Sunday, April 6, 2008

How to Talk to a Hawk—Or, Abandon These Myths Before You Vote, Gidon D. Remba

To Read the New Abridged Version to Appear Soon in a National Publication Click Here

Unabridged Version

A friend who recently spent the last year living in Israel recently wrote to explain why he won’t vote for Senator Barack Obama for President. He believes with all his heart and soul that “most American Jews just don’t get what is happening. We are in a fight for our lives, period. Ahmadinejad means to do us in if he can. He is a Hitler, pure and simple. I am supporting McCain because I feel he is the one president most likely to militarily go after Iran's nuclear facilities. I do not believe anything short of that or regime change will stop Iran from getting and using a nuclear bomb against our people.”

In fact, I am convinced that it is my friend who grossly, and dangerously, misunderstands the Middle East—and a whole lot else. And because Israel is in a fight for its life and American security remains in a parlous state both at home and abroad, I believe it’s absolutely vital that we get it right, that we grasp what will and won’t help Israelis and Americans best protect ourselves from the threats we face.

What Not to Learn from the Holocaust

“Who is the first American president to condemn the indefensible omission of conscience of not bombing the train tracks?” asks my friend. He answers: “None other than cowboy Bush when he recently visited Yad Vashem, at whom American Jews look down their semitic noses for being so stupid and folksy and corrupt and all that. They dismiss what he said as politicking. Not so, he meant it, for he is morally non-nuanced enough to understand that there is good and evil in the world and that not everything is relative. And this is why I voted for Bush in 2004 and why I support McCain now.”

By my friend’s logic, the leader who knows who and what is truly evil is he (or she) who will use the most force to defeat our enemies and to thwart their demonic plans: the right leader would have bombed the train tracks at Auschwitz. By the same token, the best president will now fight on in Iraq until we win, staying as long as it takes, as McCain has promised (not for 100 years, but until we achieve our goals, as he has indeed vowed). And that strong leader will “take out” Iran’s nuclear facilities with air strikes and commando raids, or whatever kinds of military attacks are needed, as McCain has promised, before it can commit a new holocaust against the Jewish people.

There is just one small problem with my friend’s logic: most of the best American military minds find these bellicose “solutions” to be foolhardy, utterly ineffective and strategically disastrous.

Take the case of bombing the train tracks—or the crematoria—at Auschwitz. President Bush shamelessly panders and manipulates Jewish emotions by condemning the US failure to “take the tracks out” to the death camps during the Shoah. Jews who think and vote with their kishkes instead of with their kopfs (their guts instead of their brains) hail W, and McCain, or even Hillary Clinton, as the kind of tough seasoned pro-Israel patriots that Israel and America need to be safe. In fact, those who favored the most use of force against what from a Jewish viewpoint seems the greatest embodiment of evil were dead wrong during the Holocaust, and demonstrably so; they are even more recklessly wrong now.

Jewish historian William D. Rubinstein devoted an entire chapter to “The Myth of Bombing Auschwitz” in his book The Myth of Rescue: Why the Democracies Could Not Have Saved More Jews From the Nazis. He notes that “Recent military historians have looked at … claims about the possibility of bombing Auschwitz with critical eyes, and concluded that the options put forward were highly impractical and most unlikely to have succeeded.” He concludes: “Because of the inaccuracy of bombing raids in 1944, if a raid had somehow been launched against Auschwitz in 1944 it is probable—even likely—that such a mission would have been seen, then and now, as a complete fiasco, an ill-considered and dubious exercise, carried out for political rather than for military reasons, in which many hundreds of Jews and other captives were killed but which utterly failed to halt the Nazi death machine.”

Shoot or Talk with Iran? Obama vs. McCain

John McCain pays lip service to the need to use “all elements of our national power” in the war on terror, including diplomacy and economic development. But when it comes to the chief purveyor of Middle East terrorism he would have the United States confront Iran with very few arrows in our quiver. Moreover, economic sanctions and threats of force have completely failed to halt Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities, which continue to advance.

The vast majority of generals in the Pentagon view a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities—promised by McCain if Iran does not halt its march towards nuclear weapons—as both highly ineffective and extremely likely to involve us in another protracted war like Iraq that we cannot win and may well lose. Most senior American military officials believe that an attack on Iran “could set off Iranian retaliation without halting Tehran's nuclear program for long,” reported the Los Angeles Times. Many in the Pentagon’s leadership, “including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, have concluded that a strike against suspected Iranian nuclear sites could be counterproductive,” according to senior U.S. Defense Department officials. That of course is diplo-speak for yet another clusterf***. “War with Iran would result in Iranians rallying around the flag...The government would be strengthened instead of toppled. The Iranian nuclear program would most likely accelerate than be destroyed,” warns Iran expert Trita Parsi.

