Roger Cohen’s January 16th column in The New York Times, “Don’t Do It, Bibi” is only the latest in the Obama election campaign’s efforts to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to take a serious risk at Israel’s being nuked by a nuclear Iran rather than cause any ripples in President Obama campaign for re-election to a second term.
Mr. Cohen begins his rant by quoting the purported advice of an unnamed American ambassador in Europe declaring Mr. Netanyahu to be an ingrate for all that the Obama administration has done for Israel, and strongly suggests the Israeli Prime Minister should “above all stay out of our election-year politics.”
According to Mr. Cohen, President Obama’s is justifiably furious with the Mr. Netanyahu because he had the audacity to “go over his head” by speaking “to a Republican-dominated Congress” even though it was Congress that invited him; again “ingratitude for solid U.S. support”, including in the UN; and the Netanyahu government’s refusal to declare a second freeze on building houses for Jews over the 1949 armistice lines “for the sake of peace negotiations” even though the first unprecedented freeze failed to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiations table. But for Mr. Cohen, Obama can do no wrong, and Netanyahu can do no right.
Should anyone think the existential threat to Israel is more serious than Mr. Obama’s re-election next November, Roger Cohen disabuses of this notion. “I would add a further piece of advice to Netanyahu if he cares about his dysfunctional relationship with Obama — and he should because Israelis know the United States matters…,” opines Mr. Cohen. “That advice is: Do not attack Iran this spring or summer.”
Mr. Cohen writes of Netanyahu’s chutzpah for considering bombing Iran, and this “despite a call from Obama last Thursday and messages from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.”
But Mr. Cohen from atop his high horse in The New York Times cuts to the chase: “Then there is the American political calculus. An Israeli strike a few months before the U.S. election in November would stymie Obama. He would be in no position,” Mr. Cohen decries, “to express anger given the clout of the pro-Israel lobby, the important Jewish vote in Florida, and the fulsome support any Israeli bombing would get from the Republican contender.”
But Mr. Cohen is not alone in this barrage to block an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iran. Aaron David Miller, former State Department Mideast advisor, brings the same message in his November 8, 2011, article in Foreign Policy wherein he brings five reasons that Israel “might want to think long and hard about preemptively striking Iran's nuclear facilities.”
True, “Sanctions may never prevent the Iranians from acquiring a weapon, but they do have some impact,” Mr. Miller says.” Impact perhaps, whatever that means, but anything less than stopping Iran’s producing nuclear weapons is irrelevant.
“An Israeli attack could undermine all that good work,” decides Mr. Miller. “An Israeli attack might be quietly welcomed by the rulers of some Persian Gulf states, but it would be viewed on the Arab street as another example of Israeli aggression and US double standards.”
Mr. Miller admits “The fact that Israel faces an existential threat may understandably lead it to downplay the costs to others, particularly to the United States. After all, it's easy enough for Americans to assume, living thousands of miles away, that Iran is a rational actor and would never use a nuclear weapon against Israel….. Israelis, of course, maintain that the threat of retaliation is not an acceptable deterrent and will look to their own interests first” – “their own interests” is Mr. Miller’s euphemism for not gambling with their national survival.
Mr. Miller writes: “The Iranian capacity to strike the continental UnitedState may be limited, but the capacity to wage a clandestine war against US and Israeli interests across the Middle East is far more formidable.” In other words, until now, Iran has refrained from waging a clandestine war against US and Israeli interests, but if Israel attacks, then all bets are off.
“If the Israelis strike, the United States is necessarily involved,” warns Mr. Miller. “There's no way that an Israeli strike comes off without major complications and a military response against US interests.” Again, if the US has any problems with Iran, it is Israel’s fault. The idea being until Israel attacks Iran, the US has no Iranian problem.
Mr. Obama’s fantastical Iran policy was put under the harsh light of reality by General John M. Keane (ret.), former US Army Vice Chief of Staff, in testimony before the US House Homeland Security and House Intelligence Committee on October 26, 2011. Excerpts include:
“Indeed, Republican and Democratic administrations since 1980 have failed to deal effectively with the harsh reality that Iran is our number one strategic enemy in the world….they have been systematically killing us for over 30 years,” the General said.
“Since 2003 in Iraq the Iranians have provided rockets, mortars, enhanced IED’S and money to the Shia Militia who were directly involved in killing U.S. troops in Iraq,” General Keane said. “Moreover, the Iraq Shia Militia were trained by the Iranian special operations force, the Qods Force, at training bases in Iran…… Similarly, the Iranians are supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan with money and ammunition.”
“… It is time to review our strategy for Iran against the harsh reality that despite our rhetoric, attempts to negotiate, isolate and sanction, the fact is the Iranians continue to use their proxies against US interests and continue to pursue nuclear weapons. Therefore, one must conclude the obvious that, our policy has failed and failed miserably……if we continue the half measures of the past the Iranians will continue to kill us, will continue to sponsor terrorism and use their proxies against our interests and will continue to pursue nuclear weapons,” declared General Keane, concluding, “The next nightmare for the world is around the corner, an unchecked Iran with nuclear weapons.”
While President Obama has apparently decided that he can either community organizer style talk the Mullahs to drop their aspirations for nuclear domination of …well, the world, or he has already decided, irrespective of public pronouncements, that a nuclear Iran is something that America and her allies can live with after all is said and done – or not done in Mr. Obama’s case.
Then why is Mr. Obama and friends so concerned? It’s all about the re-election campaign. No matter how serious the threat, Israel is forbidden to rock the Obama re-election boat. Mr. Netanyahu should keep quiet and stop making Iran an issue.
Nonetheless, the Iranian nuclear threat is fast becoming a significant political football which Republican presidential contenders see Mr. Obama fumbling in a big way.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll (November 23, 2011), American voters, 60 – 33 percent, say that economic sanctions to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons aren’t effective, and 50 percent say the US should take military action to stop Iran if sanctions don’t work. Moreover, 88 percent perceive Iran’s nuclear program as a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” threat to US national security with “no disagreement from any group.”
Politically the situation has not improved for Mr. Obama. According to a January 15th Washington Post-ABC News poll: Americans disapprove of the way Obama has handled the possibility of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons by a 48 to 33 percent margin.
Thus Scott Clement in the January 18th Foreign Policy: “The economy and unemployment rate will almost certainly remain top issues throughout the campaign, but Obama's Republican challengers see an opening and have already drawn parallels between weakness in the US economy and Obama's positioning with Iran. In a November debate,” Mr. Clement points out, “Mitt Romney called Iran ‘the gravest threat to America and the world’ and said that Obama ‘did not do what was necessary to get Iran to be dissuaded from their nuclear folly.’”
Whether or not Israel launches a pre-emptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities will be based on the reality on the ground after all other options have been exhausted. Ultimately, the Netanyahu government will do what is best for Israel. Hopefully, the Obama administration will be able to move past politics and do the same for America. The odds are it will be same.
The author is a veteran journalist specializing in geo-political and geo-strategic affairs in the Middle East. His articles have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, Insight Magazine, Nativ, The Jerusalem Post and Makor Rishon. His articles have been reprinted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the US Congressional Record.