One of the enduring mysteries is why neoconservative foreign policy continues to dominate the Republican Party and also large parts of the Democratic Party even though that policy has been disastrous for the United States. No one – not even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – is willing to call the two land wars currently underway in Asia successful and the hemorrhage of more than $12 billion a month to support the conflicts does nothing whatsoever for a struggling US economy unless one is a defense contractor. Yet the view that the United States must use its waning power to remake much of the globe prevails. The policy is in some circles underwritten by the myth that the United States is a special nation that makes it somehow immune to the history of the decline and fall of past empires. The catch phrase “American exceptionalism” persists in the minds of presidential wannabes like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, both of whom conflate the country’s genuinely unique national qualities with a divine right to intervene militarily anywhere and at any time, a continuation in perpetuity of the nearly forgotten Bush Doctrine.
The neocon wordspinners are always ready with a glib turn of phrase to mask reality. America is not poised to intervene or invade in their minds. It is instead pursuing a “freedom agenda” and who can criticize freedom? Tunisia, Egypt, and now even Libya are being welcomed as democracies in the making, though with the usual caveats lest democracy proceed too fast and in the wrong direction. Hillary Clinton has made it clear that the Obama administration wants to see the proper kind of democratic development even as she privately moves to reassure remaining friendly despots in the Persian Gulf that the United States is not eager to embrace any more regime changes after Gadhafi goes.
As the situation in the Middle East stabilizes, the new enemy that is surfacing is the same old enemy: Iran. Iran has not helped its own case by cracking down hard on protesters at a time when the region might be moving towards what amounts to a populist revolt against authoritarian governments. But Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen have also opted for the iron fist, indicating that at least some rulers in the region will not hesitate to shoot their own subjects in order to survive. Iran is, of course, a special case in the neocon mind because it potentially poses a threat to Israel, which is not the case in Manama, Riyadh, and Sanaa.
Republican presidential hopefuls have been making the rounds to polish their foreign policy credentials and there is no promise of peace in our times. Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour, and Mitt Romney were all recently in Israel where they pledged undying affection for Bibi Netanyahu and all his political progeny while Sarah Palin is doing the same this week. Comments about facing down the Iranian nuclear threat are obligatory. Netanyahu himself recently upped the ante regarding Iran by declaring that military action will have to be taken against the country if sanctions do not end its nuclear program. As sanctions are unlikely to accomplish that, it amounted to a demand that war should be the next phase. Netanyahu even expressed a preference for who should do the attacking: the United States. He also stated his belief that Iran has enough nuclear material to make three bombs and expressed concern that Tehran is seeking to assume control over the oil fields in Saudi Arabia through a takeover of Bahrain, which has a Shi’ite majority.
So, per the Israeli government, Iran is not only seeking a nuclear weapon, it is also out to take control of a large chunk of the world’s oil supplies. Of course, both assumptions could be challenged and there is considerable evidence, including the most recent US National Intelligence Estimate or NIE on Iran, that indicates that there continues to be no solid evidence that Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapon and is in no position economically or militarily to establish any kind of dominance over the Persian Gulf region. But the problem is that the narrative being promoted by the mainstream media emphasizes the threat posed by Iran and does not attempt to provide information to the contrary so the American public unfortunately believes what it hears and sees.
Prominent Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz even outdoes Israel’s prime minister in his assessment of the Iranian threat on a recent Huffington Post submission “Israel Has the Right to Attack Iran’s Nuclear Reactors Now.” Iran’s alleged attempt to ship weapons “designed to kill Israeli civilians” to Hamas in Gaza is, for Dershowitz, an act of war justifying an armed Israeli response. Dershowitz also claims, without citing any evidence whatsoever, that Iran might deliberately develop a dirty nuclear weapon that could be sent on a ship into Israeli waters and detonated. He also cites the recent killing of an Israeli settler family in the illegal settlement of Itamar as evidence of how “weapons are used by Israel’s enemies against civilians in violation of the laws of war.” He describes the Iranian regime as suicidal, willing to suffer great damage if it is able to enter into a nuclear exchange with Israel that it knows it will survive and Israel will not. Dershowitz admittedly is completely shameless and will either invent or use any argument no matter how weak to justify any action taken by the Israelis, but as he is advocating military action that would inevitably draw the United States into yet another war, someone should perhaps challenge his scatterbrained assumptions about reasonable grounds for initiating a conflict.
As Dershowitz demonstrates, the sole immutable principle of neocon foreign policy is that it should benefit Israel. Neoconservatives initially supported Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak because of his peace agreement with Tel Aviv, but they have now shifted away from that position and are urging the Obama Administration to liberate the Arabs. They have been pressuring the White House to adopt a more aggressive policy in general, particularly vis-à-vis Libya. They have generally viewed the Libyan situation as mechanism to revive their agenda to remake the Middle East following the model of the Bush “freedom agenda,” which combined the threat of military force with gentler forms of persuasion. A successful armed intervention in Libya would vindicate the military option and could mean that using force will definitely be on the table for settling other disputes, including the long simmering problem posed by Iran. President Obama has been understandably reluctant to get on board, but he finally agreed to take the initiative knowing that a successful Libyan action would be attractive, casting him as a successful wartime president and taking the heat off his own misadventures in Afghanistan. But it would also put him under pressure from the blue dogs in his own party who join with the Republicans in demanding a more robust foreign policy across the board, which would include seriously threatening Iran.
There is also a seldom remarked upon secondary agenda for the neoconservatives as related to freedom for the Arab world. As in the case of Iraq, many neocons would prefer to see democratic Arab nations that are divided by internal divisions and therefore not strong enough to challenge Israel rather than headed by dictators like Saddam Hussein who are hostile. Developments in Eastern Europe over the past twenty years have revealed clearly that democracy does not necessarily bring with it unity of purpose or political cohesion, quite the contrary. Small, weak, divided Arab states encumbered by a number of squabbling political parties work well for Israel and for its neocon friends.
Needless to say, the dominant neocon crafted foreign policy that still drives the Republican Party and that is all too popular elsewhere in Washington should be challenged by every American who believes more armed conflict in the Middle East could bring disaster. What did not work in 2003 in Iraq will not work in 2011 in Iran and if there are no demands for change there will be another war, one that could easily have catastrophic consequences. Using military force as the first option to change governments that Washington disapproves of is a concept that must be addressed directly and discredited. If the notion persists that one more war can be fought and might have a good result, it could be the final straw that breaks the back of the American experiment in republican government.