Obama’s War Signals

Only Richard Nixon, whose political career was launched and sustained by an ostensibly militant anti-communism, could have traveled to China, and – with conservative support — effected a de facto strategic alliance with a country long considered an implacable enemy. This Nixon-to-China meme is regularly invoked as aphoristic evidence that we must expect the unexpected, and it comes to mind when considering the prospects of an impending military conflict with Iran: it occurs to me that only Barack Obama, who won the White House in large part due to his opposition to the Iraq war, could take us to war with Iran, and rally liberals and much of the left behind it.

Oh, I can hear the outraged howls of protest from the Obama cult, but consider:

The president has already set a September deadline for Iran to respond to our as-yet-informal proposal to negotiate over the completely phony nuclear issue – an oddly confrontational approach to opening the first on-the-record high level talks with the Islamic Republic since the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979.

The nuke issue is phony because our own intelligence community, speaking through the CIA, determined "with high confidence" the Iranians gave up their nuclear weapons program in 2003. Yet Obama has repeatedly said Iran is working to develop nuclear weapons. The great sigh of relief we all breathed when the CIA assessment was made public last year – effectively blocking any last-minute attempt by the Bushies to strike Iran in the waning days  of Dubya’s reign – gives way to new anxieties.

The evidence that Obama is ramping up the US effort to encircle and eventually strike at Iran is building: added deployments to Afghanistan and our increasing intervention in Pakistan can always be attributed to the vagaries of the Af-pak front, but one can’t blame the Iranians from looking at it differently. The US military presence, to the south and the east, is looming larger. This, in tandem with an apparent hardening of the US stance – e.g.  the "muscularity" of Hillary Clinton’s most  recent peroration – can only be seen by Tehran as prefiguring war.

The spin prior to delivering her speech to the Council on Foreign Relations was that this was going to be a "muscular" speech, and indeed it was: threatening to use the military to "defend our interests, our allies, and our people" when it comes to Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, she declared, with typical Clintonian glibness: "this is not an option we seek nor is it a threat; it is a promise."

With those words, the first rhetorical shots of the third Middle Eastern war – and potentially the most devastating, both to the region and our national interests – have been fired. The phraseology is almost Bushian in its studied belligerence, and it is most certainly not a précis to a rapprochement with Tehran.

This is just about what any observer of the scene would have expected from our Secretary of State, given her past statements – the most recent being her threat to launch a "first strike" (her words) on Iran – and her ongoing refusal to retract her enthusiasm for the Iraq war. Indeed, in her comments to George Stephanopoulos on "This Week," she held up the invasion of Iraq as a model for how to deal with the Iranians. 

As I pointed out on the occasion of her appointment, the State Department is going to serve as the War Party’s operational command post in this administration, and Hillary’s war cry delivered in the form of a speech is the signal that the push for war has begun. The CFR speech was widely touted as auguring Hillary’s great comeback, after taking a nasty fall, and her rising prominence and visibility puts an all-too-familiar face on American foreign policy, one that hasn’t changed in any but a cosmetic sense, at least as far as Iran is concerned.

Obama, consumed with the rapidly deteriorating US economy, will let Hillary define the terrain on which the conflict with Iran will unfold: the stage is being set. The actors take their places, and, amid frantic preparations taking place behind the curtains, hardly suspected by the audience, the drama takes its preordained course.

This will consist of three acts: the first, "negotiations," is bound to be the longest, and least interesting, as the US issues the usual ultimatums, accompanied by threats of economic and diplomatic sanctions. This is ostensibly meant to cow the Iranians into giving up their perfectly legal nuclear power program, which the IAEA says shows no signs of morphing into an effort to create a nuclear weapon – but Act One has little to do with Tehran. The real point is to convince the audience (that’s you, the international community and the American people) we tried talking before we started bombing. 

Act Two will take us to the UN, where the "debate" will begin. At this point, that bothersome National Intelligence Estimate [.pdf] – you know, the one that said Iran has no nukes, and isn’t on the verge of acquiring them, either – is bound to be "revised," in light of new "intelligence." "The clock is ticking" on Iran, says Obama, and, like his predecessor, he’ll no doubt find the "facts" to fit a course of action that is preordained in the script. 

To draw out the simile to what is perhaps the stretching point, what we ought to be asking at this point is: who are the scriptwriters? 

Who wants war with Iran? Who has been demanding it, hoping for it, and doing their best to provoke it? What faction of the foreign policy "community" has been warning that Iran is months away from creating a nuclear weapon, and will certainly target a small "democratic" US ally in the region, one which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad purportedly (but not really) threatened to "wipe off the map"? 

