Sunday, April 25, 2010

What Obama did not say about Iran and Israel

An article by Judea Pearl cites the following imaginary quote of Barack Obama:
I am prepared to live with a nuclear Iran, but, to contain it, I need the cooperation of the Arab rulers. As you know, cooperation in this part of the world sways with street tantrums and news broadcasts — this is the reality on the ground. We lost the war of ideas to Al Jazeera rhetoric, and we must pursue an appearance of an ongoing peace process.

"I said 'appearance' because I am not naive, and I know that the Arabs are not prepared to accept the idea of a permanent Israel; perhaps they never will -- it goes against everything they have been taught.

Still, I now need their support and your cooperation.

"You see, the only thing that will tame anti-American sentiments in this part of the world, at least partially, is the prospect that American pressure will bring about a Palestinian state and the delusion that such a state will become a sheltered launching pad for a renewed armed struggle against Israel, for the 'liberation of all of Palestine.' I read what they are saying, and I will not let this happen, but, in the meantime, we need to act as though a peace process has a chance to succeed."

The author confirmed that the somewhat appealing quote is imaginary. It is a touching testimonial to the faith of the author, and of other American Jews, in the good intentions and benign nature of the American government, and of the Democratic party. Obama's policies are portrayed as a test of faith, like Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. Be prepared to sacrifice Jerusalem, which is dearest to thee, but have no fear, for God is with thee, and thou shalt gain the kingdom of heaven by thy show of faith in the Lord. None of it is true. Obama never said it, it doesn't represent US policy and doesn't represent a reasobable view of the Middle East. It serves nobody's interest and there is nothing to be gained and a great deal to be lost by believing it.
It is interesting not as a "quote" of Obama but as a projection on Obama that encapsulates several dangerous delusions entertained by many American Jews about Iran, the "peace process" and Israeli-Arab relations.
The first delusion is that it is OK if Obama is "prepared to live with a nuclear Iran" and to "contain" it. Nobody knows for certain what Obama is thinking about Iran. The best guess is that at present the Americans have no strategy at all, as was pointed out by Secretary of Defense Gates. Obama might really think he is prepared to live with a nuclear Iran. Israelis can only be prepared to die with a nuclear Iran. The decision will be made in Tehran, not in Washington or Jerusalem (or by the "Tel Aviv government"). 
By "nuclear Iran," I mean an Iran that at least makes a convincing case that it has or could have nuclear weapons - that it has completed the fuel cycle. They needn't test an actual bomb. They will use their military muscle as an umbrella to further their two goals: eliminating the Great Satan, the USA, from influence in the Middle East, and eliminating the Little Satan, Israel. They will create a Hezbollah movement in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia for example, where there are aggrieved Shi'ite populations (a majority in Bahrain) and a lot of oil. They will certainly gain control of Iraq, as well as tightening their grip on Syria and Lebanon. They will control most of the oil reserves of the Middle East and demand a price for the oil. That price will be, as their leaders have stated, a "referendum" about the future of "Palestine" (meaning Israel) in which all the "Palestinian Arabs" in the world are allowed to participate. As there are a very large number of candidates for eligibility as "Palestinian Arabs" if criteria are sufficiently lax and imaginative, there is little doubt as to what the result of the referendum would be. Mr. Obama might be able to "live" with that for a while, but of course that would not be the end of Iranian demands, since their ultimate goal as Mr. Ahmadinejad announced, is a "world without the United States and Zionism." 
How could Mr. Obama "contain" Iran? The model for containment was the late USSR. Containment of USSR worked only at the price of allowing Soviet control of Eastern Europe, and making believe that those regimes were not tyrannical nightmare states. Most of the Middle East would be satellite states. Israel, if it was spared, would at best be in the approximate status of Berlin. The Eastern Mediterranean would be a Shi'ite lake, and the US would be at the mercy of the Ayatollahs. If an Imam will decree that earthquakes are caused by the loose behavior of American women, America will hasten to enact pro-wife beating statutes and virtue police, to keep the price of oil below $500 a barrel.
Obama cannot hold out American support against Iran as a "reward" for cooperating in the peace process. Iran's ambitions, nuclear and otherwise, are a direct threat to the United States. Conditioning American action on Iran on Israeli support for the peace process is like a parent threatening to go on a hunger strike if baby won't eat their spinach. Nor can "support of the Arab world" have any weight in the confrontations with Iran. The Arab regimes have no real military know-how to contribute, and no diplomatic or economic weight. They don't have the knowhow that Iranians need, they do not produce the sophisticated technology and finished materials that the Iranians need, and they can't persuade Russia or China to support sanctions against Iran. There is no chance Russia or China will support sanctions against Iran, because kicking America out of the Middle East coincides with their own geopolitical ambitions. The Arabs can only help or hurt Iran in relatively marginal ways, and they have more reason to fear Iran than Israel does. There just can't be very much "linkage" between US confrontation of Iran and Israeli concessions in the peace process.
As for Obama's "peace process" strategy, we can be more certain at least, about what it is not. Obama understands that a "revolution of rising expectations" that is not satisfied is quite dangerous. The Second Intifada gave an illustration of what happens when Palestinian Arabs do not get what they want, when they want it. It was only a first installment. There is no indication that Palestinian demands have changed in any way since then. They will not give up Right of Return for Palestinian Arab refugees, and they won't concede a millmeter of sovereignty in historically Jewish areas of East Jerusalem. There is no chance that Obama is leading a peace move in order for it to fail, because the failure would then be blamed on the United States and on him, and he would need to pass on the blame to the usual suspects: Israel and the Jews.  Someone in the administration has already begun to do so, as a New York Times article trumpeted a short while ago:
When Mr. Obama declared that resolving the long-running Middle East dispute was a "vital national security interest of the United States," he was highlighting a change that has resulted from a lengthy debate among his top officials over how best to balance support forIsrael against other American interests.

