Banging the War Drums, playing Pipes, Sarah Palin calls the Wrong Tune

In a Fox News interview with Chris Wallace on Sunday, political aspirant and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin confused and conflated the neocon “bomb, bomb Iran” message of Daniel Pipes, founder and Director of the right-wing neoconservative Middle East Forum with the views of conservative MSNBC news commentator and blogger Pat Buchanan.

Last Tuesday, in the National Review (see Jim Lobe’s comments, Feb. 2), and reproduced in the Jerusalem Post , Pipes declared that bombing Iran was the only way that President Barack Obama ( “a president whose election I opposed, whose goals I fear and whose policies I work against”) could salvage his failed presidency and assure his re-election in 2012.

In a Friday column headlined “Will Obama Play the War Card?”, Buchanan noted the popularity of sanctions and military strikes against Iran in several recent public opinion polls and in Congress, among members of both parties, particularly in the Senate. Buchanan suggested that the most recent Iran sanctions, lopsidedly approved in the House and agreed to in a voice vote by the Senate, targetted Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad less than they did the President of the United States:

The Senate is trying to force Obama’s hand, box him in, restrict his freedom of action, by making him impose sanctions that would cut off the negotiating track and put us on a track to war — a war to deny Iran weapons that the U.S. Intelligence community said in December 2007 Iran gave up trying to acquire in 2003.

If it is in the interest of the US to support “those elements in Iran who wish to be rid of the regime and re-engage the West,” Buchanan wrote, the recent sanctions legislation in the Senate and House “seem almost diabolically perverse.”

Buchanan noted that the low-enriched uranium at Natanz. sufficient in quantity for a single test, “has neither been moved nor enriched to weapons grade.” Drawing attention to Ahmadinejad’s overlooked offer last week to accept in good measure the West’s deal that would exchange Iranian enriched uranium for imported nuclear fuel for Iran’s civilian reactor, Buchanan pointed out that Iran’s known nuclear facilities are under U.N. supervision, that the number of centrifuges operating at Natanz has fallen below 4,000, and that those centrifuges that remain may be breaking down or have been sabotaged.

“If Iran is hell-bent on a bomb,” Buchanan asked, “why has Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair not revised the 2007 [National Intelligence Estimate] finding and given us the hard evidence?”

Buchanan expressed deep concern that, even as US anti-missile ships are moving into the Gulf and anti-missile batteries being deployed on the Arab shore, “Gen. David Petraeus warned yesterday that a strike on Iran could stir nationalist sentiment behind the regime.”

In his conclusion, Buchanan makes a brief reference to Pipes’ piece, with whose recommendations he clearly disagrees:

Daniel Pipes in a National Review Online piece featured by the Jerusalem Post — “How to Save the Obama Presidency: Bomb Iran” — urges Obama to make a “dramatic gesture to change the public perception of him as a lightweight, bumbling ideologue” by ordering the U.S. military to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Citing six polls, Pipes says Americans support an attack today and will “presumably rally around the flag” when the bombs fall.

Will Obama cynically yield to temptation, play the war card and make “conservatives swoon,” in Pipes’ phrase, to save himself and his party? We shall see.

In the Fox News interview, Wallace asked Palin if she thinks Obama can be re-elected in 2012. Palin responded, “I got this from reading one of Buchanan’s columns the other day: Say he played the war card. Say he decided to declare war on Iran or decided to come out and do whatever he can to support Israel, which I would like him to do. That changes the dynamics in what we can assume is going to happen between now and three years.”

“You’re not cynically suggesting that he would play the war card…” Wallace inquired rhetorically.

“I’m not suggesting that,” Palin responded. “I’m saying that if he did, things would dramatically change if he decided to toughen up and do all that he can to secure our nation and our allies.”

This is a direct paraphrase of Pipes, who calls on Obama “to salvage his tottering administration by taking a step that protects the US and its allies” by attacking war on Iran. Palin goes on to defend the Tea Party movement, who apparently favors foreign policy by polling, the dominant theme in Pipes’ piece. My Lobelog colleague Daniel Luban has just pointed out to me that Pipes has already claimed full credit for Palin’s comments to Wallace, and is delighted with the attention Buchanan has brought to his article, while conveniently ignoring Buchanan’s view that both “crippling sanctions” as well as war with Iran do not serve the interests of the US.

Buchanan, whose foreign policy views are so staunchly anti-interventionist that he’s been criticized for suggesting that the US should not have even entered World War II, openly challenged Pipes’ recommendation that the US president cynically use Iran policy to score cheap points with the pollsters and politicians of both parties who are running for reelection in 2010, depicting “crippling sanctions” as a prelude to a war with Iran that he opposes.

As for Israel, Buchanan has repeatedly challenged the distortion of US policy in Israel’s favor, in support of which Palin invoked Buchanan’s name. In a column in 2008, Buchanan wrote, “Israel and its Fifth Column in this city seek to stampede us into war with Iran. Bush should rebuff them…”. The Anti-Defamation League has an entire page devoted to such quotes under the heading “Pat Buchanan: In his Own Words“.

Palin either did not read or she did not understand Buchanan’s column last Friday. How else could she have failed to notice that not only the few concluding paragraphs dealing with Pipes’ war drums but Buchanan’s entire article were highly critical of the position she was espousing to Wallace?

Indeed, progressives who oppose war with Iran would do well to remember and bring Buchanan’s astute arguments not only against the sanctions promoted by the Israel lobby to the attention of nervous politicians of both parties who are looking over their right shoulders:

For a cutoff in gas would hammer Iran’s middle class. The Revolutionary Guard and Basij militia on their motorbikes would get all they need. Thus the leaders of the Green Movement who have stood up to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah oppose sanctions that inflict suffering on their own people.

Cutting off gas to Iran would cause many deaths. And the families of the sick, the old, the weak, the women and the children who die are unlikely to feel gratitude toward those who killed them.

And despite the hysteria about Iran’s imminent testing of a bomb, the U.S. intelligence community still has not changed its finding that Tehran is not seeking a bomb.

In the best case scenario, the more publicity Pipes’ claim that military action is good domestic politics for Obama and the Democrats (even if would be disastrous for both Iranians and for US interests as Buchanan contends) receives, thanks to Palin and others, the more constraints it may place on Obama, seeing the morass of “Wag the Dog” syndrome if he accedes to a military option against Iran.

It will be interesting to see how Buchanan will respond to his convoluted conscription by Palin into the warmongering pro-Israel netherworld of Pipes.

Marsha B. Cohen

Marsha B. Cohen is an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations and US foreign policy towards Iran and Israel. Her articles have been published by PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau. IPS, Alternet, Payvand and Global Dialogue. She earned her PhD in International Relations from Florida International University, and her BA in Political Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.