You Want Change?

by , June 17, 2008

The pundits agree that this election is all about "change," so naturally we have two presidential nominees who present identical positions on the major foreign policy issue of the day: the looming prospect of the U.S. launching a "preventive" war against Iran. Shmuel Rosner, the U.S. correspondent for Ha’aretz, notes:

"The Washington Institute for Near East Policy has just published the final version of a report by the Task Force on the Future of U.S.-Israel relations. The title is appealing: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge. But no less appealing is the list of people endorsing this report: Tony Lake and Susan Rice of the Obama campaign, Vin Weber, James Woolsey of the McCain camp."

WINEP is a think-tank associated with the America Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the lobbying powerhouse that has made criticism of Israel on the Hill practically verboten. Obama’s recent capitulation before what is generally described as one of the most effective lobbies in Washington is underscored by Rosner:

"If you want it in a journalistic headline format, here is one way to do it: Obama, McCain advisers agree: U.S.-Israel should discuss preventive military action against Iran."

Of course the document is much more "nuanced" than that, according to Rosner, but subtle it isn’t. The Israelis have been threatening to launch their own strike at Iran if the U.S. fails to act, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recent visit to Washington was widely seen as a thinly veiled attempt to impress on the Americans the seriousness of the Israelis’ resolve to stop Iran from going nuclear. Yet the immediate target of the Israelis’ wrath isn’t Tehran, but Washington. The day Olmert uttered one of his more brazen threats, the price of oil went through the roof. This is the crux of the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel: it’s an exemplar of how an abusive relationship functions. We allow them to blackmail us with impunity and act against our own economic and diplomatic interests. Because that’s what love – real, unconditional love – is all about…

Yes, you say, but didn’t the Iranians give up their nuclear weapons program in 2003? At least that’s what the combined efforts of U.S. intelligence services, codified [.pdf] in the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, came up with. Well, the McCain/Obama Popular Front isn’t having it, because the NIE "had the unintended consequence of reducing the sense of urgency for additional pressure. The result is that the prospects for significant strengthening of international resolve to raise the cost to Iran of continuing to pursue objectionable policies in the nuclear field are less hopeful today than they were prior to the publication of the NIE.”

Why, one has to ask, is "additional pressure" necessary, if the Iranians ditched their weapons program five years ago? In the Bizarro World of the Israel lobby, however, such questions never come up. Everything is framed in terms that only have the most tenuous relationship to reality.

There is much talk of deterrence in the WINEP document – and effusive agreement among the McCain/Obama advisers that it’s not enough, and that the Israelis are right to push for a policy of "prevention" – but no mention is made of the existence of Israel’s 150 nukes, a number Jimmy Carter revealed for the first time recently. In this context, who is deterring whom?

The WINEP declaration isn’t just the candidates’ underlings shouting "Amen!" in the wake of their bosses’ nearly identical stances on the Iranian nukes issue. As is usually the case with such efforts, they want something more out of the U.S. government than mere public declarations of fealty to Israel’s foreign policy agenda:

"’We urge each leader to identify one or two aides to represent them. These aides should be among the most trusted advisers to the president and prime minister – officials or emissaries empowered to engage in all manner of discussion with the utmost creativity and maximum discretion.’ This will be the forum in which to discuss ‘diplomatic engagement (including coordinating the agenda and timetable of a potential U.S.-Iran dialogue),’ ‘political and economic pressure,’ ‘coercive options (such as an embargo on Iran’s sale of oil or import of refined petroleum products),’ ‘preventive military action.’"

In short, what the Lobby wants is a new means to pressure America’s chief executive into going to war with Israel’s principal enemy in the Middle East, an official channel through which Jerusalem can transmit its orders to Washington. If President Obama gets out of line, he’ll have this "aide" by his side baby-sitting him, ceaselessly hectoring him to eat his broccoli.

Obama’s supporters – a sincere and strongly antiwar lot – are going to be sorely disappointed by all this, but, don’t worry, the Lobby has a plan. Citing the WINEP report, Rosner writes:

"And here is another interesting nugget, signed by the two most senior Obama advisers: The president should begin ‘a national conversation with the American people on the challenges, risks, and dilemmas posed to U.S. interests by the potential Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability, and on ways to prevent it – to raise popular awareness of the fact that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are likely to trigger a surge of nuclear proliferation and raise the potential of terrorists gaining nuclear weapons.’"

Obama is being given his marching orders, and if anyone can get the war-weary American people hopped up about the alleged "threat" posed by nonexistent Iranian nukes, then surely it’s the Great Orator himself, the candidate who wants to talk to Tehran – if only to communicate an ultimatum.

Our Israel-centric Middle Eastern policy has been the major stumbling block in the way of real change in the conduct of our foreign affairs. The spectacle of the two partisan camps collaborating in what is basically a pledge to continue business as usual in this vitally important realm is a depressing commentary on the sad state of American politics, and especially the lack of credible alternatives to the status quo.

Yes, we can always vote for a third party, but everyone knows this is only a "protest" vote, and the Lobby will triumph in the end, no matter which candidate wins the White House.

What is needed is not necessarily another "major" party, but a lobby that looks out for American interests as actively and indeed relentlessly as AIPAC looks out for the Israelis’. No candidate for president, at least among those presently running, is going to deliver us from the prospect of another war – and gas prices doubling, or worse. That’s a sad fact, but it’s not insurmountable.

An even sadder fact is the likelihood that the next president of the United States, whoever he may be, will discuss and consult with the Israeli government before going to war with Iran, without bothering to extend the same courtesy to the elected representatives of the American people. And don’t bother citing the Constitution. If that archaic document stands in the way of Israel’s objectives, then it was clearly authored by vicious anti-Semites and is no more credible or worthy of note than the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Besides which, didn’t David Duke once cite the Constitution? Case closed.

You want change? It’ll be a while yet…

Read more by Justin Raimondo