Wanting to go to war with Iran has created some very strange bedfellows. Leading neoconservative Daniel Pipes’ assertion that President Barack Obama can salvage his presidency and get reelected by attacking Iran is about as low as it gets, suggesting as it does that an act of war can and should serve as a diversion from a failed domestic agenda. The soldiers and civilians who would inevitably die in such a conflict might not agree with Pipes that all is fair in politics. They would no doubt consider themselves betrayed and manipulated by a venal and disconnected political leadership, but no matter. It would not be a first time a neocon would consider a non-neocon casualty little more than a disagreeable statistic.
Sarah Palin is on the Pipes bandwagon, showing up at the mid-February Nashville Tea Party convention sporting an Israeli flag lapel pin and subsequently urging the president to do the right thing in supporting Israel by attacking Iran. As she put it, President Obama would improve his chances of re-election by showing people how tough he is. Pipes is at least smart enough to understand the implications of what he was saying, but Palin apparently was just parroting a line fed to her by Bill Kristol or one of her other handlers. Even Dick Cheney found the Palin line to be too much, pointing out that no one should go to war for reasons of domestic politics. Whether he actually believes that or not is unclear.
But possibly the most bizarre commentary supporting war with Iran was penned by Anne Applebaum for the Washington Post on February 23rd. Applebaum is married to the reliably conservative Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, who is himself an American Enterprise Institute alumnus. She is an Obama supporter but generally has been described as a conservative who adheres to a hard line on foreign policy issues, perhaps not too surprising a triangulation as Obama himself has betrayed a goodly percentage of his flock by moving in the same direction. She sometimes confuses her personal agenda with her public advocacy, writing, for example, several articles calling on Roman Polanski to be freed while her husband in his official capacity was garnering support from the European diplomatic community to the same end.
Applebaum’s "Ready for an Iran war?" is not particularly subtle but it is interesting how she frames her argument. The first three quarters of the piece could almost be considered an antiwar statement. It details just how bad a war with Iran could be in terms of the possible consequences. She notes that the US does not want to attack Iran because no one knows where all the nuclear sites are, because an attack would only set back the alleged weapons program by a few months, and because Iran could easily engage in serious retaliation both against US troops in the region and against Israel. Applebaum also recognizes that oil prices would surge as soon as military action started. And she then goes on to argue that the Israelis likely have the same reservations about the efficacy of an attack on Iran. So far so good.
But then she shifts gears, warning "At some point, that calculation could change" because "the Israelis regard the Iranian nuclear program as a matter of life and death" due to the "Iranian president’s provocative attacks on Israel’s right to exist." Per Applebaum, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supports "historians who deny the Holocaust" and suggests that Israelis might become "the target of an attempted mass murder."
Applebaum then posits that there might well be a 2 a.m. phone call to the White House from the Israeli Prime Minister announcing the completion of a bombing attack on Iran. "I don’t want this to happen – but I do want us to be prepared if it does," concluding that "I do hope that this administration is ready, militarily and psychologically, not for a war of choice but for an unwanted war of necessity. This is real life, after all, not Hollywood."
Actually Applebaum’s analysis is itself more like Hollywood than real life and its claim of "necessity" is little more than an appreciation that someone you have just struck might attempt to hit you back. A little fact checking for her article might have also proven useful. Iran is a military midget compared to Israel. It has no nuclear weapons and is apparently far away from obtaining them even if it makes a decision to do so and can master the necessary enrichment technology. Israel has a large secret nuclear arsenal together with missiles and submarines to deliver the weapons on target. Iran, far from a nation bent on a genocidal suicide mission, has never threatened to destroy or attack Israel while Israel has repeatedly threatened to use force against Iran. Many reported Iranian government "statements" to the contrary are deliberate mistranslations.
Applebaum cleverly dresses her scenario in a cloak of inevitability, suggesting to the reader that "this is what is going to happen." Her dire forecast is intended to increase American acceptance of the likelihood of a preemptive war with Iran, but war is by no means certain if everyone involved makes a serious effort to avoid it. As Israel knows its air force cannot cripple Iran, its government has had to devise a scheme to get the US to do it instead, which is precisely what is being promoted by Anne Applebaum, Daniel Pipes, and all the other usual suspects who have already brought America fun and games in Iraq and Afghanistan. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin used to describe people like Applebaum as "useful idiots," journalists who advance a cause in the belief that they are supporting something worthwhile, not understanding that they have been manipulated.
How to stop an Israeli attack? All the White House has to do is to say "no" to Israel firmly and publicly and tie that no to a commitment to cut off all military and economic aid to Tel Aviv if Bibi Netanyahu opts to do otherwise. Applebaum only sees realpolitik in one direction, coming from Israel and what Israel’s "needs" might be. She is not alone in making that type of assessment. She seems ignorant of the fact that an Israeli bombing attack on Iran would have to cross Iraq, where the airspace is controlled by the United States. The Pentagon can tell Israel flatly that it will use whatever force is necessary to stop an Israeli overflight knowing that if the US were to permit the attack it would be an accomplice to it, virtually requiring the Iranians to retaliate and drawing Washington into the war whether it wanted to be there or not.
And if there remained any uncertainty about what to do about Iran after the Applebaum op-ed, the Post used the same page in the same edition of the paper for an additional article by Richard Cohen making pretty much the same points as Applebaum about those awful Iranians, "Fight crazy with crazy." Cohen takes pains to ridicule any suggestion that the US might be tempted to use force to deter an Israeli attack on Iran, characteristically opining that we might thereby "Shoot our friends to defend our enemies." Cohen and Applebaum together make the case that preemptive war against Iran is somehow both justifiable and inevitable, ignoring the fact that Iran has never threatened the United States. Their Israel-centric view makes it appear completely acceptable for Washington to yet again go to war on behalf of Tel Aviv.
Well it all comes together neatly, doesn’t it? Those Iranians are well outside the pale and always will be, Cohen calling Ahmadinejad a Hitler come to earth again, and it is downright churlish of anyone to even suggest that we Americans might well have a national interest differing from that of Israel. How dare one express concern that the United States might be badly damaged if Tel Aviv starts another war in a deliberate attempt to "Wag the Dog?" But if there is a contrary view to Applebaum and Cohen you won’t find it in the Washington Post unless you take the time to review the hundreds of comments posted on both articles, which are almost all hostile if one weeds out the syntactically challenged cheerleading entries inserted by the industrious drones at the Israel Foreign Ministry. A number of bloggers not surprisingly describe Cohen and Applebaum as Israel-firsters. To be sure, the United States national interest as it relates to the Middle East quagmire would appear to be of no concern to Fred Hiatt and the others who manage the Post‘s editorial and op-ed pages.