Since I have been featured on antiwar on Thursdays going back a number of years, I sometimes try to write something that includes a sense of the holiday. The Pilgrims initiated Thanksgiving to celebrate the end of harvest and to acknowledge that they had managed to survive another year. We too have survived in spite of attempts to get the United States involved in wars with Syria and Iran. Of the two we should perhaps be more thankful for Syria as we were right on the cusp of going to a war that was supported enthusiastically by the White House, Congress, and the media. And we might have done so based on the hyping of some very dubious intelligence, reminiscent of Iraq, but for the fact that the American people decided to rise up and tell their congressmen and the White House just what they thought about the prospect of a new war in Asia. That there was such a strong public reaction is perhaps a tribute to the new Internet driven media, which was only getting started back in the days of Iraq. Sites like antiwar saw the holes in the case for war and reported on them even as the government was attempting to convince the public that only more armed force would solve Syria’s problems. The Barack Obama Administration found itself constantly behind the curve of the information cycle, attempting to deflect the very legitimate claims that there was no real case to be made for a military intervention. The White House was forced to back down, for the first time since 9/11 turning away from a new war of choice.
The Syrian misstep may or may not have finally put paid to unsustainable arguments being made by the humanitarian interventionists in the Administration, most notably Samantha Powers and Susan Rice, particularly as it coincided with a collapse in the governance of Libya. Libya was the last humanitarian intervention entered into by Washington and it has been in chaos ever since strongman Moammar Gaddafi was removed and executed. One might also look at the still smoldering exercise in nation building in Afghanistan, which almost certainly will not turn out well either for the Afghans or for anyone else. The Karzai regime is possibly the most corrupt on the planet and US aid for humanitarian reconstruction has been both squandered and stolen. Iraq too, though not a humanitarian intervention per se, has suffered from the American occupation and reconstruction effort, the country now de facto divided into three sectarian mini-states engaged in something like a civil war with 50 Iraqis dying from bombs and bullets every day. Iraq was a double whammy in that it was a war that need not have been fought at all followed by a prolonged American presence that could have been crafted by the Marx Brothers that only made things worse.
The second thing we have to be thankful for is the deal with Iran which, if it evolves into a comprehensive agreement, will considerably lessen the likelihood of war unless Israel should choose to start one. Leading neoconservative Bill Kristol is indeed calling for a first strike from Israel in a disjointed and painful to read editorial in his magazine the Weekly Standard. Kristol even compares Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Abraham Lincoln in a bizarre retrospective on the Gettysburg Address, suggesting that spilling a little blood is sometimes necessary to do what is right. Of course, it won’t be Kristol’s blood that will be spilled, nor that of any of the inside the Beltway chickenhawks that form his usual chorus as all of them prefer to worship the military from a distance, most often by writing books praising overrated and underperforming generals. As even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows that attacking Iran without American support would be disastrous, it is unlikely that too many Israelis will be lining up behind Kristol to volunteer for the first wave.
President Obama should earn our approval for his stepping away from war with Iran. It has been clear for some time that he has been a reluctant player in the "get Iran" game, presumably because he fears the possible consequences of a new war in Asia against a country that would actually be able to strike back. Congress will certainly try to upend the agreement with Tehran, but one suspects the support for harsh new sanctions in the legislature is widespread but paper thin. If the American public appears to be going along with the deal it will be hard for Congress to say "no."
And one more thing we have to be thankful for is the backstory to both Syria and Iran. The Israel Lobby pulled out all the stops as it pushed for an attack on Syria and also sought to block any agreement with Iran. It did so publicly and openly, making groups like AIPAC come out of the shadows and demonstrating that they are little more than adjuncts of the Israeli government’s propaganda arm as they deliberately cooked their analyses to conform with what was coming out of Tel Aviv. The claim that Iran will have a nuclear weapon in six months, which has been coming out of Israel for the past twenty years, was invoked repeatedly as was the fantasy that Tehran will soon be able to threaten the United States.
The Israeli government also did its bit directly, intervening in the US political process for the second time in the past year. The virtual Netanyahu endorsement of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 was, however, low keyed compared to the Ambassador to Washington Ron Dremer and leading right wing politicians like Naftali Bennett going to Capitol Hill to perform the usual we-are-the-victims rope a dope with Congress. Every Congressman was lobbied heavily and a number of Democrats, most notably Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, have already broken ranks with their president to join with nearly all of their Republican counterparts in opposing the lifting of some sanctions to get a deal. The interim agreement is for six months of mutual concessions for the purpose of confidence building so one can expect that the Israel Lobby will continue to operate its full-time press to derail the process.
But whether Israel’s friends ultimately succeed in turning peace into war or not, it is undeniable that they have suffered from two major defeats, both of which are very public and which have damaged their credibility. They have also produced a very visible split among their usual supporters, with prominent pundits like Thomas Friedman of The New York Times not only arguing strongly for a deal to avoid war but also denouncing the activities of the Israel Lobby in trying to sabotage the effort. The frequently asserted claim that Israeli and US interests in the Middle East are identical has also been demonstrated to be the sham that it actually is. Israel is an apartheid state that seeks perpetual domination over a powerless Palestinian helot class, a situation that would be anathema to most Americans if the reality of Israeli control were being fairly reported in the US media. It seeks military hegemony backed by American armed force in the Middle East while the actual US interest is instead in stability so that energy supplies continue to flow. Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights has become a recruiting tool for international terrorists and Washington’s unwavering support of Tel Aviv’s human rights abuses combined with major policy failures like Iraq have brought the terrorism home to the United States. Israel and the US are not the same political organism, no matter what Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois thinks. Kirk has recently stated that he sought a Senate seat so he could defend Israel. Perhaps he should think twice about that assertion or perhaps the voters in Illinois should ruminate a bit on what exactly it means.
In any event, we have something to be thankful for this year. As of this writing it even looks as if the US will be pulling completely out of Afghanistan. To be sure there are large and powerful constituencies lurking out there that want to see a continuation of wars in many places for many reasons and they are far from defeated, which is why the example of the people having won regarding Syria should be repeated over and over again with the public consistently demanding an end to wars of choice. Maybe next year we can also begin to do something about drones and targeted assassinations carried out by the White House, but in the meantime no new war in 2013 is certainly something to celebrate.