not stated that this would cross a red line, while Israel has.  But if the U.S. approves of attacking Iran for anything short of putting together a bomb, it will have to explain why Japan’s nuclear program, which is based on precisely the same principle, is safe, while Iran’s poses a mortal danger.

NOTE: I’m “delighted” to see that Aipac, proving true to form, has ejected, Mitchell Plitnick, a Zionist journalist from covering its national conference.  Mitchell’s sin?  He used to work for Jewish Voice for Peace and B’Tselem.  Aipac also put Phil Weiss is herem, which is less surprising considering that Phil is anti-Zionist (though he has covered three previous Aipac conferences without incident).  JTA says that “barring coverage” is a rarity in Washington political circles.  Unfortunately, the reporter (likely Ron Kampeas) doesn’t realize that Aipac routinely bans journos it doesn’t like.  In fact, I reported here that it frog-marched the Guardian’s Chris McGreal out of the 2009 national conference, despite the fact that he had registered for the conference and been accredited to cover it.

This article appeared at Tikun Olam

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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