Israel Lobby and War on Iran
Saturday, April 24, 2010 6:57 PM
From: “Stephen Sniegoski”
In his Foreign Policy blog, Stephen Walt, co-author of “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” is trying to determine why US leaders are planning to impose more sanctions on Iran or adopt even more drastic military measures.
Walt observes that Iran does not threaten the US in any real way and leaves the question unanswered. Of course, Walt could find the reason if he looked at the title of his co-authored book. And if he really could not come up with this answer, he should undergo a medical examination for memory loss.
Everyone familiar with American politics knows the immense power of the Israel lobby, but they also know it is not safe to discuss its power publicly. In a review of Walt’s faux predicament, Justin Raimondo points out:
“This lobby unites the broadest coalition in American politics, ranging from the left wing of the Democratic party all the way to the furthest reaches of the ultra-right, not to mention including the bipartisan political establishment in Washington.”
Raimondo, I believe, goes a bit far in claiming that neocons had a major impact on shaping American foreign policy globally. I would limit their major impact to the Middle East, which since 9/11 has been the fundamental area of US concern. And, with this caveat, I would agree with Raimondo that “The present administration, for all its talk of ‘change,’ has continued to operate within the same paradigm.” Once the US began to pursue the neocons’ Middle East war agenda, it has become politically difficult to get off that track.
While neocons stood out in the push for war with Iraq, the full Israel lobby and Israel itself, though supportive of that war, stayed mostly in the background. The role of Israel is far more overt in regard to Iran. “Here,” Raimondo writes, “the power of the Israel lobby is rearing up to its full height, with Israeli government officials openly calling on the nations of the world – i.e. the United States – to commit acts of war against Iran: impose sanctions, set up a blockade, and effect ‘regime change’ by whatever means. And Israel’s amen corner in the US is echoing this call, with the drumbeat for war getting louder by the month.”
Raimondo holds that the force preventing an attack on Iran is the American people. “Our leaders,” he writes, “are afraid of the public reaction if it should ever come to war, and so the President and his administration are caught in a vise, pressed by fear of the Lobby on one side, and fear of their own people on the other.” I must admit that I have less faith in the wisdom of the American people than Raimondo and fear that the administration, if it truly wanted war, could come up with an incident to generate the necessary public support.
What then prevents Obama from going to war? First, I think it is apparent that Obama would not attack Iran if it were not for outside pressure, but he is a rather weak reed to oppose the Israel lobby. Without substantial support, Obama, like almost all politicians, would cave in to the demands of the powerful Israel lobby.
The traditional foreign policy establishment, however, opposes such a war because it would be harmful to the American national interest, especially because it could lead to a cut-off of Middle Eastern oil that would send the industrial world into an economic tailspin. It is this thinking that prevails among the unelected individuals in the national security/foreign policy sectors of the federal government. I might add, however, that few members of the traditional foreign policy establishment dare to mention that the Israel lobby is pushing the country to war. These people have important positions and thus have much to lose (and probably a few skeletons in their closets), and don’t believe that they are sufficiently powerful to withstand a smear attack by the Israel lobby and its minions in Congress and the media.
(The Israel lobby’s hounding of former ambassador Chas Freeman when he was nominated chairman of the National Intelligence Council in 2009 is an example of the difficulties of one who openly opposed the Israel lobby.)
Obama must realize, however, that opposing the Israel lobby on an issue it deems vital could spell political death for any politician. This could certainly be the case for Obama in his current politically precarious position. Not only could the Democrats suffer extensive losses in the 2010 congressional elections, but Obama could be defeated in 2012 by the appropriate Republican opponent. General David Petraeus, for example, who is very much in the neocon camp, but not branded as a right-winger, would especially be difficult for a weakened Obama to defeat.
On the other hand, as Raimondo writes, war might serve “the interests of a politically beleaguered, increasingly unpopular President or party to divert public attention away from domestic problems by launching a campaign of fear.” War especially would be seen as a viable option if Obama’s popularity were to fall to such a low level that only something drastic could save him; wars certainly unite a country, a least for a short period, behind the leader.