It’s no secret the Israel lobby has been in the forefront of the effort to mobilize American political, diplomatic and military muscle for a dust-up with Iran: the alleged "threat" emanating from Iran was the theme of the last AIPAC conference, and the propaganda machine that does Tel Aviv’s bidding has been going full-bore since the Iraq war ended in "mission accomplished," targeting Tehran as the next victim of our post-9/11 madness. The current power struggle within the Iranian leadership, that culminated in the election fraud protests and the hard-liner clampdown, set the confrontational tone for the pro forma "negotiations" that will segue seamlessly into the second act, and, finally, the third – which will be played out here in this country, on the op ed pages of the nation’s newspapers (what’s left of them, anyway), and around dinner tables all across America. 

Act Three will feature the debate here at home, but it will not take place in a vacuum: having carefully laid the basis for military action by establishing 1) Iranian intransigence, and 2) the veracity of US "intelligence" regarding Iran’s nuclear program, all the conditions for a launching an attack will have been met, but for one – the consent of the American people. 

Of course, they’d never let us vote on it. Unfortunately, the Ludlow Amendment never passed, and since that time we’ve become so habituated to being hectored and bullied into war by all-knowing elites that no one has seriously proposed anything like it.  

Yet the War Party can’t just go barging into a major military conflict without at least the passive acceptance of those who will be paying for it, as well as fighting and dying for it. Once we’re in, no matter how slender the pretext, the argument can be made that we can’t retreat without a major loss of face, and the "waste" of lives that have already been lost – essentially the same argument that sustained the Iraq war long after the futility and dishonesty of the effort had been widely acknowledged. The trick is getting in.

They say Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapons capability represents an "existential threat" to the Jewish state. This may indeed be true, and yet that threat is no more substantial than the threat to the US represented by Soviet nukes during the cold war era. In that historic facedown, each side was constrained by the certainty of mutual assured destruction if war should break out. Since Israel, as everyone knows, possesses a large nuclear arsenal, the Iranians would be similarly constrained not to use theirs. The great problem in the Middle East today is that Israel is not so constrained, at the moment: the Israelis enjoy a nuclear monopoly in the region, and they are determined to maintain it – yes, even if it means war.  

Not a war between Israel and Iran, of course, but between the US and Iran. Israel is sending all kinds of signals that if we don’t start the bombing, they will, but the Israelis have neither the technical means nor the inclination to risk their own necks – and why should they bother, when they have us to do their dirty work for them?  

The way to achieve a regional settlement of the nuclear issue ought to be clear enough: direct negotiations between Tel Aviv and Tehran and a mutual disarmament pact. Syria long ago proposed that the Middle East be declared a nuclear-free zone, a suggestion steadfastly ignored by Washington, and barely reported in the Western media. The Israelis, for their part, won’t even acknowledge having a substantial nuclear arsenal, and refuse to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, while Iran, a signatory, has opened its nuclear facilities to inspection.  

This kind of even-handed common sense approach to peacefully resolving regional tensions is strictly forbidden in elite foreign policy circles, however, no matter which party is in power – for that would put the Israelis on the same level as everyone else in the Middle East, which Tel Aviv (especially the current regime) regards as an insult. There is one standard for Israel, and another for the rest of the inhabitants of the region – and anything less (or more) than that is evidence of "anti-Semitism."  

Make no mistake: the enormous power of the Israel lobby – and it is formidable, don’t let anyone kid you – is being utilized to bring us to the brink, and we are moving along at a fairly rapid pace. It won’t be long before the clock stops ticking, and the fireworks begin: oh, to be sure, there will be plenty of drama, and secondary plots, along the way, but the essential narrative – Mad mullahs plan on blowing up Israel, if not the world – has already been written, rehearsed, and audience-tested.  

It remains to be seen, however, if this particular show ever gets out of summer stock. The American people are in no mood for another war – certainly not a war of the scope necessitated by a huge and populous nation such as Iran. It will take a sustained political and propaganda campaign by the War Party to pull this one off – and yet you shouldn’t doubt they have the resources and the will to do it.  

You thought you were safe, now that George W. Bush is out of the White House, and the neoconservatives have gone back to their well-subsidized holes – but you were wrong. I would not be at all surprised if the Iranian "crisis" – and it will be declared a "crisis," complete with ticking clocks and lines in the sand, of that you can be sure – required a "delay" in our plans to withdraw from Iraq. At that point, the American people will either rise up and put an end to the nonsense – or else they’ll acquiesce, without much protest, to what seems like the inevitable.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].