In the Arena

Clarification: Israel’s National Security

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A few hours ago, I received an anguished email from my friend Jeff Goldberg, who was incensed that I’d written this sentence:

“It’s another thing entirely to send American kids off to war, yet again, to fight for Israel’s national security.” [emphasis his]

Jeff had jumped to a silly conclusion. I was concerned about sending American kids off to war yet again. I separated the phrase with commas in order to emphasize the too-many-times we’ve sent our troops overseas in the past decade. It might have been more accurate if I’d written “to send American kids off to war yet again–this time, to fight for Israel’s national security.” Which I believe is what the warmongering against Iran is all about. But the thought that we’d gone to war in the past, especially in Iraq, to fight for Israel’s national security was nowhere in my mind. Nowhere. I don’t believe we’ve ever gone to war to fight for Israel’s national security. Period.

Let me add a few points:

1. I also received a note from a writer for the Jewish publication, The Tablet, wondering (a) if I associated myself with Ron Paul’s foreign policy in general or just with his position on Iran and (b) saying that I was probably going to get hammered as Tom Friedman was last week when he said that the Congress had been bought by the Israel Lobby. To answer the first part–and as regular readers of mine surely know–I don’t associate myself with Paul’s foreign policy, although I sympathize with many of the points he makes, especially about our overreaction to Islamic terrorism since 9/11. Unlike Paul, I am in favor of  most counter-terrorism operations, including drone strikes, that are targeted against those who are intending to do us harm.

2. The reaction from assorted Israel First/Likudnik bloviators to Tom Friedman’s comment has been absurd. If you don’t think that the Israel Lobby has an enormous influence on the Congress, you’re deluding yourself. Actually, Tom neglected to mention a far more powerful force that has influenced Congressional opinion on Israel: the evangelical Christians who believe that Israel’s existence is a necessary precursor to the Rapture scenario. I find these people creepy…especially since their Armageddon scenario is shared by–wait for it–Hizballah, which believes the Mahdi will return and lead the forces of righteousness in battle at Armageddon. (I’m pretty sure the Jesus I’ve read about in the New Testament would have nothing to do with this Armageddon nonsense.)

3. The evangelicals have a particularly heavy thumb on the scales in any given Republican presidential campaign. That is why both Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann said they believed that the Iranians would launch as soon as they perfected a nuclear weapon. Their primary piece of evidence is the ravings about Israel by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad–but he doesn’t have any power over Iran’s nuclear program or its military. The Supreme Leader, who has the power, is never mentioned by Gingrich or Bachmann…because he hasn’t said the wild things that Ahmadinejad has about Israel. This is sleazy, dangerous politics.

4. I don’t think Israel needs us, or anyone else, to fight for its national security. I do think there were American neoconservatives–hell, I know they existed, I interviewed them–who favored the war in Iraq because they believed it would make Israel’s neighborhood more secure. But I think Dick Cheney convinced George W. Bush to go to war–foolishly, imprudently, disastrously–because he believed that the US had to teach potential terrorists a lesson and that our tentative victory in Afghanistan wasn’t sufficient to make the case. I don’t think Bush or Cheney worried for one moment about Israel’s security.

5. I’m very much in favor of ongoing, joint US and Israeli attempts to sabotage the Iranian nuclear weaponization program. I’m also in favor of the UN sanctions regime, which–if you talk to Iranians–is having an impact. I think any sort of pre-emptive bombing campaign against Iran would be more of the same sort of thoughtless, macho, neo-colonialism as we suffered during the Bush years.

6. I’m far more worried about Pakistan–which, amazingly, goes unmentioned by the Republican presidential candidates–than I am about Iran when it comes to nuclear weapons. Pakistan has them, about 100 of them. It has a military riddled with jihadists. It is very much ripe for a coup. Iran, by contrast, is sadly stable; the regime is a military dictatorship with a patina of religious extremism. Undoubtedly, it wants to have nukes as a deterrent against Israel and, to a lesser extent, Pakistan–I’ve spoken with both Mossad and CIA analysts who scoff at the Gingrich/Bachmann scenario. Would the world be a better place if Iran doesn’t get the bomb? Definitely. But would an Iranian bomb be any different from a Soviet bomb? I don’t think so. The use of containment and deterrence will succeed against the Iranians, just as it did with the Soviets. The Iranians took a million casualties in the war against Iraq; it was a constant topic of conversation during my visits to Iran, a memory still raw and harsh. Iranians don’t want their country incinerated.

7. I’m dismayed by the crazed intolerance of many right-wing Jewish commentators these days. I’m dismayed that they consider people like Tom Friedman and me anti-Israel. We’re not. I can’t speak for Tom, but I’ve supported Israel’s right to exist all my life–I even supported the Israeli strike into Gaza a few years ago; you simply can’t allow an enemy to continue lobbing rockets at your civilians. But I do have grave differences with the Netanyahu government, particularly when it comes to the illegal settlements on the West Bank. And I find that the tendency to dehumanize all Arabs, especially Palestinians, and all Persians to be un-Jewish in the extreme.

Jewish tradition and culture has always been about tolerance and understanding in a world too often hateful and barbaric. It’s very distressing when the thugs and barbarians turn out to be Jewish, but that, sadly, is what we’ve been seeing–especially since Barack Obama became President.

Update: In a perfect example of neoconservative thuggery, Elliot Abrams accuses Friedman and me of “blood libel.” I like Elliot. I think he’s a pretty smart guy. But sometimes, a feckless shmuck.

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