Some interesting foreign policy developments over the weekend:
1. Obama’s Speech: The President gave a strong but, I believe, flawed speech to AIPAC on Sunday. He warned against the warmongering toward Iran that has overtaken some of the noisier precincts of the Jewish and evangelical communities. But then he bowed to the AIPAC crowd by saying that “containment” was not his policy with regard to the Iranian nuclear program. This directly contradicted his previous policy–which was that all options were on the table. Containment happens to be the option favored by most non-neocon foreign policy experts; it was a policy that proved a huge success against the Soviet Union, which threatened our national security far more profoundly than Iran does. Former CIA analyst and regional expert Paul Pillar makes the case for sanity in the next issue of the Washington Monthly.
The unseemly war-whoopery will only be amplified at AIPAC’s annual meeting when the Republican candidates for President, including the bought and paid for Newt Gingrich, add fuel to the fire on Tuesday. Any unprovoked war with Iran would be crazy. It is a real country–not a cobbled-together colonial whim like Iraq–with strong national pride, a great historic culture and probably the best educated populace in the region, outside of Israel. An attack on Iran would unify the populace, even those who find the current government disgraceful. The U.S. military and intelligence services oppose such an effort. It is very disappointing to see the Jewish community leading the charge for this foolish course of action.
2.Iran’s election: Happily, the Republican candidates are not going to have the powerless demagogue Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to kick around much longer. As I predicted here a few weeks ago, candidates favored by the Supreme Leader romped in Iran’s parliamentary elections over the weekend. It now seems likely that impeachment proceedings will be brought against Ahmadinejad and that the Iranian constitution may be rewritten to eliminate the post of president. In other words, all power would be concentrated in the hands of the Supreme Leader. This is clearly a major development in the 33 year history of the Islamic Republic. And, oddly enough, those of us who hope for a return to sanity in Iran will have to be rooting for some of the more reasonable elements of the Revolutionary Guard to limit the power-hungry, uncompromising Khamenei in the coming decision over whether to pursue a nuclear weapon and, ultimately, in the long-term struggle for control–especially in the naming of a successor. (In classic North Korean fashion, Khamenei wants his son to take over.)
3. I caught Newt Gingrich ranting about the President on Meet the Press yesterday morning. He said Obama was making war against the Catholic church while apologizing the radical muslims for the Quran burnings in Afghanistan. This is obnoxious on several levels. First, the Republican notion that the President of the United States should never apologize, not even when we’ve made the profound mistake of desecrating Islam’s holy book, is xenophobic nonsense. In this particular case, a presidential response was appropriate and necessary; Obama needed to do what he could to tamp down the violence and save American lives. And anyway, what sort of world leader would we be if we did not acknowledge our mistakes? One with very limited moral authority.
Finally, there’s Gingrich himself. He has lost all credibility to comment on the Islamic world. His campaign is almost entirely funded by Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who is obsessed with Israel and follows an extreme right-wing line. And while Newt has some clever thoughts about domestic policies, any position he takes on foreign policy–especially those policies related to Israel, Iran and Islam–have been tainted by Adelson’s money. He is Adelson’s paid mouthpiece, an entirely embarrassing status. His various bloodthirsty rhetorical exertions may please his master, but they are both dangerous and disgusting.