So while war with Iran is not a certainty, neither is it unlikely. As Ron Paul points out, the Iran sanctions legislation now in Congress would be major step toward war.
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The Making of American Foreign Policy
Posted By Justin Raimondo On April 20, 2010 @ 11:00 pm In Uncategorized | 38 Comments
Writing on his Foreign Policy blog, Stephen Walt notes the uptick in war hysteria directed at Iran, and, like a good realist, looks at the US-Iranian military equation with a cold-eyed attention to facts and figures. He lists the huge military and economic disparities in favor of the US, bare numbers that speak truth to war propaganda, and then wonders aloud:
“The more one thinks about it, the odder our obsession with Iran appears. It’s a pretty unlovable regime, to be sure, but given Iran’s actual capabilities, why do U.S. leaders devote so much time and effort trying to corral support for more economic sanctions (which aren’t going to work) or devising strategies to ‘contain’ an Iran that shows no sign of being able to expand in any meaningful way?”
In search of an answer to this puzzling question, Walt goes on to explore the non-military aspects of the Middle Eastern conflict, averring that “simple bean counts like the one presented above do not tell you everything about the two countries, or the political challenges that Iran might pose to its neighbors.” Pointing to Iranian support for Hezbollah and influence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Walt nevertheless urges us not to overstate the alleged Iranian “threat” and allow ourselves to be stampeded into another unnecessary war. One couldn’t agree more, and yet I can’t help but notice Walt failed to answer his own question: why are our “leaders” devoting so much time and effort to corral support for murderous sanctions (remember Iraq) and other acts of war?
The answer, of course, is contained in the pages of a book Walt co-authored, with John Mearsheimer, that tells a good part of the story. The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy is invariably described as “controversial,” or even “extremely controversial,” but this is merely an indication of how tame our political discourse has become in the Republic’s late senescence. In reality the book merely demonstrates, at length and in great detail, a simple truism that everyone already knows and long ago learned to live with: the decisive influence of Israel’s partisans in the formulation and conduct of US foreign policy.
This dominant position has been true since the Reagan years, and, what’s more, it has been common knowledge: after all, it was Fortune magazine, not The National Socialist News, that rated the Israel lobby the second most powerful in Washington. This lobby unites the broadest coalition in American politics, ranging from the left wing of the Democratic party all the way to the furthest reaches of the ultra-right, not to mention including the bipartisan political establishment in Washington.
A huge ongoing propaganda campaign is constantly churning out pro-Israel materials directed at a wide variety of special interest groups: the lobby’s most well-known success story is the Christian fundamentalist faction, which believes in the key role played by Israel as a harbinger of the second coming of Christ. The lobby has parlayed this into a powerful domestic constituency fanatically devoted to Israel’s cause – and not just the cause of the current Israeli government, but of the most extremist and expansionist elements in the Israeli polity.
A less well-known triumph of niche marketing is the Israeli propaganda effort directed at the gay community. The Israeli government has sponsored ads appearing in San Francisco’s bus shelters extolling the IDF because it doesn’t discriminate against gays, and a recent tour of Israel’s gay hot spots promises a visit with hunky IDF soldiers. Pat Robertson and the advocates of gay liberation – together at last!
We’re an empire now, and it’s perfectly rational for every state actor in the world who wants something from Uncle Sam to not only show up at the imperial court in Washington and seek the favor of the most powerful ruler in world history, but also to make an appeal to his subjects. Since Congress long ago ceded its war-making and oversight powers to the executive, an American president, once in office, can wreak considerable havoc in the conduct of our foreign affairs
Yet even Caesar operates under certain constraints: i.e. the vicissitudes of domestic politics, which require him to hand out favors to his supporters in order to remain in power beyond the next election. It is safe to say, with certain rare exceptions, that every political leader acts purely out of his own self-interest: that is, with an eye to either achieving political office or else retaining that office once elected. This is merely a restatement of a simple axiom: every ruling class acts to preserve its rule.
