The American people don’t particularly want a new war in the Middle East, but apparently Congress and Washington’s most powerful lobby do. Thirty-two senators have co-sponsored a resolution that will constrain the White House from adopting any policy vis-à-vis Iran’s “nuclear weapons capability” that amounts to “containment.” The senators include the familiar figures of Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both of whom have persistently called for military action. They and the other senators have presented their proposal in a particularly deceptive fashion, asserting that they are actually supporting the White House position, which they are not. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta repeated on Feb. 16 that Iran does not have and is not currently building a nuclear device. Before Christmas, he stated clearly that the “red line” for the United States is actual Iranian possession of a nuclear weapon. Even Israel’s intelligence services agree that Iran is not building a bomb. What we are seeing play out in Congress is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) position, which is that Iran has already crossed a “red line.” The AIPAC argument will no doubt be spelled out in more detail next month at the group’s annual convention in the nation’s capital, a meeting that will be addressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will attract nearly all of Washington’s power brokers.
Rejection of containment in this context and as spelled out in the resolution means that the United States will be forced to go to war if Iran attains the capability to put together a nuclear weapon. Indeed, one might argue that the United States should be at war already, based on the resolution. “Capability” is one of those particularly useful expressions that is extremely elastic and can be interpreted subjectively. By most standards, Iran already has the technical know-how to make a nuclear bomb and has most of the materials on hand to put one together, assuming it can enrich the uranium it possesses to the required level. The Iranians may not, in fact, have the engineering skills to do so, and the task of creating a small, sophisticated device that can be mounted on a ballistic missile is certainly far beyond their current capabilities and probably unachievable given the costs involved and the poor state of their economy.
There are about 50 countries in the world that have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon if they chose to do so, making Iran far from unique but for its persistence as a thorn in the side of Israel and Israel’s powerful lobby in the United States. In other words, Iran does not have to actually produce a nuclear weapon for it to be subject to attack by either Israel or the United States. It only has to continue to be an irritant for Israel.
The new threat of war takes the Bush doctrine of preemption to a whole new level. Some sources in the Obama administration are anonymously warning that war with Iran is nearly certain and are predicting it to break out in late summer. That would be just before the presidential election, a time in which Obama will be seeking desperately to seize the high ground on Israel’s security from whomever the Republicans nominate. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not even have to mimic Colin Powell by going to the United Nations to seek authorization for an attack using false and fabricated information. Everyone can agree that the mullahs do not actually have a weapon and may not even want to acquire one, but it’s fine to bomb them anyway. The U.S. Senate approves, so off we go to another misadventure in the Middle East
Without a doubt, President Obama is to blame for this shameful state of affairs for showing every sign of weakness whenever confronted by Netanyahu and AIPAC. We should almost certainly expect nothing less than a personal and presidential kowtow at the AIPAC conference next month, a complete surrender that Netanyahu will no doubt receive in his usual ungracious fashion. Even President George W. Bush was able to stand up to the Israelis and forbid an attack on Iran, but now the United States has boxed itself into a corner diplomatically speaking, without any real ability to influence Tel Aviv to cease and desist.
Israel’s prime minister is continuously ramping up the rhetoric, calling Iran a threat to the entire world and suggesting that his country will soon retaliate against recent Iranian-directed terrorist attacks. The bombing in New Delhi and attempted bombings in Tbilisi and Thailand targeting Israelis are a major escalation of the tit-for-tat terrorism between Israel and Iran. Israel has killed four Iranian scientists using Mujahedin-e Khalq agents and possibly relying on intelligence provided by Washington. Israel’s involvement in recruiting Jundallah-Balochi militants using officers pretending to be American CIA, referred to as a false-flag operation, was recently revealed in the U.S. media, though the story quickly disappeared from sight, as is almost invariably the case when dealing with Israel.
But Iran is now signaling that it too has surrogates and is willing to respond in kind. An interesting subplot is the location of two of the attacks in India and Georgia. Iran certainly has covert resources among India’s large Muslim population and also within the significant Azeri minority in Georgia. Israel has been courting India and sees a strategic relationship developing, with the two united against Muslim insurgency. Israel also has a not-so-secret military and intelligence base in Georgia and has recently expanded into nearby Azerbaijan, where it has established an intelligence listening post at an airbase. Iran is surrounded by Israeli operational initiatives and is now signaling that it has had enough and is prepared to strike back. A back-and-forth series of assassinations is particularly dangerous, as it could produce the type of incident that Israel could exploit to preemptively attack, not unlike the fallout from the assassination of a certain archduke in Serbia in 1914. The conflict would undoubtedly ignite the region and inevitably involve the United States, particularly if Congress and the media have any say in the matter.
The United States is powerless to prevent such an outcome in spite of a clear national interest to do so. President Obama has insisted, probably sincerely, that he doesn’t want a war and maintains that he is willing to talk to Iran. But he has nevertheless refused to do so despite several overtures from Tehran to start a dialogue, preferring to deal through surrogates. He has told the Israelis repeatedly that they should not attack Iran, but he keeps insisting that “all options are on the table” in dealing with the mullahs, completely confusing the issue for most observers. What is needed is a clear signal from the White House that the U.S. interest is that there should not be a war and that Washington will not get involved no matter who starts it. If the Israelis know they will have to go it alone, they will not attack. Unfortunately, in an election year, such a position is unlikely because the White House will want to present itself as a close friend of Israel and tough against “rogue” states like Iran.
You might well ask how the United States wound up in such a pickle. Many Americans are beginning to wake up to the fact that it is disgraceful that a small country like Israel should be able to dictate U.S. foreign policy in a key part of the world, but the current situation is actually far worse than that. This is the case of a foreign government’s lobby consisting largely of American citizens using its clout to avoid registering as a foreign agent while narrowing the policy options through its friends in Congress and the media in such a way as to make war inevitable. Some might call it treason. Such people should be denounced and marginalized before they send off another wave of young Americans to die on their behalf while beggaring the rest of us, but instead, senators and representatives will be lining up to cheer them in a month’s time. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison must be spinning in their graves.