While our leaders seem to be locked in furious combat, there’s one area in which, appearances not withstanding, they’re not foes at all but firm allies. Despite all the jockeying over the year-long blue-red slugfest, the two-headed Janus of U.S. foreign policy is united in its determination to stare down a supposed enemy state in the Persian Gulf. The only doubt among the Republicrat duopoly is whether to start a new war with Iran or blink helplessly from the sidelines while Israel starts one for us. The idea of calling a halt to the whole thing because it’s crazy seems not to be taken very seriously.
The signals so far remain quite mixed (although that should reassure no one): there is much saber-rattling reminiscent of the build-up to the Iraq aggression along with much quieter and subtler hints that not everyone in the ruling circles is enamored of the idea of our third expensive Asian war in 11 years. Skeptics should recall that no one could quite believe Bush II would be so demented as to send the troops on a massive invasion of a country halfway around the world without a worry. But he did.
People who watch this stuff systematically suggest that Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are maneuvering over the fervid Israeli desire to get us entangled in their rivalry with the mullahs. We should not forget that it was the Israel-boosters in our foreign policy establishment who marched to the front of the line thumping the war drums for Bush’s little adventure. Setting aside the criminal nature of the enterprise, was it in our country’s interests to engage in it? Or was it really Israel’s? But oh no, one can’t raise that question because to do so means you are an escaped Ukrainian concentration camp guard seething with anti-Semitic bloodlust.
Periodically, pretty senior people in the U.S. political and military establishments emit noises about the imprudence of going to war with a country of 80 million people halfway around the world while running trillion-dollar annual budget deficits. But when Netanyahu gets more respect from Congress than the country’s own president (who can imagine a South Carolina congressman shouting ‘You lie!’ in the middle of his speech?), it makes sense that Israeli security concerns should trump our own.
There are plenty of rumblings within even the Israeli establishment that the eagerness to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities could be a ‘dangerous adventure’ that could even ‘endanger the Israeli state’s existence’, as suggested by a former Mossad chief last June.
But unfortunately, aggressive tendencies have more staying power and demagogic appeal than pacific ones, and it can be hard to reverse their inertia once people get their blood up. Look at the scandalous warmongering emitted by clownish Republican presidential candidates trying to appeal to their evil-minded base. Professor Juan Cole at Michigan State, who unlike Newt Gingrich actually knows what he’s talking about, estimates that if an attack on Iran turned into a ground war, it would cost $3 trillion ($9 trillion if we include veteran care), cause U.S. 115,000 casualties, and lead to between 1 and 3 million Iranian dead. What perverted form of Christianity pululates in their cracker souls to make them think that this would be a good idea?
Of course, an initial attack will be sold to us as a limited engagement from the air that need not spin out of control. But why do we think that the Israelis, eager for the first sortie over Teheran, will want it to stop there? Once drawn into the logic of war, why would the Israeli-Republican lobby settle for a job half-done? As long as the Islamic regime remains in place, no escalation will be deemed sufficient.
Nor has Obama distinguished himself for his capacity to resist right-wing pressures. In fact, he has even trotted out the pathetic excuse that he has ‘no say’ over Israel because it is a sovereign country. Obama foolishly seems to believe that he can let Netanyahu do what he wants and simultaneously distance the U.S. from the attack and its consequences. If you believe that, I have some investments in Madoff Enterprises that I want you to look at.
Meanwhile, the increasingly punitive sanctions regime against Iran ratchet up the tensions while providing the Iranian regime no reasonable exit. Seeing what happened to Saddam and Khaddafy (in contrast to say, nuclear-armed North Korea), the mullahs might quite reasonably think that having a nuclear option is a good insurance policy. While some look at these economic measures as alternatives to war, we should once again remember the UN resolutions during the pre-Iraq war run-up. In the end they were part of the campaign to paint the attack as an inevitable last resort as the steady rain of New York Times-enabled propaganda continued.
By chance, today is the anniversary of Colin Powell’s infamous lies to the UN Security Council while the Gucci-shoed thug Condaleeza Rice spoke movingly of ‘mushroom clouds’ on national television. But as Obama chose to ‘turn the page’ on these past crimes, now he has to deal with a new version of them.
We can see where this war campaign may be leading—right into the presidential election campaign of next summer. Netanyahu, the real Republican candidate, can easily undermine Obama by launching the strike and daring him to refuse support. Romney or whoever would then accuse Obama of being soft on the Iranian nuclear threat; and since no one has dared to counter Israeli propaganda on the issue, most Americans would be either befuddled or alarmed.
Furthermore, now that the U.S. no longer controls Iraqi airspace after the full withdrawal there, Israel can use the most convenient, shortest route to stage its attack.
In short, we should disabuse ourselves of the notion that the American or Israeli leadership would never do anything crazy. Better to listen to their rhetoric and assume they mean what they say.
And as for the distracting electoral campaign, the Superbowl provides an apt metaphor. It is Kabuki theatre in which two teams pummel each other and awaken vicarious bloodlust in the grandstands (couches, in our case). But in the end nothing is really at stake between them. We suspend our critical faculties and enjoy the fantasy that these teams represent something about our respective cities, that the victory of one side or the other somehow reflects the martial virtues of its inhabitants. In the end, though, we’ve only proved that we believe in the battle itself. We should prepare, then, for the death and suffering that the worship of Mars brings to one and all.