The American elite, however, is particularly ruthless, these days, in its pursuit of naked self-interest: the old British idea of politics as a “public service,” a selfless act of noblesse oblige, went out with the first Bush administration, and had been near extinct long before then. Today, it is a veritable free-for-all, with various interest groups lunging at the loot, and battling over it on the public stage, so that American politics often looks like an episode of the Jerry Springer Show.
This vulgarity has carried over into the realm of foreign affairs, coinciding with the rising influence of the neoconservatives. The neocons, whose unabashed appetite for foreign conquests, and open boasts that they were establishing an “American empire,” really defined the style and spirit of the American “hegemon,” whose supremacy they proclaim [.pdf] must be the underlying objective of American foreign policy. The present administration, for all its talk of “change,” has continued to operate within the same paradigm that assumes unchallenged American supremacy the world over.
With such an extremist philosophy, one would think the neocons would’ve had a hard time pushing though their hard-line policies, especially given the much-lamented “isolationism” of the American people, and yet their success hinged on the interests of various interest groups that, together, hardly constitute a majority of the American people, but certainly dominate the “higher circles” in government, in the business world, and in the media. Using this leverage, the War Party’s coalition of ideological, business, and foreign interests managed to whip up a storm of war hysteria against Iraq very similar to what is being whipped up today against Iran.
With one big difference: there is very little pretense being made as to whose interests a war against Iran is designed to serve, unlike in the previous instance. Here the power of the Israel lobby is rearing up to its full height, with Israeli government officials openly calling on the nations of the world – i.e. the United States – to commit acts of war against Iran: impose sanctions, set up a blockade, and effect “regime change” by whatever means. And Israel’s amen corner in the US is echoing this call, with the drumbeat for war getting louder by the month. Only a war-weary public, presently embroiled in bitter domestic internecine disputes, stands in the way of their success.
Our leaders are afraid of the public reaction if it should ever come to war, and so the President and his administration are caught in a vise, pressed by fear of the Lobby on one side, and fear of their own people on the other. On the one hand, a war at the height of an economic depression might be just the trick for turning things around politically. On the other hand, the backlash could be terrible, and politically fatal, like prematurely awakening a wild animal from hibernation – there’s always the danger it will turn on you. Under these circumstances, will they dare to go ahead with it?
In earnestly looking for some external reason for the drive to war – some geopolitical dynamic that would explain the inordinate attention paid to a weak adversary whose ability to hurt us is severely constrained – it’s no wonder Professor Walt came up empty-handed. No such dynamic exists: what does exist, however, is American politics, the course of which determines the policies we pursue overseas. There is no disinterested determination of where our interests, as a nation, lie, or what course would best protect the citizens of this country from attack: what is being protected, here, is not the physical and economic safety of the American people, but the particular interests of certain politicians and their supporters.
Will we go to war with Iran? No one knows. But if it serves the interests of a politically beleaguered, increasingly unpopular President or party to divert public attention away from domestic problems by launching a campaign of fear – The Iranians are coming! The Iranians are coming! – and creating a “crisis,” well then, war is hardly inconceivable. Indeed, it seems more likely by the day.
More hype about Iran?
Posted By Stephen M. Walt Tuesday, April 20, 2010 – 12:15 PM Share
Back when I started writing this blog, I warned that the idea of preventive war against Iran wasn’t going to go away just because Barack Obama was president. The topic got another little burst of oxygen over the past few days, in response to what seems to have been an over-hyped memorandum from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and some remarks by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, following a speech at Columbia University. In particular, Mullen noted that military action against Iran could “go a long way” toward delaying Iran’s acquisition of a weapons capability, though he also noted this could only be a “last resort” and made it clear it was not an option he favored.
