Friday, August 14, 2015

Peter Beinart Day

First up, I do remember Beinart as a big supporter of George Bush's misadventure in Iraq, so I'm happy to see him writing this here.

I supported the Iraq War enthusiastically. I supported it because my formative foreign-policy experiences had been the Gulf War and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, all of which led me to exaggerate the efficacy of military force and downplay its risks. As Iraq spiraled into disaster, I felt intellectually unmoored. When my sister-in-law was deployed there for a year, leaving her young daughter behind, I was consumed with guilt that I had contributed to their hardship. To this day, when I walk down the street and see a homeless veteran, I feel nauseous. I give some money and a word of thanks, and think about offering an apology. But I don’t, because there’s no apology big enough. The best I can do is learn from my mistake. These days, that means supporting the diplomatic deal with Iran.

Of course, some neo-cons never change their tune. They're always singing about Munich and Chamberlain.

 When it comes to Iran, the debate is almost entirely a la carte. It’s as if there are no relevant precedents (except, perhaps, Munich). Again and again, pundits who championed the invasion of Iraq—people like Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer—appear on television advocating the same worldview they advocated in 2002 and 2003, and get to pretend that nothing has happened over the last 15 years to throw that worldview into question. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which championed the invasion of Iraq (which is not to suggest, as some have, that AIPAC caused it), can mount a mammoth lobbying campaign against the Iran deal without being asked why, given its track record, anyone should listen to it this time. 

And here the only question is "Good God, why don't they?"

If Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and Benjamin Netanyahu knew that before denouncing the Iran deal they’d be required to account for their views on Iraq, they might not show up in the green room. If they did, their television appearances would take a radically different course from the course they generally take today.

Speaking of the Reich, here's a Beinart article stating that Iran actually is not equivalent to Nazi Germany. Democrats are also not equivalent to Republicans, but that's another topic for another day.

 The Iranian regime has been in power for 36 years. It governs a Jewish population of between 10,000 and 25,000. Life for Iranian Jews is not easy. They cannot express any sympathy for Israel. Indeed, they must go out of their way to reject Zionism lest they confirm regime suspicions about their loyalty. And those suspicions sometimes descend into outright persecution,as happened in 1999 in the city of Shiraz, when 13 Jews were imprisoned for several years on charges of spying for Israel.

But while Iran’s Jews are not free, neither is their government trying to kill them. Three and a half decades after the Islamic Revolution, Iran boasts perhaps 60 functioning synagogues, along with multiple kosher butchers and Jewish schools. The regime recently erected a monument to Jews who died fighting in the Iran-Iraq War. When former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust, the leader of Iran’s Jewish community publicly reprimanded him. Perhaps most tellingly, a substantial Jewish community remains in Iran, despite being allowed to leave.

Sorry Mike Huckabee, not an oven or oven door in sight. Watch kids! This is how you cut and paste like a doctor of political science. 

While Iran supports Hezbollah and Hamas, it has not done everything in its power to help them kill Israelis. Not even close. To the contrary, the regime’s apparent fear of Israeli retaliation generally has led it to exhibit the very restraint that Huckabee, Cruz, and Netanyahu insist it would not show once it has the bomb.

Consider a few examples. In his book Unthinkable, the Brookings Institution’s Kenneth Pollack notes that although Iran likely has biological weapons, it has not given them to Hezbollah. In 1982, when Lebanese Shia leaders asked Iran to send troops to repel Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, the then-supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, refused. In 1996, Iran pressured Hezbollah to agree to a ceasefire with Israel. And as Trita Parsi notes in his indispensable book on Iranian-Israeli relations, Treacherous Alliance, Israel’s then-defense minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, even praised Tehran for its efforts to return Israeli soldiers that Hezbollah had captured. In 2001, according to Parsi, leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad vented frustration that Iran was not offering them greater assistance during the Second Intifada. And in 2003, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iran offered the United States a grand bargain that included an offer to cut ties to Hamas and Islamic Jihad and pressure Hezbollah to shut down its military wing if the United States ended sanctions and restored diplomatic ties.

Great countries need great enemies, so Iran had to be built into the new Goliath. 

