Sunday, September 6, 2015

Foes of Iran deal toeing Israel's line

   


     When John F. Kennedy was running for president in 1960, voters were uncomfortable with the prospect of being led by somebody who wasn't Protestant, and aired their fears.
     Could Kennedy, they wondered, as a Roman Catholic, manage to put the interests of his country ahead of pressures from the Vatican?
     Kennedy was forced to repeatedly address these worries. Speaking to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on Sept. 12, 1960, he first chided his audience for ignoring issues like poverty and Communism, and instead forcing him to talk about whether he'd take his marching orders from the pope.
    "Because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured -- perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this," he said. "So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again — not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me —but what kind of America I believe in. I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute — where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act."
     Kennedy was good to his word. In the countless histories of his all-too-brief administration, JFK has been accused of many lapses, but excessive zeal for his Catholic faith and fidelity to its teachings are not among them.
     That is not surprising. The idea of divided loyalties is typically a baseless slur, tossed  at anyone who is different, suggesting that our country's common interests are being subjugated to some outside loyalty.

     The same accusations have been hurled at Jews, after they got a country of their own, Israel. And these insinuations always seemed the same kind of disguised bigotry that Kennedy faced. 
     Until now. 
     Look at the Iran deal. Who can say there isn't a segment of American Jews who are , if not exactly following the orders of the Israeli government, then buying its worldview, hook, line and sinker, and passionately opposing American policy for that reason alone?
    Here Barack Obama, the president of the United States, has worked out an agreement that he and our five most important allies feel is the best strategy to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. 
     Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, however, believes that any agreement with Iran is worthless and prefers steep economic sanctions leading toward pre-emptive war. He has been trying to undercut the deal, and is aided by a distressingly large cast of allies in the United States, mainly the chorus of Obama's fanatic GOP foes—not one Republican in Congress supports the deal—and that slice of American Jewry who believes that supporting Israel means endorsing anything its government does, no matter how misguided.
     Netanyahu might be right, I should add. Or might not. Nobody knows, and those who claim to know are just bluffing. We have only one past, but a multitude of futures, and we can never tell how our actions now will affect what unfolds.
   The stunning thing is, in all the discussion of the merits of the deal, the fact that our president supports one side, and the head of another country, even a country as historically friendly as Israel, supports the other, hardly enters the calculus. I'm mentioning it here because I haven't heard anybody mention it. Maybe it's a naive point, but there you go. 
    At the end of last week it seemed there are enough votes in Congress to keep the deal from being overturned, though the We-Never-Lose-We-Just-Fall-Back-and-Keep-Fighting Republicans are already digging to find creative ways to undercut it.            
     Tough economic sanctions that isolated Iran certainly didn't keep it from making the progress toward a bomb it already has. And a deal might allow them to continue, aided by renewed economic support. Everyone suggesting the best route are really guessing, based more on their biases and partisanship than any cool analysis of fact. The bottom line is, if Netanyahu embraced the deal, the critics here would fall in line. But he doesn't, so they echo his denunciations. 
     That isn't good for the future of Jews, already a dwindling minority facing rising anti-Semitism. I'm not saying that we should keep our place; just that we should consider whether throwing in our lot with foreign leaders in fevered opposition—so extreme that the Anti-Defamation League found itself accusing certain Jewish groups of anti-Semitism— is a long-term success strategy. 
     Socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is a blip. But someday a viable Jewish candidate will runs for president, and somebody will raise the question of whether he (or she) will do what's best for our country, or owe special allegiance to Israel. Those critics will wave the bloody shirt of the fierce opposition to the Iran deal as evidence, and who will be able to say there isn't some kernel of truth there? The best defense will be the existence of J Street Jews who did not dance to whatever tune the current administration in Israel is piping. But that is a a nuanced argument, the type all too often lost in the gale of political discourse. Whether the deal will work or not is unknown by anybody. We'll have to find out. But that the debate has undercut the always tentative position of the American Jewish community is a certainty.  

33 comments:

  1. The Ghost of Christmas PastSeptember 6, 2015 at 4:28 AM

    And don't forget us anti-zionist Jews who are against the existence of israel and support the BDS movement. There are more than a few of us, who support the Palestinian struggle to liberate all of Palestine. J Street ain't us!

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  2. Not to cast aspersions on the Kennedy administration, but I've wondered about his decision on Vietnam - several times, when meeting with Catholic groups, he was urged to support South Vietnam as a bulwark against Communism. I never thought about it a lot, but South Vietnam was run by the group that ran the day to day operation of the French colony - and they were almost all Catholic....

