Posted 8 months ago on Sept. 21, 2012, 1:42 p.m. EST by gmxusa
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A Question of Sovereignty By Philip Giraldi, PhD
Executive Director, Council for the National Interest
It is perhaps inevitable that Israel, given its access to the US media and the inside-the-beltway crowd as well as its powerful lobby, would attempt to steer America’s foreign policy in a direction that it would find congenial. This has been nowhere more evident than in the sustained campaign to move the United States in the direction of war with Iran, a war that serves no American interest unless one actually believes that Tehran is willing to spend billions of dollars to develop a nuclear weapon and is considering handing the result off to a terrorist group for use. Be that as it may, Israel has unique access to the media in the United States and has been working assiduously to make its case.
There has been some commentary on the frequent appearance of op-eds by senior Israeli officials, some retired some not, on the editorial pages of American newspapers. Where there has been criticism it has focused on the mechanics of what is being suggested. The most recent overtures1 by the Israeli government have pushed the United States into making a declaration that negotiations with Iran have failed and will not be continued. For Israel, this is a necessary first step towards an American military intervention as failed negotiations mean there is no way out of the conflict but war if the Iranians do not unilaterally concede on every disputed point.
Some recent op-eds have elaborated the argument, promoting the necessity of convincing the Israelis that the United States is absolutely serious about using military force against Iran if the Iranians seek to retain any capacity to enrich uranium. One might note in passing that the new red line, sometimes also called the “capability” to create a nuclear weapon, has been achieved by moving the goal posts back considerably. At one time Iran was threatened with a military response if it actually acquires a nuclear weapon (which is still the official position of the Obama Administration), but the earlier benchmarks within that policy that enrichment should not exceed 20 percent or that the enrichment should not take place on Iranian soil have been abandoned in favor of what amounts to zero tolerance. Those who note that Iran, which is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is under IAEA inspection, has a clear legal right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes have been ignored in favor of those who believe that Iran is somehow a special case.
On August 17th, the Washington Post and The New York Times featured op-eds explaining why the United States must do much more to convince Israel that it should not initiate an attack on Iran. Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence who is believed to be close to the country’s political leadership, argued in the Post2 that Obama must basically convince the Israelis that he will use force against Iran if sanctions do not convince the country’s leadership to abandon enrichment of nuclear fuel. Over at The Times,3 Dennis Ross, a former US senior diplomat who has been described as Israel’s lawyer, made pretty much the same arguments. Both advocated giving Israel refueling tankers and special munitions that would enable an attack on Iran to be more effective, thereby stretching the window of opportunity for sanctions to work in light of Israeli arguments that hardened Iranian sites might soon be invulnerable to attack. Ross advocates giving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively a blank check, asking him what he will need to attack Iran and urging firm commitments to the Israeli government for a full range of US military support. Both Yadlin and Ross argue that it is necessary to create the conditions to buy more time for Israel to delay a possible attack until 2013, so that, as Yadlin puts it, “Israelis must know that they will not be left high and dry if these options fail.” Assuming that both Ross and Yadlin are speaking for the Israeli government, which is almost certainly the case, Tel Aviv is essentially demanding a commitment from Washington to attack Iran unless the issue of Iran’s ability to enrich uranium is resolved through negotiation or through Iranian surrender of that right. In return, Israel will not attack Iran before the American election, so in effect Washington would be promising to fight a war later if Israel does not start one now.
Israel knows it cannot successfully attack Iran unilaterally and must have the United States along for the ride to do the heavy lifting. It also knows that the threat to attack Iran before the election is a powerful weapon, with neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama welcoming such a potentially game changing diversion from their never ending debate on the economy and jobs. Critics like Arnaud de Borchgrave4 have correctly noted that many former generals and intelligence officers in both the United States and Israel have, in fact, decided that the basic premise is wrong. Iran does not pose a threat that could not be contained even if it does some day make the political decision to obtain a crude nuclear device. The alternative, a new war in the Middle East, would create “mayhem” throughout the region, guarantee Egypt’s breaking relations with Israel, and develop a perfect breeding ground for the civil war in Syria to spill out and lead to turmoil among all of its neighbors. US ships in the Persian Gulf would be attacked, unrest in Bahrain would turn to revolution, and the Palestinians would stage a new intifada. Israel would be bombarded from Lebanon and from Iran and would retaliate. Gas prices would soar, economic recovery would stall worldwide, and the European nations now struggling to deal with unprecedented unemployment levels would watch the Euro-zone collapse before the rage of hundreds of thousands protesters in the streets. Americans would again become the targets of international terrorism.
And there is another serious objection to going along with the Israeli government’s thinking. Israel is by its own volition not an ally of the United States in any technical sense because alliances are troublesome things that require rules of engagement and reciprocity, limiting the partners’ ability to act independently. If Israel obtains a virtual commitment from the United States to go to war in 2013 it would mean that it would enjoy the benefits of having a powerful patron do your fighting for you without any obligation in return beyond delaying possible unilateral military action until a more suitable time. A guarantee from Washington for Israel’s security, which still permits unilateral action by Tel Aviv, is all too reminiscent of the entangling arrangements that led to World War I and World War II. That the murder of an Austrian Archduke in the Balkans should have led to a world war that killed tens of millions was due to guarantees not unlike what Israel is demanding. Likewise with the start of the Second World War following upon Britain and France’s guarantees to Poland, the commitment to go to war basically closed the book on negotiations and insured rather than deterred that armed conflict.
If the United States commits to unconditional support for Israel and bases it on a red line that already has been crossed, even if it is all carefully wrapped in what are presumed to be American interests, it will be a surrender of one of the major attributes of national sovereignty—the power to go to war or not. Amos Yadlin suggests at one point that President Obama go to congress and get approval in advance to take military action “to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a military nuclear capability.” Well, such a pre-approval for war certainly raises constitutional issues, but it also creates a virtual casus belli because Iran already has that capability. It closes the door on any consideration that the United States might actually have an overriding national interest that would be to avoid a war. It denies that the United States should be able to exercise complete sovereignty over the issue of Iran and it also freezes the status quo in some kind of time warp, as if there cannot be new ways of looking at the problem of the Iranian nuclear program that might evolve over the next few months. In short, Washington should make no commitment to anyone about what it will do vis-à-vis Iran in 2013 no matter what inducements are offered. As nineteenth century British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston put it referring to his own country, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” Let America’s actual demonstrated interests dictate US foreign policy. Given the ebb and flow of the past eleven years, it might prove a novel experience.
Philip Giraldi is a recognized authority on international security and counter-terrorism issues. He is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer who served 18 years overseas in Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Spain. Mr. Giraldi was awarded an MA and PhD from the University of London in European History and holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honors from the University of Chicago. He speaks Spanish, Italian, German, and Turkish.