23 July 2008

Obama, Iran and Israel

The Democratic candidate for President went through all the required motions in Israel. He payed his respects at Yad Vashem, exhorted at by fellow American tourists to remember what he saw. He visited with leaders from the leading Israeli parties, including Benjamin Netanyahu, the nearest thing that country has to a U.S. style Republican. Most importantly, Senator Obama said that a nuclear-armed Iran was a "grave threat" to the world.

By virtue of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, a nuclear-armed Iran would be an outlaw nation. Should Iran arm itself with nuclear weapons, it should be dealt with by an appropriate non-partisan international body, but so should other violators of the treaty. But is an outlaw Iran a "grave threat" to anyone but the Israelis, if even to them? Does Obama expect anyone to believe that Ahmadinejad, who isn't even the master of his own country, is an aspiring world-conqueror? Does he actually interpret Ahmadinejad's stupid rhetoric as a more concrete threat to Israel than Khrushschev's "we will bury you" was to the U.S. in Cold War times?

Obama may fell it necessary to overcompensate for his stated willingness to talk to Ahmadinejad or other Iranian leaders. That's nothing to apologize for, of course; it's the only reasonable stand to take in opposition to the Republican/neocon position that requires surrender as a precondition to negotiation. But the Democrat is probably being realistic, since the Jewish State has far more sympathizers in this country than does the Islamic Republic.However, being realistic during an election campaign shouldn't require Obama to minimize his differences with neocon foreign policy.

It wouldn't be difficult for Obama to claim the high ground vis-a-vis the Republicans or the Iranians. Ideally, all he'd need to do is renounce "regime change" as an instrument of American foreign policy. Doing so would instantly undermine the Iranians' rationale for acquiring nukes, since they portray themselves besieged by the forces of "international arrogance." Renouncing regime change, even without the next step of committing to normalize relations, would put the ball in Iran's court; if the U.S. renounces its intention of toppling an "evil" tyranny, oughtn't Iran in turn renounce its rhetorical warfare on Israel. If the Iranians don't answer in kind, they'd end up looking like the last uncompromising fanatics in the room. To make the contrast more clear, Obama could make it clear to the Israelis that any preemptive or preventive action on their part against Iran would have dire consequences for them, even if they'd never be as dire as some would like.

More simply put, once the U.S. establishes that we're not trying to overthrow the Islamic Republic, Iran would be left looking like the rogue state in the region as long as Ahmadinejad keeps up his anti-Zionist rhetoric, and the international community might be more willing to compel Iran to respect the rules of non-proliferation. As things stand now, other nations regard our conflict with Iran as Groucho Marx regarded the villain of Night at the Opera flogging Harpo. "Hey, you big bully," he said, "Stop picking on that little bully." If Obama wants America to be seen as a good guy, he should put down the whip.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous1 says:

I have now read another essay on the blog, not just the review of Buchanan's book. I basically agree. I would only add that Ahminijad is not going to make himself a rogue in the Islamic world by continuing to attack Israel. Israel will always be a problem until it gives Palestine back to its rightful Arab owners.

In 1919 two American investigators, Charles Crane and Henry King, wrote a famous report in which they reccomended that plans to create a Jewish state in Palestine should be abandoned because: (1) the Arabs were 90% opposed to it; (2) the plan coud only be implemented by military force; (3) the creation of a Jewish state in somebody else's land would permanently inflame the area. The prognostications hold up well in light of subsequent history.

Samuel Wilson said...

True enough, and as Anonymous has noted elsewhere, if I recall, Zionists themselves acknowledged the problem, though it didn't exactly stop them.

One question: the statement "Israel will always be a problem until it gives Palestine back to its rightful Arab owners" implies that there would still be an Israel after Palestine is given back. By "Palestine," do you mean only the Occupied Territories, or something more besides?