Sunday, 4 March 2012

War is not about splitting the difference

In the one-sided war campaign masquerading as a debate over Iran's behavior, the issue of Israel's behavior has disappeared completely. Land-grabs, the Wall, all the many forms of race-based harassment directed at the Palestinian and Israeli Arab populations–issues that Obama once dared to raise, albeit obliquely—are now gone from public discussion.

This convenient refocus offers an answer to Juan Cole's baffled wonderment today as to why our major media have ignored the recent elections in Iran that strengthened the anti-nuclear conservatives and weakened the figurehead Ahmadinejad, who has trumpeted the nuclear advances. The scholarly Cole points out that the results are highly relevant to the alleged nuclear proliferation worries of the U.S. and European establishments. If they want Iran to put aside any nuclear ambitions, asks Cole somewhat plaintively, why not pay this some attention?

In my view Cole accidentally answers his own question. Iran's nuclear capability is not the underlying concern, but rather regime change. The centrifuges and uranium enrichment play exactly the same role as Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction: an excuse for the Tel Aviv-Washington alliance to do exactly what it wants. If Iran completely capitulates, new demands undoubtedly wll follow to justify deeper and more permanent sanctions and the rattling of bigger and better sabers.

The accelerating march toward open hostilities, in addition to being extremely dangerous for the well-being of actual persons, also threatens to illustrate in tragic form the shortcomings of Obama's approach to policy negotiations, i.e., start at the mid-point, then begin ceding ground. When haggling over the fine points of Medicaid funding or the like, this deal-at-any-cost mentality delivers far too much to the intransigent disloyal opposition. But the damage theoretically could be reversed.

Not so with war. Obama's failure to stake out a principled starting position in defense of long-term U.S.--not Israeli—interests has allowed Netanyahu to browbeat and bully him just as Boehner, Cantor, Grassley and McConnell did over health insurance reform and the Bush tax giveaways.

Obama seems to view his office and himself in Clintonian terms, as the chief conciliator among the mighty. This is uninspired non-leadership in the best of times; at critical moments over war and peace, it means we are cast adrift, unable to guide events and forced to react to them. The times call for an Eisenhower, a leader with the credibility and determination to protect our interests vigorously, which requires acting tough not just toward the easy targets among the enemies and adversaries but toward unruly and opportunistic allies. Obama has never shown himself capable of that, with the exception of dissing people like you and me as whiners.

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