American Presidential politics: The Israel-Iran factor
At his press conference this afternoon, President Obama was asked to respond to Mitt Romneyâ€™s number one applause line on Iran: If Obama is reelected, Iran will get a nuclear bomb.
Obama replied that intelligence officials still believe that thereâ€™s a â€świndow of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically.â€ť
… when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, Iâ€™m reminded of the costs involved in war. Iâ€™m reminded of the decision that I have to make, in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy…
If some of these folks [Republican presidential candidates .. and Netanuahu?] think that itâ€™s time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.
If American politics seem particularly bizarre in this current micro-era of extreme polarisation, one is jolted from idle smugness by remembering what’s at stake. When the Supreme Court allowed W to take the keys from Gore, despite losing by half a million votes, it set in place the kind of White House (Cheney-led) that has bequeathed us ten years of extraordinary, compoundingly complex global turmoil.
Right now US politics is dealing with the tense possibilities of an election year with a set of unappealing Republican candidates (the most moderate, Romney, styles himself as “severly conservative”) and an unpredictable insertion of an Israel lobby and an Iran war scenario. That’s more stakes than W’s cattle ranch.
This aspect is not reported much in Australia, but you can follow the ins and outs via the indispensable aggregation and close observations of Andrew Sullivan at The Dish. I pointed to his earlier unnerving (terrifying) prediction that: ‘Netanyahu, in league and concert with Romney, Santorum and Gingrich, will make his move to get rid of Obama soon. And he will be more lethal to this president than any of his domestic foes.’
Which still sounds wild to me but when you listen to Romney-Santorum-Gingrich speak on the matter, your disbelief begins levitating:
‘The only thing respected by thugs and tyrants is our resolve, backed by our power and our readiness to use it’ . . .Â ‘If Iran doesn’t get rid of nuclear facilities, we will tear them down ourselves’ . . . ‘The red line is now . . . any threat to close the Straits of Hormuz would be considered an act of war and we will eliminate the government of Iran.’
AIPAC: Bigger than SuperPAC
One of the de riguer parts of the campaign is an address to the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee*) — the ritual is to assure the American-Israel lobby that the US is firmly, fully, unconditionally behind Israel; essentially it’s a version of fundamentalistism. Obama’s formula this year is ‘The United States will always have Israel’s back.’ Santorum’s unwitty riposte: ‘[Obama] has turned his back on the people of Israel.’
Nuance doesn’t play well in big canvas politics but one can see, politically underread as one may be, that Obama is both fully informed and considered in this thorough interview with the Atlantic‘s Jeff Goldberg. And Obama airs a little whinge, which feels curiously naive: ‘Every single commitment I have made to the state of Israel and its security, I have kept . . . Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they’ve had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?’
(See Andrew Sullivan’s reading here: So you see the long game here as well. He maximizes non-military pressure on Iran, holds Israel at bay from unilateral action, and then promises to follow through in a second term by military strike if necessary.)
And it’s all mixed in with the Citizens United ruling on campaign financing — Gingrich’s billionaire backer is Sheldon Adelson, an Israel hawk, who also happens to own Israel Hayom, the Israeli right wing tabloid and one of the great supporters of Netanyahu.
The are many dots and somehow they all join up. It’s not a conspiracy because a whole lot of it is happening right in front of microphones. So, you wonder, is this true?: ‘Channel 2 in Israel, sourcing a â€śsenior American officialâ€ť, says that the decision has already been made by the Israeli government to attack Iranâ€™s nuclear facilities.’
More stakes than a season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No higher stakes than a new war in the middle east.
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*AIPAC is the largest pro-Israel lobby in the US. I jsut heard the WaPo’s Karen Tumulty say oin NPR that there were around 13,000 people attending that AIPAC speech!)