As Parsi argues convincingly, Israeli claims about Iran’s genocidal intent only began more than a decade after the Islamic Republic was established. They occurred not in response to any change in Tehran’s rhetoric or behavior, but in response to a fundamental shift in the strategic landscape. In the 1980s, Israeli anxieties had centered on Saddam’s Iraq, which was geographically closer to Israel and with Soviet help had built the world’s fourth-largest army. But in the early 1990s, Saddam’s power collapsed. Iraq lost its major patron when the U.S.S.R. fell, was humiliated in the Gulf War, and became the subject of global sanctions. It was only then that Israeli leaders began describing Iran as the primary danger—a perception that grew after the United States toppled Saddam in 2003, creating a political vacuum that pro-Iranian forces filled. In the words of retired Israeli Brigadier General Shlomo Brom, “Nothing special happened with Iran, but because Iraq was removed, Iran started to play a greater role in the threat perception of Israel.”

Netanyahu is not alone in his propaganda against the Iranians, but he does have many who disagree with him.

But while Netanyahu has responded to this shift by describing Iran’s leaders as Nazis (an analogy he previously reserved for Palestinians), many in the Israeli security establishment have not. In their view, Iran has grown in power, which makes it a more potent adversary. But it is today no more genocidal than it was when Israel assisted it during the Iran-Iraq War. Contrary to Netanyahu, top Israeli security officials don’t believe Iran’s leaders are so fanatically determined to kill Jews that they would launch a nuclear attack that could bring about their own destruction. Meir Dagan, who ran Israel’s external spy agency, the Mossad, from 2002 to 2011, has called the Iranian regime “rational.” Benny Gantz, who led the Israel Defense Forces from 2011 to 2015, has said “the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people.” Dan Halutz, who led the IDF from 2005 to 2007, believes that “Iran poses a serious threat but not an existential one.” He is joined in that view by another former Mossad chief, Efraim Halevy, who earlier this year argued that “we are not in a Holocaust situation. … I do not believe there is an existential threat to Israel” from Iran.

Moving onto the success of the surge which is such a prominent theme on the Right. That story is necessary for the resurrection of the neo-cons who are harder to kill than vampires and just as blood thirsty.

As George W. Bush’s administration drew to an end, the brand of ambitious, expensive, Manichaean, militaristic foreign policy commonly dubbed “neoconservative” seemed on the verge of collapse. In December 2006, the Iraq Study Group, which included such Republican eminences as James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, Ed Meese, and Alan Simpson, repudiated Bush’s core approach to the Middle East. The group not only called for the withdrawal from Iraq by early 2008 of all U.S. combat troops not necessary for force protection. It also proposed that the United States begin a “diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions,” with the government of Iran, which Bush had included in his “axis of evil,” and that it make the Arab-Israeli peace process, long scorned by hawks, a priority. Other prominent Republicans defected too. Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon called the president’s Iraq policy “absurd” if not “criminal.” George Will, the dean of conservative columnists, deemed neoconservatism a “spectacularly misnamed radicalism” that true conservatives should disdain.

How short are people's memories in this country? Turn off the fuckin' Duck Dynasty!

Today, hawkishness is the hottest thing on the American right. With the exception of Rand Paul, the GOP presidential contenders are vying to take the most aggressive stance against Iran and the Islamic State, or ISIS. The most celebrated freshman Republican senator is Tom Cotton, who gained fame with a letter to Iran’s leaders warning that the United States might not abide by a nuclear deal. According to recent polls, GOP voters now see national security as more important than either cultural issues or the economy. More than three-quarters of Republicans want American ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq, and a plurality says that stopping Iran’s nuclear program requires an immediate military strike.

Cutting to the chase: the surge was a military success that did not lead to the necessary political success. But of course, most on the Right are more interested in things that go boom than they are in negotiated deals. 

The surge was not intended merely to reduce violence. Reducing violence was a means to a larger goal: political reconciliation. Only when Iraq’s Sunni and Shia Arabs and its Kurds all felt represented by the government would the country be safe from civil war. As a senior administration official told journalists the day Bush announced the surge, “The purpose of all this is to get the violence in Baghdad down, get control of the situation and the sectarian violence, because now, without it, the reconciliation that everybody knows in the long term is the key to getting security in the country—the reconciliation will not happen.”

But although the violence went down, the reconciliation never occurred. 

Anyway, my scissors are getting dull and my only real goal is to bookmark this for my own future reference. Anyone stopping by feel free to go read all.

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