Bromwich on the Failures of Obama as War President

Yale professor and prolific author David Bromwich takes some swipes at President Barack Obama’s war policies. Most of the piece on The Huffington Post is more generally on U.S. attitudes about war in the post-9/11 world, citing examples like the United States clinging to the Afghanistan War and across-the-board apathy about the Washington Post’s investigative series about “Top Secret America.”

As these large matters escape proper scrutiny in the United States, so too does the building drum-beat for war with Iran not receive its due attention. Bromwich’s whole piece is must-read stuff, but his section on Iran is interesting and worth excerpting (with my emphasis added):

So much for present and past wars. What of the future war, the war a significant body of Israeli and American opinion is already preparing, the war against Iran? President Obama has called Israel a “sacrosanct” ally, and even before he used language so pious, fulsome, and unsuitable to the leader of an independent republic, Iran did not entirely trust the United States. To remember why, we would have to violate President Obama’s pledge to look only at the future, and actually look at the past. But let us follow his injunction for the moment; look only at the war of the future. How, then, does Iran link up with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? From the tenor of Obama’s recent words about Afghanistan, one would suppose he is doing the best he thinks possible now — namely, getting out — but at the speed his domestic opponents compel, that is, more slowly than he knows it would be right to do. With Iran, by contrast, Obama seems to be doing what he believes is wrong — namely adding momentum to the pressure for a future war — but, again as with Afghanistan, he is doing it more slowly than he knows his opponents would wish in order to secure their ends. The war party within his administration is placated but not yet happy. Possibly the result Obama is hoping for is that these two manifestations of slowness, slow on the right side in Afghanistan, slow on the wrong side with Iran, will meet somewhere in the middle, and spare us two catastrophes at once. Yet time, in politics, doesn’t work like that; a fact this president often seems unwilling to absorb. It is sometimes important to say No early and definitively. You must say it early and definitively if you don’t want to get trapped into saying yes later in spite of yourself. History suggests that wars, by their nature, are not as well equipped for multitasking as the mind of Obama.

[…]

There is little disagreement about the facts. “No one believes,” as Philip Giraldi put it recently, “that Iran is anything but a nation that is one small step away from becoming a complete religious dictatorship, but the country has a small economy, a tiny defense budget, and, as far as the world’s intelligence services can determine, neither nuclear weapons nor a program to develop them.” Yet President Obama and his advisers, if they dare to look, can watch House Resolution 1553 gaining signatures and stealing a march on their policy. The resolution is a demagogue’s dream of bogus collective security. It declares American support, in advance, for an Israeli attack on Iran, and gives the unheard-of approval by the U.S. to a foreign power to use “all means necessary” to advance its own interests, and to follow its own definition of those interests. The resolution incidentally adopts the language of Israeli propaganda when it refers to Iran as an “immediate and existential threat.”

Will Iran become our third war of the moment? Sanctions which, Benjamin Netanyahu has said, should soon become “crippling sanctions” already have us in lockstep on that path. To be satisfied with his advice, we have only to believe the Likud theory that Iran is a “suicide nation” whose rulers would gladly send their first nuclear weapon (still some years off) to destroy Israel and kill the Arabs in Israel along with the Jews; and that they would do it in the certain knowledge of bringing annihilation upon Iran itself. For Israel, unlike Iran, is known to have a large nuclear arsenal and the ability to launch a nuclear attack. It is a projection of fantasy not of policy to suppose the United States has a duty to join or support an Israeli attack on Iran. Yet not one word has thus far been spoken by anyone around the president to counteract the fantasy.

Those who pushed hardest for the Iraq war, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Liz and Dick Cheney and many others familiar and obscure are now turning up the heat for an attack on Iran. Why so much pressure so early? The reason may lie in the very improbability of the cause. Given the geographical position of the U.S. and the overwhelming strength of our offensive weapons and armed forces, the only way that we could possibly feel threatened by Iran is by taking Israel’s side early and acquiring Israel’s enemies as our enemies. Determined American hostility toward Iran is seen as the major step here. Vestigial decencies oblige the sane among the war party to admit there is no danger to Israel from Iran, just now, let alone an “existential threat” that implicates the United States. This will cease to matter if the enmity can be carved in deep enough grooves in the coming months.

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Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.

2 Comments

  1. “… the Likud theory that Iran is a ‘suicide nation’ whose rulers would gladly send their first nuclear weapon (still some years off) to destroy Israel and kill the Arabs in Israel along with the Jews; and that they would do it in the certain knowledge of bringing annihilation upon Iran itself.”

    AKA the Samson Option. A curious piece of psychological projection. Extremist elements in Israel believe that collective suicide (like Masada) is an option. The folks who run Iran may be bonkers (by our so civilized standards), but I don’t think they’re that unhinged.

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