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  3. Actually Peter, some sources will say Kennedy wasn't getting as involved or expanding in Vietnam as much as the military or Hawks would have liked. Johnson did just that later.

    A few years back, if someone said they didn't support Israeli policies, they would have been called anti-Semitic. It's good to see that it is no longer the case. Ben is self serving at best.

    Hopefully, Sanders will be more than a "blip."

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  4. Don't worry, Neil. After this agreement, you probably won't have to worry too much about Jews supporting Israel because when this agreement allows Iran to get nuclear weapons, there's a good chance there won't be an Israel to support anymore. Your problem of appearances will be solved.

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    1. "A good chance" is the kind of extreme argument I'm referring to. Given that whatever nuclear bomb Iran cobbles together will end up in a container on a ship pulling into the Port of Seattle, I'd say the United States has as much to fear as Israel does. That's why we've put together this deal that Benjamin Netanyahu told you not to support.

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    2. I firmly believe that Iran will use a lot of the $150 billion dollars to fund terrorist organizations in the Middle East to destabilize it even more. The humanitarian crisis that we see from Obama's pullout from an Iraq, while imperfect, was at least somewhat stabilizong, that led to the rise of the Islamic State and the Syrian Civil War, the collapse of Libya will get even bigger. The refugees entering Europe? Look for more of that and the attendant new pressures from Islamist in Europe. I firmly believe that Iran will use nuclear weapons against Israel. I think there's a "good chance" that they will test the weapon over Tel Aviv. Why do I believe this? The Iranian government keeps saying their goal is to destroy Israel. I will take them at their word. They have never been about the balance of terror and always about the terror. Obama is giving the the tools to do that. Obama's policies have led to more deaths, more humanitarian cises, and the expansion of a destabilized world. I don't worry about seeming too supportive of Israel. If you're worried about the "appearances" of being Jewish and supporting Israel, that's fine. I'd just worry about the consequences of policies that have the appearance of "caring", but simply lead to more death.

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    3. Talk is really cheap. I wish I could find it again but i just saw a list of countries that have attacked another country. And there were a lot. Guess which country has not attacked another country. I think it was Steven King from Iowa who said no deal is better than this deal. That is just ridiculous. I would be more worried about North Korea doing something because that government is just nuts. Iran would would be wiped off the face of the earth if they tried using a nuclear weapon against Israel Who by the way has the atomic bomb. You may be right that they would use to millions of dollars to spread terrrorism. Of course the Saudis do that and the doesn't seem to worry any body. And lets not forget the 9/11 hijackers were mainly Saudis.

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    4. Anon at 10:15-spoken like a true Republican and your arguments on the President are inaccurate. Never ending wars there are not the answer. Perhaps you can send some of your offspring to enlist. Have you served in the military??

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    5. Good point, Sanford.

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    6. I have not served in the military and my kids will be the ones to to face the consequences of the oresident's actions. I look at his policies and decisions and look at the consequences of them. Iraq pullout after the Bush aurge gave a beginningnof stability Rise of the Islamic State and and the Syrian Civil War. Humanitarian disaster that is leading to a refugee crisis in Europe. Rise of terror and the killing of Christianity in the Middle East. Leading from behind in Libya. Growth of terrorism and a real societal vacuum being filled by terrorists. Death of our Libyan ambassador and three others in an attack on our consulate and consulate annex. Not holding on the red line on use of chemical weapons in Syria. Loss of credibility in the region because they know the president will be counted on to cave and not follow through. In each of these cases, our enemies know the president will not follow-through on red lines. In every case, there is evidence that the president's judgment is poor and that he will cave to adversaries and undermine friends. If that is Republican reasoning, I'm guilty. I like to look at actual records and evidence and anticipate what will happen as a result of decisions. I see only bad coming out of this because the president is a weak negotiator who will not follow theough. What have you got on your side? The Russians.and Chinese think it's good? Great. We're in for some bad conflicts that were avoidable without war. Now we're stuck. I know you'll disagree, but in every event I discussed above, I saw the consequences coming. I hate to see it, bit the president has put Israel and is in a great bind. What have you guys got? "Oh, you sound like a Republican"

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    7. Anon at 7:20- You need to point the fingers to the originators of some of those problems. Your pals Bush Jr. and Cheney.

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    8. George Bush and Dick Cheney? Do you ever not blame this guys for something? They must have been very effective because they have four terms and Obama none. According to you, Obama is a hapless video tim of Bush a d incapable of anything . When Bush went I to Iraq, you guys accused him of failed policies a d creating a humanitarian disaster because so many Iraqi civiloans died in that conflict. Obama pulls out troops.that result in more deaths in Syria and Iraq,wading to increased terrorism and a potential destabilization of Europe and Bush is responsible for that? Bush took responsibility for his actions and changed policies when they went wrong, fired his defense secretary and took on the surge, that beat back Sunni insurgency and brought a measure of peace to Iraq. Obama pulls out the troops, letting the Shia purge Sunni from the Iraqi army, leading to the IS. Obama predicted that it woukd even get better in Iraq from the pullout. Everything Obama said would turn out better from his policies have turned out worse. Please be specific in identifying how Obama"s policies in the Middde East have come out the way he lredicted. George Bush and Dick Cheney are NOT acceptable answers. That shows a re shallowness of analysis. Bush inherited a world from Clinton and he took responsibility for how his policies affected the world. Hold President Obama to the same standard. I'm using facts and analysis to come to these opinioms. You are simply basing your opinion on partisanship. I have not seen any evidence of any real analysis of the impacts of the president's policies on the current world, Neil included. It's lazy to just say "Republican partisanship" and "Bush and Cheney" and "Obama brilliant". That says absolute nothing of value. I look forward to your critical analysis of the current state of the world and the impacts of the Obama foreign policy on the Middle East and Europe that does not use these three terms. Smirks and hooting will not be accepted as critical analysi.

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    9. If you're going to rant, at least slow down enough to check your spelling and syntax so it can be a bit intelligible.

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    10. Certain things are their own refutation. And given that I haven't mentioned Dick Cheney in a column or blog in, geez, years, you have to wonder what he's reacting to. The voices in his head, I suppose. Standard GOP Defense AO1: if you can't react to what's said, act to what wasn't said.

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    11. So you're going to stick with "I got nothin' but what you say refutes itsslf." Why not "I know you are, but what am i?" If you don't want to debate a point of view other than sayiny "you're wrong", why bother writing in the first place? Like I said. Lazy analysis.

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    12. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8Gv0H-vPoDc

      Watch this, please.

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  5. And your advice, Neil? When the country's leader proposes policies that a reasonable person believes can lead to their annihilation? The Jews should just stay quiet and hope for the best? We tried that before. Didn't work out for the Jews so well. The only difference is that today the Iranians are loud, constant and explicit about the need to wipe Israel off the map. Not everyone opposing the deal is a "fanatic GOP foe" or someone blindly following Bibi's direction.

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    1. Fighting the battles of the past is as dangerous as ignoring the past. Not every agreement is Munich. So why is it Iranian officials can be trusted when they're promising to destroy Israel, but not when they're trying to get themselves back in the fold of legitimate nations? My advice is to approve this deal and move on. We've already had two failed wars with Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel is still free to do what it feels is best. And the bottom line is, our allies are ending the sanctions whether we approve the deal or not.

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    2. Neil, they are going through the process to lift the sanctions, get a lot of money to pursue their terror policies and build nuclear weapons that will allow it to resist pressure from the outside world. Plus they can continue to oppress it's people as well as use a weapon against Israel. It's a great option for them. They reenter the world of legitimate nations on their terms and without any restraints. The only reason the sanctions are on track to going away is Obama wants them gone. Great negotiating.

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  6. I begin by noting that I support the Iran deal. It's not a great deal, but it kicks the can down the road a bit and that's probably the best we can do.

    But let's step back a bit and look at the big picture. Israel, the country with the most to lose, was not on the negotiating team that stuck the deal. Did the US act as Israel's lawyer in the matter? If so, the deal should not have been struck, because a lawyer does not agree to a deal that the client does not want. That's a fundamental of being a lawyer.

    So let's conclude that the US did not act as Israel's lawyer in the matter. If not, Israel was not bound by the deal and is instead free to follows its own interest in agreeing or disagreeing with the deal. That includes "interfering" in Congress' decision whether to approve the deal. Nothing unusual about foreign countries lobbying Congress about matters involving their interests.

    Why is it so annoying to so many when Israel, a country obviously impacted by a deal it did not make and did not agree to, takes a stand against a deal it thinks hurts its interest? Those uppity Jews should just do whatever America says, right? And American Jews better go along, or else be considered disloyal, right? What other group is treated in this paternalistic, condescending way? I can't think of any. Can you?

