One might regard the pledges made to Israel and its friends in the United States by aspiring presidential candidates as pro forma and vaguely amusing, but that would be a mistake. Policy commitments, even if they are lightly entered into, are a serious matter with real-world consequences. At the moment, the obligation to Israel goes far beyond the willingness to give Tel Aviv billions of dollars in aid and unlimited political cover each year. Every Republican candidate but one has affirmed that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of a “Jewish state,” the precise formula demanded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and each has affirmed his or her eagerness to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would end forever any chance of actual peace talks with the Palestinians and would also invite a violent reaction against Americans in many parts of the Muslim world. Michele Bachmann has even found a private “donor” willing to pay for the move. Newt Gingrich, who would shift the embassy to Jerusalem within his first two hours as president and who has also promised to name John Bolton as his secretary of state, has meanwhile discovered that the Palestinian people do not actually exist, which certainly solves the problem of the two-state solution or any solution at all. They were invented by hostile Arabs and are out to destroy Israel.
Mitt Romney and Gingrich might well take the prize for lack of any connection with reality with their demand that U.S. Ambassador Howard Gutman, who is Jewish, be fired for suggesting that some anti-Semitism might be the result of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. Romney has also criticized President Barack Obama for “insulting” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, surely one of the most interesting inversions of truth and fiction ever to occur. Not to be outdone, Rick Perry has promised to increase assistance to Israel, calling it “strategic defensive aid” that benefits the United States.
While this kind of ignorant crackpottery is unfortunately what one expects, there might be worse to come. As part of the pro-Israel package, the same presidential hopefuls have made clear their willingness to go to war with Iran on behalf of Israel even if Israel is the initiator of the conflict, while the media and the Republican Party have together conspired to keep any contrary opinions on that issue marginalized and nearly invisible.
As Washington has demonstrated itself unwilling to negotiate with Iran over outstanding issues and has refused every attempt by the Iranians to compromise, there can be only one outcome to the game that is being played, and that is war. And the characteristically chickenhawk Republicans are ready to rock and roll based on the pseudo-information about the perfidious Persians. Gingrich again leads the charge, calling for a stepped-up program of sabotage and assassination inside Iran coupled with a covert operation to shut down the country’s main oil refinery, which will supposedly lead to “regime change.” Newt also suggested that the United States and Israel join together in “joint operations” to attack the Iranians. Perry and Rick Santorum also agree that it is time to order military strikes, while Mitt Romney is keen on indicting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for “the crime of incitement to genocide.”
The overly ambitious and ethically challenged wannabes who pass as statesmen in today’s United States fail to appreciate that the feckless promises made in their lust for high office could produce a catastrophic result. War is serious stuff, as the past 10 years have surely taught us, and Iran, which has had seven years to prepare for an attack, is a much larger and tougher nut than Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Numerous commentators have observed how fuel prices would soar because of threats to close the Straits of Hormuz. Many in the Pentagon, including current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and former Secretary Robert Gates, oppose such a conflict in recognition of the fact that Tehran would have the ability to hit U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. As the subsequent involvement of Hezbollah from Lebanon is a near certainty, the strike against Iran would quickly escalate into a regional war and would spin out of control.
No matter how one feels about Iran’s government and its ambitions, everyone should be taking notice of what is happening to fuel the drive to war. The drumbeat is incessant, fed by weekly warnings from leading Israeli politicians and truculent editorials and poorly informed op-eds in leading American newspapers. On Dec. 9 and 11 alone, the Washington Post ran three op-eds and a lead editorial all calling for more pressure on Iran. The op-ed by Marc Thiessen of the American Enterprise Institute accused Tehran of building a nuclear weapon that could be ready by January 2013. Thiessen also charged Iran with complicity in al-Qaeda attacks, which most observers would find ridiculous.
The American people are being told over and over again that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, that Tehran is threatening U.S. soldiers, and that Ahmadinejad has pledged to wipe Israel off the map.Though all those assertions can be challenged and even debunked, the case is being made that Tehran’s perceived intransigence is irreversible, and this is making war inevitable. A majority of Americans already believe that Iran has a nuclear weapon and that it poses a threat to the United States that should be dealt with, using military force if necessary.
Pushing back against the tide of conformity on the Iranian menace is Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. Paul’s crimes against the status quo consist of saying that he would eliminate all foreign aid, of which Israel is the principal beneficiary, and that he would not go to war with Iran for Israel because Israel, with its large nuclear arsenal and sophisticated military, is quite capable of making its own decisions relating to its security. Paul is also willing to talk with the Iranians instead of constantly threatening them. Those positions, which appear to be reasonable enough, arouse an almost palpable anger among some pundits. Paul was the only leading Republican excluded from last week’s Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) presidential debate, where many of the positions in support of Israel made by leading Republicans and related above were actually spelled out. RJC Executive Director Matthew Brooks explained that Paul was “far outside of the mainstream of the Republican Party and this organization.”
Over at Red State, “mikeymike 143” wrapped the message of hate in vitriol, declaring that Paul was an “anti-Semite loser” and that his “followers are the dirtbags of society. Conspiracy loons, antiwar leftists, and anti-Semites. That is why the Republican Jewish Coalition banned him and his Paulbots from the presidential debate they moderated.” Eric Golub of the Washington Times ramped it up a notch more, writing that “Ron Paul supporters are angry at his exclusion … despite Dr. Paul himself not publicly even caring. Supporters of the Klan do not get angry when they are excluded from NAACP banquets. Go on Ron Paul message boards, read the anti-Semitism, and then understand why nobody wants these miscreants anywhere near respectable events.”
Well, if that is the case, count me as a miscreant. Apparently objecting to the billions of dollars in foreign aid lavished on Israel and refusing to go to war on her behalf is enough to cast one out into the wilderness, but there is even more. Josh Block, a former spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), sent out a message on a neoconservative journalist listserv called “The Freedom Community” describing as anti-Semitic anyone who is anti-Israel or who does not agree that “Iran with a nuke is a problem.” Criticizing Israel or questioning the Iran nuclear narrative therefore makes one an anti-Semite, a conclusion that certainly simplifies thinking about the Middle East. It also makes the broader arguments being made by the friends of Israel come full circle. Any questioning of the United States’ relationship with Israel is anti-Semitism. Any change in how Washington hands out tax money that would in any way reduce aid to Israel is anti-Semitism. Any criticism of Israel’s policies with its neighbors is anti-Semitism. Any questioning of Israel’s “right” to start a regional war with Iran that will inevitably drag the United States in is also anti-Semitism. I’m sure that the picture is clear. Claims of anti-Semitism fit every situation where Israel is even peripherally involved. The slightest suggestion of anti-Semitism is the ultimate weapon, intended to end every debate and to ease the way into yet another Middle Eastern war that the United States does not need to fight, cannot afford, and from which it will likely reap the whirlwind.