This shift, described by administration officials who did not want to be quoted by name when discussing internal discussions, is driving the White House's urgency to help broker a Middle East peace deal. It increases the likelihood  that Mr. Obama, frustrated by the inability of the Israelis and the Palestinians
to come to terms, will offer his own proposed parameters for an eventual Palestinian state.

Mr. Obama said conflicts like the one in the Middle East ended up "costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure" -- drawing an explicit link between the Israeli-Palestinian strife and the safety of American soldiers as they battle Islamic extremism and terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Mr. Obama's words reverberated through diplomatic circles in large part because they echoed those of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the military commander overseeing America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In recent Congressional testimony, the general said that the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for the United States. He has denied reports that he was suggesting that soldiers were being put in harm's way by American support for Israel.

But the impasse in negotiations "does create an environment," he said Tuesday in a speech in Washington. "It does contribute, if you will, to the overall environment within which we operate."
The abominable and fallacious nature of the accusation, which is basically that Jews are "costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure" and are at fault for American problems in the Middle East, is matched by its deniability. Obama can deny that is what he meant. Petraeus can deny that is what he meant. He already denied part of the statement. The unnamed source remains unnamed, but next week there will surely be another article like that one, and then another and then another, all citing or hinting at "unnamed sources." The fact that the New York Times would dare to print such drivel implies that that it may be possible. Once the unthinkable is thought, it can be said out loud and written and published. Once it is said and published, it can be done. It doesn't matter what you or I think is absurd. These people believe it. They also believe that the Hamas can be brought into the peace process somehow, even though they are pawns of the Iranians, who would never acquiesce in Hamas participation in a peace process, and even though Hamas insists almost daily that they will never, ever, recognize the right of Israel to exist in any form.
Obama's own strategy, if he has one, is intended vaguely to cover the American retreat in Iraq, which is sure to produce disaster, and  the probable disaster in Afghanistan. Obama tried to ensure Syrian and Iranian non-interference in Iraq with his engagement policies, which so far have met only with disaster.  His plan B is to get Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, in the sure and certain hope that that will somehow miraculously bring about peace. He doesn't appear to have a plan C.
There is no reason whatever to doubt the sincerity of the American administration regarding the peace process, or their commitment to a Palestinian state. The centrality of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a cure-all for the Middle East was laid down as American State Department dogma in 1975 by Harold Saunders. The people who advise Obama and steer State Department policy are of the same persuasion, as they are convinced that before 1967 there were no problems in the Middle East, and as they are convinced likewise, that the 9-11 attacks on the United States, and the enmity shown the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all due to American support of Israel. All the problems would vanish like magic if it were not for Israel, according to them. They must believe that Mr Bin-Laden and Mr. Ahmadinejad will order hundreds of thousands of copies of Playboy magazine to be distributed to their followers, as they are such avid supporters of American values. They do not subscribe in any way to the myth of the "unbreakable bond" between Israel and the United States. They believe, with George Mitchell, that all the settlements are "illegal" and that Israeli Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are "settlements."
It is equally delusional to believe that U.S. policy is solely the fault of the Obama administration. The commitment to a Palestinian state at any cost began in the Bush administration. It was also Mr Bush who sent Mr. Mitchell to the region first, to produce the Mitchell Report that blamed the Second Intifada on Israeli settlement construction.  The continuity of policy is noted in the New York Times article cited above. No U.S. administration has ever recognized Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel. These are not inventions of the Obama administration.
Nor should anyone be fooled by the ritual of speechifying in honor of Israel Independence Day, which produced a spate of hollow protestations of undying love for Israel. Like Mr. Obama's and Ms. Clinton's election campaign rhetoric, these words have no significance for policy. Even if Obama and Clinton love Israel as they love their own child, they have, after all, the example of Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son for his faith.
The good news is that Mr. Obama responds to pressure, regardless of what is the right or wrong solution to the issue. Pressure from insurance companies and tea parties and other special interests caused Mr. Obama to trash the health reform bill into a chaotic hodge-podge, and it will probably do the same to financial reform. Though he has more lee-way on foreign policy, there is no doubt that responsible opposition can serve as a counterweight to his foreign policy "experts," provided that it is clear that the opposition cannot be easily smeared as partisan Republicans, "right wing Zionists" or "settler supporters." The process of decision making is too often driven by greed and pushiness, rather than logic. Anyone who wants to change Middle East policy has to take that into account. The squeaky hinge gets the oil. Until now, supporters of the Palestinians, mindless "end the war protestors and terror groupies have been the squeakiest hinge.
American Jews, mostly liberals but supportive of Israel, were embarrassed by U.S. policy. Most chose silence. Some chose to invent imaginative fables explaining why it is really "good" for Israel if the American administration "engages" Iran and Syria and encourages Palestinian intransigence. Republican Jews produced largely shrill and sometimes racist counter-propaganda that could not be taken seriously.
That's why former New York Mayor Ed Koch's impassioned letter was so important. It is time for everyone, not just Jews, to break the silence, to speak out about policies that are harmful to the vital interests of the United States and based on false beliefs about the Middle East.  Wishful thinking and acquiescence in Obama's policies are not in anyone's best interests.
Ami Isseroff

No comments: