A pointed double message from Washington appears to slap Netanyahu down, but Obama is being way too cute about the life and death issue of war on Iran. His diplomacy is not amusing; he has a moral obligation to start speaking clearly.
In an interview pointedly given to Israeli daily Haaretz–a paper that has a pro-democracy, anti-war editorial line strongly opposed to Netanyahu’s policy of promoting war against Iran and digestion of Palestine–former chief of both NSA and CIA Michael Hayden has opposed an Israeli attack on Iran with logic strikingly similar to that enunciated over the past year by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan: an Israeli attack on Iran is neither necessary to stop an Iranian bomb (which will not in any case exist any time soon) nor likely to be effective. Worse, an Israeli attack could provoke Iran into trying harder to build one. But of course, some politicians seeking election know better than mere chiefs of NSA, CIA, and Mossad.
There is no absolute certainty that all targets are known. They will have to be revisited – which only the U.S. Air Force would be able to do – and the operation will only set the Iranians back some time and actually push them to do that which it is supposed to prevent, getting nuclear weapons. [Michael Hayden in interview with Haaretz 9/4/12.]
A few days before, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey had made a curious statement that he did not want to be “complicit” in any Israeli attack. Dempsey’s statement is curious because, as a military officer, his duty is to follow orders, not talk policy; in the case of Israeli aggression, a Zionist-anti-Zionist split in U.S. military ranks would have extremely serious consequences for U.S. national security. His remark was on target, but it should have been made either by Secretary of State Clinton or by Obama himself.
Leaving aside that important point, an Israeli commentator reacted later: “Complicit? As in what – war crimes?” [Haaretz 9/2/12.] Well, yes, that certainly is both the obvious and totally appropriate high-level interpretation. As far as U.S. national security is concerned, we definitely do not wish to appear complicit in any Israeli aggression against Iran. Iranian opportunities to retaliate (e.g., in an Afghan theater where the patron is already on the defensive) for aggression by the client are too numerous to calculate. However, Washington cannot avoid appearing complicit because it is only Washington’s pro-Zionist stance that gives Israel the option of committing aggression against Iran. All Washington politicians have always had the option of distinguishing between security for the Israeli population and the expansionist policies of the particular politicians who happened to be in charge, but most Washington politicians have evaded any acknowledgement of this critical distinction. Washington is complicit, and it will take far more than coded public diplomatic signals to create even the appearance of innocence. Nevertheless, there are media rumors that Washington has been trying to send exactly that message (“we are innocent”) to Tehran via secret diplomacy [The Guardian 9/3/12.] If the rumors are true, Tehran has just been handed a strong card and should call Washington’s bluff by responding with a conciliatory offer and inviting Washington to the negotiating table.
Washington has bought and paid for Israel. Whatever sin Israel may commit is on the conscience of Washington policymakers, and every Iranian on earth knows it. Washington cannot escape the blame of Iranians or historians for an Israeli attack by cute diplomatic hints. Short of shooting down the planes Washington gave Israel, only a clearly visible and fundamental shift in policy, which must surely include military redeployments that would clearly leave an Israeli attack force exposed and isolated, can offer Washington any hope of avoiding complicity.
A more subtle interpretation, suggested by the Israeli commentator, is that Dempsey was trying to “goad” Israel into attacking Iran. [See Jeffrey Goldberg, “Was Gen. Dempsey Goading Israel to Attack Iran?” in The Atlantic 9/2/12 for a discussion.] One might think that a bizarre policy but perhaps no more bizarre than Reagan’s providing just enough military aid to Saddam to enable him to engage in an 8-year-long war of insane, pointless mutual bloodletting with Iran in the 1980s. An Israeli-Iranian war, judging both from logic and many warnings by high-level U.S. and Israeli military-intelligence officials (as opposed to high-level politicians), is more likely to result in mutual disaster than anyone’s clear victory. Has Israel become so overloaded with nuclear bombs and hubris that Washington would consider killing two birds with one stone?
A third interpretation, one all patriotic Americans must hope will prove to be false, is that Washington is trying publicly to look innocent while coordinating with Tel Aviv a war of aggression behind the scenes. According to such an interpretation, a first strike by Israel, “which is an independent country with the right to ‘self-defense’ [wink, wink]…,” would presumably be followed quickly—if not preceded–by some sort of “Reichstag fire” or “Gulf of Tonkin incident” that will be seized on to justify a back-up attack by the U.S. to finish the job its client has started. American voters will of course glue themselves to the tube and cheer madly as the bombs fall, with no thought to the long-term consequences.
In sum, the double message over several days from Washington is so ambiguous that, judging from its public content, it will surely fail to convince anyone of anything. It does not prevent Israel from doing anything; it does not protect the U.S. from being sucked into yet another war of stupidity against a Muslim society; it does not establish Washington’s innocence. One could imagine Washington quietly turning off the jet fuel supply line to Israel or “forbidding” Israel from deploying its U.S. AWACS aerial control plans on missions outside its own airspace, or signaling Moscow that Washington will no longer oppose the delivery of defensive ground-to-air missiles to Iran, but no evidence of such moves is known to this author.
The message appears, then, to be that the Obama Administration is washing its hands of responsibility for Israeli aggression and is warning that it will fail. But surely not a single person on the globe thinks Obama has the guts to order his Persian Gulf armada to actually shoot down 100 Israeli jet bombers; yet that armada remains in place, neatly putting the lie to Washington’s clumsy attempts to avoid “complicity.” Here is a simple test: if Obama can’t persuade me, how can he persuade Ahmadinejad or Netanyahu? So…what was the point?
What Obama should be doing is playing to his unique strength as leader of the world’s only superpower responsible for guiding the world to a better long-term future rather than acting like the chief of just another petty state seeking a short-term deal. Obama should be making a clear case that the U.S. seeks not to rule the world but to promote the creation of a certain type of world. Obama should announce that the U.S. supports security and democracy for the people of the Mideast. He should then precisely state that his statement includes all the societies currently existing in the Mideast because, not being God, he does not make moral distinctions among, say, Israelis and Palestinians, Israelis and Iranians, Turks and Kurds, or any other pair of societies one can name. He should go on to point out clearly that “security” specifically includes the right to exist in safety, without fear of foreign attack, and that the U.S. armada in the Persian Gulf will be employed unilaterally in an emergency to preserve that right for all by shooting down any armed aerial force that appears intent upon violating such security. If Obama does not have the guts to do that, perhaps he should just announce a zero-based review of U.S. military aid to Israel and pull his boats out.