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    1. No argument here. And I'm not even saying that Israel is not necessarily right and won't have to bomb the shit out of Iran at some point. It certainly acted independently in 1967, ignoring LBJ urging it to sit tight. The point of the column -- and I guess I failed if I have to re-state it -- is it's perilous when Jews nominate themselves as defacto agents of Israel and try to undermine U.S. policy. You're taking it to the extreme, of course -- kudos for not mentioning the Holocaust.

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    2. "it's perilous when Jews nominate themselves as defacto agents of Israel and try to undermine U.S. policy."

      Excellent point, Mr. Steinberg. There are also some American Jews that won't fight in the U.S. military yet go off to serve in the Israeli one. That is not right.

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  7. Zealots of any stripe have no credibility in this discussion. Israel is right, no matter what , is a zealot's position. Iran has advanced its nuclear program despite sanctions. That is a fact. Talking with Iran is the better strategy. Iran wanted a place at the table. Giving them one is the only way to insure that the nuclear threat is minimized.

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  8. Considering what America has done to Iran--inflicting the murderous Shah on that nation and sparking an even more murderous backlash--our moral credibility there is approximately zero.

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    1. Over the top, Scribe. We might have propped him up, but he was of their own doing. We have a great influence on world events, but we don't control them.

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  9. General Colin Powell, a man who would have made a good President, even if a Republican one, made a thoughtful case in support of the Iran agreement on one of the Sunday morning talk shows. He said, and I concur, that it is in the long run interest of Israel, which will remain for many years, the only nuclear power in the middle east.

    Of interest is the question of how the Israelis will proceed post-deal. Trying to undermine it using the instrument of American presidential politics, will, I would think, further call into question the loyalty of American Jews and more deeply undercut their long term political influence. A sensible course would be to instead use the argument that many uncertainties remain requiring Israel to further shore up its defenses in order to extract further billions and technical military assistance from the American Congress.

    Tom Evans

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  10. So far the threat of retaliation in kind has kept all but one country from using its nuclear weapons.

    We've seen a similar scenario play out before, when Pakistan developed its own nuclear weapons, apparently in response to next-door neighbor and longtime nemesis India developing them first. There's certainly no shortage of animosity between those two parties, and yet to date neither have initiated a suicidal nuclear exchange, presumably because people want to live. And Pakistan apparently got what it wanted: deterrence and a superior bargaining position. Not an ideal situation, but not quite apocalyptic either.

    If we're worried about a "cargo container" scenario where the attack is not claimed by a state, we should be worried about rogue states or well-financed terrorist organizations purchasing the means to carry them out. The whole point of a state developing its own nuclear program is so they can tell the world they have them. There is no deterrent effect, no bargaining advantage, to having them and keeping it secret. Indeed, we've seen with North Korea that they appear to be bluffing about their capabilities in order to improve their bargaining position; it actually makes more sense to not have them and say you do than to have them and claim you don't.

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  11. Russia and China are part of the deal and they are not remotely our "most important allies." That said I think the deal is the best we can get right now even though I do not expect Iran to live up to its terms. I do not blame Netanyahu for his views given Israel is not much bigger than the Chicago metro area and surrounded by those who wish to kill Jews (including Egypt and Jordan).

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  12. M.A.D. works as a deterrent only if the actors are rational. That doesn't exist here. Islamic terrorists have developed a culture of death and martyrdom. Plus Islamic leaders haven't shown more than a particle of concern for their people, and would readily lose millions of them if in the process they can wipe out Israel, the loathed Zionist entity

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    1. If Islamist states are inherently irrational as you say, why has the Islamic Republic of Pakistan not attacked India? Why have they not provided one of their many weapons to one of the various extremist terrorist groups operating within their border to carry out a proxy attack?

      Iran can look to its East and see the example of Pakistan: acquisition of nuclear weapons earned them a place at the bargaining table. In spite of harboring some of the most feared terrorist factions in the world, after 9/11 the option of invasion was never even seriously considered. Iran can look to its West, to Iraq, and see how the scenario played out with a nation that did not have a deterrent. Concluding that it is better to have the weapons and not use them than to need them and not have them seems pretty rational to me.

      At a minimum, by pursuing an enrichment program they have a bargaining chip.

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    2. Pakistan is busy harboring criminals from Afghan.

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  13. Very true, Steverino. When some others have said this, they are called Islamaphobes, but that is not the case.

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  14. http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/scott-walker-meet-noam-chomsky-heres-real-iran-history-republicans-need-learn?sc=fb

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Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.