To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Sunday, December 15, 2013

On Iran Nuclear Deal, As On Almost Everything, Neocons Say 'Israel Knows Best'

Ever since eminent American diplomat George Ball published “How to Save Israel From Herself” in Foreign Affairs in 1977, the pro Israel community has been exceptionally sensitive to American policymakers and commentators who feel they know better than Israelis on what’s in the best interest of the Jewish state. Indeed, when Ball, with his son Douglas, published an extended version of the essay, in the form of the 1992 book, A Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement with Israel 1947 to the Present, neocon writer Daniel Pipes said in a review that Ball “changed the way many Israel-haters in America go about their business. Previously, this crowd baldly displayed its hostility to the Jewish state and apologized for Arab trespasses.” Now, Pipes contended, the attacks on Israel are imbued with a “constructive quality,” protecting the author from charges of anti-Semitism and implying “that State Department officials could better judge Israel's interest than its own electorate” in order to justify “overriding Israel's leaders and imposing a solution on them.”

Pipes concluded that Balls “professed affection for the Jewish state was a clever ruse, but it doesn't fool. Wading through the anti-Israel swamp, they spray air-freshener. Who will be surprised that the stench remains?”

More recently, in January 2012 during the neocon smear campaign against Defense nominee Chuck Hagel, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin complained about President Obama’s “deep-seated arrogance and lack of respect for our democratic ally Israel,” when Obama told journalist Jeffery Goldberg that “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” According to Rubin, “The infantilizing of Israel, the only country deemed to be unfit to look after its own interests, is personified in the president’s language.” Around the same time, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens examined what he called “Chuck Hagel’s Jewish Problem” charging that Hagel’s views on Israel were “the sort of thing one often hears from people who treat Israel as the Mideast equivalent of a neighborhood drunk who, for his own good, needs to be put in the clink to sober him up.”

I don’t agree with very much these commentators have to say these days, their McCarthyesque smear campaign against Hagel representing one of the ugliest, offensive and un-American things I’ve seen in thirty years observing American politics. But I do agree that it is patronizing and paternalistic for the US to say Israel doesn’t know what is in its best interests, although I don’t think everyone who uses this rhetorical line is anti Semitic.

So it’s ironic to hear neocons express the same kind of dismissive condescension toward their own country’s efforts to pursue a diplomatic deal with Iran to forestall that country’s development of nuclear weapons, placing a inordinate amount of confidence in Israel that they reject when the shoe is on the other foot.  Ironic but not surprising, given the double standards, the lack of self awareness and the chauvinistic grandiosity, as well as divided loyalties that permeate the pro Israel worldview as expressed by its most ardent ideological warriors.

For them, when it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, not only does Israel know what’s in its own best interests, it knows better than the US and the rest of “the West” what’s best for them too.

As the deal was being finalized in Geneva in late November, one post by Jennifer Rubin, headlined “Who Will Defend the West?”, said:

Whether or not a deal is struck few expect Iran to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions. It may be the tiny Jewish state (albeit one with a first-rate military) in a sea of Arab lands that steps up to the plate to defend itself, its Sunni neighbors and the West. Winston Churchill, in his 1921 visit to what was then Palestine, may have been prophetic when he said, “I believe that the establishment of the a Jewish National Home in Palestine will be a blessing to the whole world, a blessing to the Jewish race scattered all over the world, and a blessing to Great Britain. . . . The hope of your race [the Jewish people] for so many centuries will be gradually realized here, not only for your own good but for the good of all the world.” Israel would quite literally be doing just that if forced to strike Iran.“

If the Obama administration failed to come to its senses, Rubin concluded, Israel will have to act just as Churchill saw it acting: ‘not only for [its] own good but for the good of all the world.’”

At a Yeshiva University panel in late October where billionaire Sheldon Adelson set forth his plan for the US to send a nuclear missile into the Iran desert as a warning shot to discourage Tehran’s atomic ambitions, Bret Stephens acknowledged that an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would not be without unforeseen consequences, but that

…the perfectly foreseeable consequence of an Iran with nuclear weapons is a catastrophe for the state of Israel and by the way, a catastrophe for the United States as well. … More than once in the last 60 years it has been Israel that has saved the United States from foreign policy disasters and Americans ought to recognize that. In 1981, against the objections of Reagan administration Israel did what had to be done to stop Iraq from gaining a nuclear weapon, and it was only ten years later that then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney recognized what a contribution that Israel had made to western security then. We’re coming up on that moment now.” 

Likewise, Bill Kristol in the Weekly Standard:Netanyahu may well judge that he has to act to stop the Iranian regime from getting nuclear weapons. If he does, then Israel will fight. And Israel will be right.”

The spectacle of Israel’s neocon supporters putting more stock in Netanyahu than their own government prompted the Times’Bill Keller to make a comparison between the “rearguard actions” against a diplomatic solution being waged against Iranian hardliners and their American neocons counterparts---a comparison that was overdrawn to be sure, but not without some merit. Both, argued Keller

believe America’s role in the Middle East revolves in large measure around Israel. To the Iranian hard core, Israel is a nuclear-armed interloper and America’s conjoined infidel twin; to their American counterparts Israel’s values and interests are inextricable from our own, and Benjamin Netanyahu is a more trustworthy defender of our security than Barack Obama.  

Israeli leftist Uri Avnery was even more harsh in highlighting the “Israel Knows Best” dynamic in Congress, a much more important theatre of action than the necon commentariat, as the Israel lobby strives in the coming months to undo the interim deal with Iran by passing harsher sanctions and by hyping any lapse in Iranian compliance, or anything that can be made to look like a lapse.  As Avnery sees it:  

Senator after Senator, Congressman after Congressman comes forward to support the Israeli government against their own president. The same people who jumped up and down like string puppets when Netanyahu made his last speech before both houses of Congress, try to outdo each other in assertions of their undying loyalty to Israel.

This is now done in the open, in an exhibition of shamelessness. Several Senators and Congressmen declare publicly that they have been briefed by the Israeli intelligence services, and they trust them more than the intelligence agencies of the USA. Not one of them said the opposite.

This would have been unthinkable if any other country was involved, say Ireland or Italy, from which many Americans are descended. The “Jewish State” stands unique, a kind of inverse anti-Semitism. 

 ….The senators and representatives are no fools (not all of them, in any case). They have a clear purpose: to be re-elected. They know on which side their bread is buttered. AIPAC has demonstrated, in several test cases, that it can unseat any senator or congressman who does not toe the straight Israeli line. One sentence of implied criticism of Israeli policies suffices to doom a candidate. Politicians prefer open shame and ridicule to political suicide. No kamikaze pilots in Congress.

…This is not a new situation. It is at least several decades old. What is new is that it is now out in the open, without embellishment.

In fact Avnery is wrong, at least on one count. The action is not going to be out on the open. It will be much more subtle and covert, with the kind of vigilance needed to verify Iranian compliance becoming very hard to tell from the kind of vigilance used to fabricate public alarm along the lines of the infamous high-strength aluminum tubes Colin Powell cited in his speech to the UN about Saddam’s WMD program. 

We are in for ride, with a lot of conflicting information and evidence on the Iranian program being tried in the media. In fact, Israel may find credible evidence on Iranian nuclear cheating supplied by others. But the reflexiveness with which Rubin, Stephens and Kristol place their confidence in a foreign government over their own makes it easy to ignore them going forward. The notion that Israel is “A Light Onto The Nations," may be a source of communal pride. But it does not necessarily encourage the kind of clarity needed to parse Iran's murky nuclear doings.