Writing from Abu Dhabi, David Ignatius intimated in the Washington Post recently that “the United States doesn't have good military choices now -- and the Iranians know it. That's one reason they are being so provocative; they believe that a U.S. military strike would hurt America more than Iran.” Iran could “lure the United States onto a battlefield where its immense firepower wouldn't do much good. The Iranians could withdraw into the maze of their homeland and keep firing off their missiles -- exacting damage on the West's economy and, most important, its will to fight.” A war with Iran, many top US military officials have come to recognize, would be a trap. And that is the trap our bellicose Jewish friends, and their favored presidential candidates, tout as the panacea to the security ills that ail us and our closest Mideastern ally Israel.

Even the conservative Chicago Sun-Times has, in a moment of extraordinary clarity, implored Americans thus: “We should take a lesson from our failures in Iraq and try to handle our conflict in Iran with more level-headed diplomacy. The Iraq war already has cost the United States its global credibility. Even Ahmadinejad has played up our tarnished image, denouncing the sanctions as ‘bullying powers.’ If the United States takes on Iran by itself, it will only inspire more terrorists and create more enemies, both of whom will be working toward our demise.”

With these lessons in mind, I urge you take Remba’s Rule Number 1 with you into the voting booth: The candidate who talks toughest, or who has the most military experience, may be the worst for both America's and Israel’s security.

The faith in Bar Kochba-like politicians as our saviors is the mother of all fallacies in politics, and the one we Jews are most in need of throwing overboard. Politicians shamelessly pander to our emotional biases and play on our heartstrings. The wisest words I have heard yet from a Jewish source on the issue of Iran come to us from an editorial in New York’s Jewish Week, cautioning that “the Iran threat is too important and too complex for the chest thumping, sloganeering and jockeying for partisan gain that define the Iran debate on the 2008 presidential campaign trail … Negotiating with terror-supporting regimes clearly raises difficult questions, but it is irresponsible to suggest that negotiations are, by definition, the equivalent of appeasement, just as it is irresponsible to take the military option off the table entirely… But stopping [Iran's] nuclear program will take creative thinking, sober policymaking and a willingness to make tough choices in a universe of imperfect options.”

The less a politician has a cogent rationale for his or her policies the more he or she is apt to manipulate us by cozying up to our cherished symbols and mouthing comforting slogans about “the eternal unity of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” or bombing "Ahmadinejad's nuclear sites" to save the Jewish state from a future holocaust. If your bubbe didn’t teach you this lesson, she should have, and it behooves us all to learn it now: these are the most dangerous politicians for the Jewish people and for the United States.

Those Jews who would cast their vote for the most battle-tested politician or bellicose policy would have brought upon America, the Allies and world Jewry the embarrassment of grotesque failure against the Nazis when sober strategy was what we needed most. Then as now, we need helmsmanship with a sure compass steering our ship of state. All signs point to the wisdom of Barack Obama’s smart carrot-and-stick diplomacy on Iran and Iraq and to the folly of the new wars urged on us by John McCain. McCain's refusal to deploy the power of tough talk or hard bargaining with Iran or to use the leverage of real incentives bear all the hallmarks of Bush on steroids. So muscle-bound is his plan of attack that it cannot dodge and weave through the Mideast's serpentine alleyways, which demand agility and political ju-jitsu, not throw-weight.

Obama has said “he would ‘engage in aggressive personal diplomacy’ with Iran if elected president, and would offer economic inducements and a possible promise not to seek ‘regime change’ if Iran stopped meddling in Iraq and cooperated on terrorism and nuclear issues.” He has made clear that “forging a new relationship with Iran would be a major element of what he pledged would be a broad effort to stabilize Iraq…‘Changes in behavior' by Iran could possibly be rewarded with membership in the World Trade Organization, other economic benefits and security guarantees.” As Obama has stressed, “we will be in a stronger position to achieve … [tougher] international sanctions if the United States has shown itself to be willing to come to the table” with aggressive diplomacy incorporating both the offer of more potent incentives directly from the United States and the likelihood of more painful sanctions if talks fail or are dragged out in bad faith by Iran.

A New Diplomatic Solution to the Iranian Nuclear Impasse?

A new report by a group of former American diplomats and regional experts who have been meeting behind the scenes with a group of Iranian academics and policy advisers suggests that the Iranian leadership is open to direct US-Iran talks over a novel solution to the nuclear impasse: Western governments would jointly manage, operate and closely supervise all of Iran’s nuclear activities on Iranian soil. Under this proposal, “Iran would be prohibited from producing either highly enriched uranium or reprocessed plutonium,” thereby preventing it from producing the essential ingredients for constructing a nuclear weapon. Under such tight international supervision, even a secret attempt on Iran’s part to manufacture weapons-grade nuclear materials “would carry the risk of discovery by the international management team and the staff at the facility; the high probability of getting caught will likely deter Iran from trying to do so in the first place.” Iran would be permitted to produce “only uranium enriched to low levels that could be used in nuclear power plants.” And it would have to agree to fully implement the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, “which requires member nations to make their nuclear facilities subject to snap inspections, environmental sampling, and more comprehensive reporting requirements,” as Iran has already offered to do.