One of the more remarkable features about the endless drumbeat of alarm about Iran is that it pays virtually no attention to Iran’s actual capabilities, and rests on all sorts of worst case assumptions about Iranian behavior. Consider the following facts, most of them courtesy of the 2010 edition of The Military Balance, published annually by the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies in London:
GDP: United States — 13.8 trillion
Iran –$ 359 billion (U.S. GDP is roughly 38 times greater than Iran’s)
Defense spending (2008):
U.S. — $692 billion
Iran — $9.6 billion (U.S. defense budget is over 70 times larger than Iran)
U.S.–1,580,255 active; 864,547 reserves (very well trained)
Iran– 525,000 active; 350,000 reserves (poorly trained)
U.S. — 4,090 (includes USAF, USN, USMC and reserves)
Iran — 312 (serviceability questionable)
Main battle tanks:
U.S. — 6,251 (Army + Marine Corps)
Iran — 1,613 (serviceability questionable)
U.S. — 11 aircraft carriers, 99 principal surface combatants, 71 submarines, 160 patrol boats, plus large auxiliary fleet
Iran — 6 principal surface combatants, 10 submarines, 146 patrol boats
U.S. — 2,702 deployed, >6,000 in reserve
Iran — Zero
One might add that Iran hasn’t invaded anyone since the Islamic revolution, although it has supported a number of terrorist organizations and engaged in various forms of covert action. The United States has also backed terrorist groups and conducted covert ops during this same period, and attacked a number of other countries, including Panama, Grenada, Serbia, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq (twice), and Afghanistan.
By any objective measure, therefore, Iran isn’t even on the same page with the United States in terms of latent power, deployed capabilities, or the willingness to use them. Indeed, Iran is significantly weaker than Israel, which has roughly the same toal of regular plus reserve military personnel and vastly superior training. Israel also has more numerous and modern armored and air capabilities and a sizeable nuclear weapons stockpile of its own. Iran has no powerful allies, scant power-projection capability, and little ideological appeal. Despite what some alarmists think, Iran is not the reincarnation of Nazi Germany and not about to unleash some new Holocaust against anyone.
The more one thinks about it, the odder our obsession with Iran appears. It’s a pretty unloveable regime, to be sure, but given Iran’s actual capabilities, why do U.S. leaders devote so much time and effort trying to corral support for more economic sanctions (which aren’t going to work) or devising strategies to “contain” an Iran that shows no sign of being able to expand in any meaningful way? Even the danger that a future Iranian bomb might set off some sort of regional arms race seems exaggerated, according to an unpublished dissertation by Philipp Bleek of Georgetown University. Bleek’s thesis examines the history of nuclear acquisition since 1945 and finds little evidence for so-called “reactive proliferation.” If he’s right, it suggests that Iran’s neighbors might not follow suit even if Iran did “go nuclear” at some point in the future).
Obviously, simple bean counts like the one presented above do not tell you everything about the two countries, or the political challenges that Iran might pose to its neighbors. Iran has engaged in a number of actions that are cause for concern (such as its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon), and it has some capacity to influence events in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, as we have learned in both of these countries, objectively weaker adversaries can still mount serious counterinsurgency operations against a foreign occupier. And if attacked, Iran does have various retaliatory options that we would find unpleasant, such as attacking shipping in the Persian Gulf. So Iran’s present weakness does not imply that the United States can go ahead and bomb it with impunity.
What it does mean is that we ought to keep this relatively minor “threat” in perspective, and not allow the usual threat-inflators to stampede us into another unnecessary war. My impression is that Admiral Mullen and SecDef Gates understand this. I hope I’m right. But I’m still puzzled as to why the Obama administration hasn’t tried the one strategy that might actually get somewhere: take the threat of force off the table, tell Tehran that we are willing to talk seriously about the issues that bother them (as well as the items that bother us), and try to cut a deal whereby Iran ratifies and implements the NPT Additional Protocol and is then permitted to enrich uranium for legitimate purposes (but not to weapons-grade levels). It might not work, of course, but neither will our present course of action or the “last resort” that Mullen referred to last weekend.