The usual suspects are raising cain over the Iranian events: George Packer, who aptly describes himself as "a suspected neocon fellow-traveler," wants a full-throated expression of support for the "Green Revolution" from the White House, and argues (convincingly) that Obama, in spite of his abjuration against "meddling," has done everything but: his intellectual soul-brother, Andrew Sullivan — another supposedly "reformed" neocon, who has since recanted his role in cheerleading the Iraq war — has issued a foot-stamping encyclical demanding: "No Recognition of Ahmadinejad: This is the first and absolute requirement of all Western governments." One wonders what the second — and undoubtedly just as "absolute" — requirement is going to be: new and harsher economic sanctions? It’s just a coincidence that this non-recognition ploy would torpedo the much-vaunted prospect of negotiating with Tehran over the outstanding issues that separate Washington and Tehran: after all, we can’t negotiate with a government we don’t recognize.
Sullivan doesn’t want us to recognize — and, presumably, meet with — the Ahmadinejad faction if they come out on top, but of course it’s perfectly fine for our Secretary of State to meet with Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of what even the most pro-Israel among the nation’s magazine editors — Marty Peretz — calls a "neo-fascist" party. That Lieberman is also the foreign minister of Israel should certainly not make a lot of difference to the Andrew Sullivans of this world, unless their moral outrage comes attached to a particular agenda.
In all fairness, however, they probably don’t even know about the Hillary-Lieberman coffee klatch: as Laura Rozen described the atmospherics surrounding the meeting,
"There is not a lot of publicity about his visit, no doubt because Lieberman is a controversial figure at home and abroad, who has said Israel’s Arab citizens should be required to sign loyalty oaths."
Lieberman, I might add, has also called for the wholesale "transfer" of Israel’s Arab citizens out of Israel. His expressed eagerness to bomb the Aswan dam is at least the equivalent of Ahmadinejad’s reported desire to wipe Israel off the map.
Here I’ve committed the great sin of "moral equivalence," a crime that gets one banished to the Coventry of the "fringe," in elite foreign policy circles. Why, just imagine if we started applying to Israel the same moral tests and political standards we routinely apply to other nations around the world? Love, as Ayn Rand once remarked, "is exception-making," and so love-sick have we become that it is not even noticed that our secretary of state has met with the representative of a party that is openly and brazenly racist and fascist.
Right now, today, Palestinians are demonstrating peacefully in the occupied territories, protesting the demolition of their homes by the Israeli authorities and government-backed "settlers," decrying the shameful "Wall of Separation," and demanding an end to the daily indignities visited on them by the occupiers of their land. Yet we don’t see American web sites changing their colors in showy displays of narcissistic "solidarity." We don’t see 24/7 breathless blogger coverage of events as they unfold — heck, we don’t even hear about it at all. When the Israelis went into Gaza and killed thousands, injuring thousands more, these people were nowhere to be found: or, at any rate, there was a notable lack of breathlessness in their coverage, such as it was.
The entirely lop-sided and frankly manipulated stance taken by the US in the region — brazenly Israel-centric as it is — is not about to undergo any fundamental change simply because there’s a new man in the White House. Decades of this sort of unthinking bias will not be undone in a few months, or a few years. The Israel lobby has too much power, and is not about to give up without a tremendous fight. Yet there are certain objective circumstances that they cannot control.
The subordination of American to Israeli interests in the Middle East is causing untold damage to our relations with the rest of the world, and the fatal distortion of our policies is proving too costly to ignore. That’s why the Obama administration is being forced to take a fresh look at the requirements of the "special relationship," and signaling a new turn — one that is being resisted every step of the way by Tel Aviv.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s much-awaited answer to Obama’s Cairo speech is a clear indication that the Israelis are prepared to call the US President’s bluff — and a bluff it surely is. The Obamaites have their hands full as it is, what with their far-reaching economic agenda and the continuing meltdown of the American economy: as the Justice Department’s recent dropping of the espionage case against top Lobby officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman indicates, they are not about to take on Israel’s powerful amen corner. No, not even on the relatively easy issue of the "settlements."
Obama’s seeming deviation from AIPAC’s game plan is just a minor glitch, however, one that masks the continuation of the Israel-first policy that has overshadowed all attempts to steer a more rational Middle Eastern course. This continuity was underscored when, in answer to questions about the Iranian events, Obama told reporters:
"It’s important to understand that although there is some ferment taking place in Iran, that the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised. Either way, we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons."
The supposedly oh-so-savvy and sympathetic Obama can’t be unfamiliar with accounts of Iran’s televised presidential debates, which did indeed dramatize deep differences between the two candidates, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. It was Mousavi, decrying Iran’s isolation, who turned to his opponent and asked: "Tell me, who are our friends in the region?" He berated Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust, a ploy, he averred, that had brought "shame" on Iran in the eyes of the world. Ahmadinejad came back with a perfectly Cheney-esque volley, as reported by the Washington Post:
"Ahmadinejad pointed out that the previous government, which temporarily suspended uranium enrichment from 2003 to 2005, received nothing in return for the gesture to the West. ‘There was so much begging for having three centrifuges. Today more than 7,000 centrifuges are turning,’ Ahmadinejad said of Iran’s nuclear program. ‘Which foreign policy was successful? Which one created degradation? Which one kept our independence more, which one gave away more concessions but got no results?’ he asked."
Contra Obama, the differences between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi are potentially far greater than advertised, given the momentum of events and the implications of what is happening in the streets of Tehran — where over a million people are gathering as I write to protest the stealing of their votes. In which case, the Obama administration — in its negotiations with a government led in part by Mousavi — is going to have to prepare itself to take yes for an answer.
I would note that Obama’s skepticism in the face of the Green Revolution echoes the sourness of the Israelis, who are also disdaining Mousavi’s peacemaking credentials. As Meir Dagan, head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, recently testified before the Knesset:
"The reality in Iran is not going to change because of the elections. The world and we already know [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. If the reformist candidate [Mir Hossein] Mousavi had won, Israel would have had a more serious problem because it would need to explain to the world the danger of the Iranian threat, since Mousavi is perceived internationally arena as a moderate element…It is important to remember that he is the one who began Iran’s nuclear program when he was prime minister."
A Mousavi government in power in Tehran would not necessarily be friendlier to Israel, and yet it is unmistakably true that the sort of reflexive hostility to the US exhibited by Ahmadinejad would no longer prevail. The only way to effectively deny this — as Obama has done — is to conflate Israeli and American interests. Both Washington and Tel Aviv fully realize their interests are diverging, and yet neither side has been able to say so publicly, and unequivocally, for domestic political reasons. The Americans are constrained by their vociferous Israel lobby, just as the Netanyahu government is reined in by the unwillingness of the Israeli public to take on its biggest ally and chief sponsor.
The Iranian events underscore the ideological rigidity — and the political considerations — that make formulating and carrying out a rational Middle Eastern policy all but impossible. As Iran’s drama plays out on the world stage, and takes on a momentum all its own, the tumult — and the clueless response by even a very smart operator like Obama — underscores our own inability to see what is plainly and simply true — even as it hits us squarely in the face.