While this option is not ideal—only a complete cessation of nuclear enrichment by Iran would be—it is the best of the realistic options which may be available to us and the one most likely to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Moreover, it is far better than the worst option, which is the one we are most likely to end up with if we continue down the paths advocated by Bush and McCain, and Hillary Clinton as well: “a purely national [nuclear enrichment] program on Iranian soil, one aimed at producing nuclear weapons” either without international safeguards or with insufficient monitoring. As the U.S. diplomats warn, “Outsourcing US diplomacy to others has not worked and is even less likely to work in the future … The US is the only nation that can take on [the task of direct engagement with Iran on the nuclear issue] and achieve the breakthroughs that will be necessary… The reward may be a more stable and peaceful Middle East.”

The Folly of War with Iran Revisited

Returning to the utter folly of the “bomb Iran” option, consider Exhibit B: Jerusalem Post Deputy Managing Editor Caroline Glick has written—with a straight face, I kid you not—that “even if an attack against Iran's nuclear installations inside of Iran were completely successful, there is a possibility that Iran's nuclear capabilities will not be significantly downgraded. Iran's program may be dispersed in Syria, North Korea, and in Pakistan which transferred nuclear technologies to Iran and North Korea, (as well as Libya and Egypt). In other words, there is now a distinct possibility that Iran is not the only country that will have to be attacked to prevent Iran and its allied rogue states from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

This, of course, is just what the neocons have always had in mind. War without end against all the “evil forces” threatening us and Israel; the ubiquitous devils which only moral absolutists like George W. Bush and John McCain can clearly see. Former Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark reported recently that “on the eve of the war [in Iraq] he was shown a Pentagon document that portrayed Iraq as the first in a series of operations to change regimes in Iran, Syria, Sudan, Lybia, Somalia and Lebanon.” We know how well that plan went in Iraq, and how far it got. Recent revelations indicate that while we were distracted by the monstrous mess in Iraq, the Bush Administration was gearing up to foment a military coup in Gaza last year. The administration co-opted Israel and Egypt into playing along with its scheme to arm Fatah in Gaza in preparation for an armed showdown which would have deposed Hamas from power after having won democratic Palestinian elections (balloting held at Bush’s behest, contrary to the urgings of Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni). But last summer Hamas preempted the impending coup, routing Fatah and completely taking over the Gaza Strip. Israeli analysts fear that the West Bank may well be next. The deterioration in Israel’s security, the strengthening of Hamas and the rise in missile attacks on Sderot, Ashkelon and the kibbutzim in southern Israel were brought to you by none other than the “spare no use of force” trigger-happy gunslingers in the Bush administration.

And how did Hezbollah manage to rearm with even more long-range missiles, now targeting all of Israel, and with greater accuracy, than it had before the Lebanon war of 2006? Despite ongoing Israeli efforts to test the waters with Syria in behind-the-scenes diplomatic contacts over the last two years, the Bush Administration has refused to offer Syria the kind of powerful economic, political and security incentives which could lure it away from its rewarding alliance with Iran and Hezbollah. Only the U.S., leading its allies, has the power to counter the attractions of Iran for Syria, much as it did when moderate Republican and Democratic administrations pried Sadat’s Egypt away from the Soviet Union, helping to lay the foundations for peace with Israel. The failure of Bush to pursue robust diplomacy with Syria and Iran has permitted the military threats to Israel from both Syria, Hezbollah and Iran, to escalate year after year.

As for McCain, who with many of his senior advisors, including Senator Joe Lieberman, have long been among the most vocal champions for regime change in Iraq, Bloomberg News reports that many analysts believe, based on his own stated positions, that he is even more hawkish than Bush on Iraq, North Korea, Russia and China. Just what the doctor ordered. Dr. Kevorkian, that is.

Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan has said that McCain “will make Cheney look like Gandhi.” “He’s the true neocon,” notes Brookings Institution scholar Ivo Daalder: “He does believe, in a way that George W. Bush never really did, in the use of power, military power above all, to change the world in America’s image. If you thought Bush was bad when it comes to the use of military force, wait till you see John McCain. He believes this. His advisors believe this.” “He would employ military force to the exclusion of other options,” adds Larry Korb, a former Reagan Administration defense official. He is among those who are convinced that the Vietnam War could have been won if the US military had been given free rein.

This sounds eerily like the Israeli super-hawks who demand of the government to just "let the IDF win" in Gaza or Lebanon, much to the chagrin of the IDF general staff which knows that a full-scale Gaza invasion would bring Israel yet another pyrrhic victory, mushrooming into an even more destructive and futile—for Israel—conflagration with Hezbollah and possibly Syria. And now John McCain feels that if we follow Obama—or Clinton—we will make the same “mistake” all over again in Iraq and in the broader “transcendent” struggle against Islamic extremism. "There's going to be other wars," promises McCain. "I'm sorry to tell you, there's going to be other wars. We will never surrender, but there will be other wars." May God save us from the havoc this aging warhorse will wreak.

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