The recent visits of Republican presidential candidate W. M. Romney (I am still having a problem calling a possible president Mitt; Millard Fillmore almost creates a precedent for Willard M. Romney) and defense secretary Leon Panetta to the Middle East have raised to a height of attention the perennial problem of a nuclear Iran. Romney made it clear he would support Israel if it attacked the Iranian nuclear program, and Panetta confirmed that military interdiction of the program remained an option. The widely respected former head of the Israeli secret security agency Mossad, Efraim Halevy, last week said that the Iranians have reason to be fearful of what could happen in the next twelve weeks, i.e., in the run-up to the U.S. election.
Though partisanship in the United States used to end at the water’s edge and national security should not be a political grab-bag, both parties are fluffing up their philo-Semitic CVs as we get into the last three months before Election Day. Not to miss the bus, President Obama ceremoniously signed the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Cooperation Act of 2012, which was passed by heavy bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress. At least the Democrats are rising above their Brzezinski wing (if Zbigniew Brzezinski has a wing now) that wishes to intercept and shoot down any Israeli plane on its way to attack Iran. Brzezinski was in the Carter administration when it, as he said, “threw out the Shah like a dead mouse” (against Brzezinski’s advice), and since that was the origin of the world’s problems with Iran, he should think this through.
This sudden freshet of hypothetical bellicosity is a little more than the customary pre-electoral window dressing, as the Enhanced Cooperation Act promises Israel greater in-flight refueling capacity for its air force, and the latest and heaviest airborne ordnance, the ultimate bunker busters. Each of the latest “daisy-clippers” weighs 15 tons, and generates a blast wave of about 1,500 pounds per square inch. Two weeks ago, U.S. national security adviser Thomas Donilon visited Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu and briefed him on the current U.S. posture toward Iran. The U.S. has quadrupled its minesweeping capability in the Strait of Hormuz, which is only 21 miles wide and the choke-point for oil shipments from the Persian Gulf. The Iranians have tried to mine it before, including from 1986 to 1988, when American minesweeping capability was by helicopter, the U.S. put its flag on Kuwaiti and other tankers, and President Reagan took the opportunity to sink much of the Iranian navy. The U.S. is also selling more than $11 billion of sophisticated military hardware, including a comprehensive Patriot anti-missile defense system, to Kuwait and Bahrain. Donilon allegedly assured Netanyahu that the reinforced heavy bombs could shatter the Iranian nuclear facilities.
Leon Panetta, a canny veteran of the Nixon administration, the House of Representatives, the Clinton White House, and the CIA, stopped in Cairo and met simultaneously with Field Marshal Tantawi, chief of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and the new president, Mohamed Morsi, who are tussling rancorously between them for control of the Egyptian state. The secretary optimistically pronounced the new Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood president a sincere democrat, and went on to Jerusalem, where he assured the press that he and Netanyahu were discussing the preservation of peace.
The Israeli leader told the media that sanctions alone would not deter Iran from developing and deploying nuclear weapons, and that the Iranian leadership “thinks the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program.” Panetta emphasized that all options, including a military strike, are open, and added: “Israel’s effort to decide what is in their national-security interest is something that must be left up to the Israelis.” He was publicly handing Netanyahu a blank check, after accompanying him on a visit to Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile-defense shield south of Tel Aviv, and just ahead of WMR’s (Romney — it may not catch on like FDR, JFK, and LBJ, but let’s try) arrival to make competitively supportive undertakings. Netanyahu told the press, in Panetta’s presence, that, “with our very existence, we do not put our faith in the hands of others, even our best friends.” Given the genocidal belligerence of Iranian threats against Israel, it is hard to take issue with Israel’s right to preemptive self-defense.
Having gone this far, the U.S is going to have great difficulty dissenting if Israel chooses to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. If Obama did not have such an indifferent record dealing with Israel — he was coldly censorious of Netanyahu in the early years of his administration — it would seem that he was inviting Israel to take down the Iranians, and providing them weapons and offering diplomatic cover to do so. There seems mercifully to have vanished from official discourse the nauseating defeatism to the effect that the United States and Israel (now for these purposes effectively the same at least in initial capabilities) don’t have the means to mount, to use Hillary Clinton’s favorite and misapplied adjective for sanctions, “crippling” attacks on the Iranian nuclear program. Scientific laboratories cannot function precisely with 15-ton bombs falling overhead, no matter how profoundly interred they may be, and return visits to Iranian airspace could be launched at whatever frequency is necessary to interdict this activity, and indefinitely, until the Iranians finally, as they would clearly wish to do, dispose of this antediluvian despotism, cloaked in theocratic heresies.
The Obama administration has clearly agonized over what to do about Iran after the abject failure of its attempted “engagement” with that country. The parallel failure of the “reset” with Russia was highlighted at the same time as the full empowering of Israel by congressional approval of a bill prohibiting the sharing of anti-missile technology with the Russians, whom Obama, in the open-microphone exchange with then-Russian President Medvedev earlier this year, seemed to approve as rightful permanent holders of a nuclear first-strike capacity against the West. The administration’s reluctance to plunge into a new Near Eastern conflict is understandable, after 13 years, 7,000 lives, and $2 trillion expended for unclear results in Afghanistan and Iraq. But if Iran acquires nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them, Israel is in mortal danger, though it would reply to an attack with the nuclear obliteration of Iran. All neighbouring states, including Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, would alter course to reflect the Iranian nuclear capability. All would probably move to acquire the same nuclear-strike capacity; and the chances that terrorists will get their hands on nuclear weapons would be greatly enhanced.
The whole nuclear-arms-control and non-proliferation policy of the nuclear powers is a fraud: The Americans could not prevent the Soviets from replicating their weaponry, and then could not object when the British did the same. Those three powers could not prevent or righteously object when France and China joined the club, mainly in response to Russia, and when India did so (motivated by China), which caused Pakistan to arm itself against India. Israel required assurance against the large Arab countries around it, and then came the all-white regime in South Africa (which has since self-denuclearized). The nuclear club grumbled at new members, but effectively turned the other way, though the Clinton administration ineffectually imposed soft sanctions on India and Pakistan for their temerity. Even Pakistan, in all its dysfunctional perfidy, has been a responsible nuclear power, but Iran would not only be a menace to regional peace and a time bomb as a terrorism promoter and supplier, it would also assure helter-skelter nuclear militarization. The routinization of nuclear military power would be inevitable and the likelihood of a nuclear attack somewhere would sharply increase.
That the U.S. foreign-policy establishment doesn’t want to face the issue, after attempted nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq, and facing sequestration of defense funding in the shambles of gridlocked Washington, is not surprising. The reluctance of much of the commentariat, even relatively sensible outlets such as The Economist, to face it, is less understandable, but not entirely unexpected. But it must be faced, even if the world cravenly leaves it to the Jews to do the dirty work for all of us, yet again.
Note: Thanks to reader John Campbell for pointing out that George Washington was a practising Christian at times, and a vestryman at Truro Parish, and that Madison and Hamilton at least had their religious moments also. And thanks to reader Steven Van Dyck for reminding me that John Adams diluted his religious attachments and became a Unitarian. These facts don’t alter the point I was trying to make in last week’s column, but the religious beliefs of the principal Founders of the U.S. evolved with more complexity than I acknowledged, though Jefferson was a fairly consistent Deist and Franklin an uncontested indifferentist (agnostic).