For those of you who have not yet seen it, M.J. Rosenberg’s column on Bush’s analogy between Nazi Germany and Iran and the contretemps between the Obama and McCain camps over Hamas is a must read, by far the best meditation on both issues, particularly on the implications for the American Jewish community, that has crossed my desk.
On Bush’s analogy, one issue that raises a lot of questions in my mind is who precisely was involved in getting that passage into the speech? The assumption so far has been that it must have been Bush’s political advisers who were eager to attack Obama and, as Rosenberg suggests, pander to “pro-Israel” donors. I have no reason to disbelieve that was a major — perhaps the decisive — consideration. But was this passage in fact vetted through the normal inter-agency process? Would Condoleezza Rice, who initiated talks with the Iranians last year and has never forsworn them, or Robert Gates, who said the U.S. has to figure out a way to engage the Iranians just the day before Bush’s speech to the Knesset, have cleared it? After all, there are very significant foreign-policy implications in that passage. Indeed, having made the comparison between Iran and Nazi Germany in 1939 and suggesting that those who favor talking with Tehran are practicing “appeasement,” Bush has really made it much more difficult for engagement to take place for the balance of his administration. The Europeans are talking to Tehran. How do they react to this kind of rhetoric? Have they been calling Condi for some explanation?
Moreover, what does this analogy do for Bush’s own Annapolis process (bad enough his speech’s failure to even mention the Palestinians except in the context of a possible Palestinian state 60 years from now — an omission that has no doubt made even more difficult Washington’s hopes for forging a de facto Sunni Arab-Israel-U.S. alliance against Iran) and for the very fragile political situation in Israel where the possibility of the government’s collapse looms quite large at the moment? Since Netanyahu’s Likud Party refused to back Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza, Bush has been a staunch supporter of Kadima, but this single passage raises serious questions about the administration’s position. After all, it has been Netanyahu (and Norman Podhoretz, whose son-in-law, of course, is deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams) who can’t stop talking about how “The year is 1938, and Iran is Germany.” Now Bush not only affirms the Netanyahu’s analogy but goes him one better by suggesting we’re actually in 1939. Does this mean someone in the White House wants Netanyahu to become the next prime minister? If I were in Kadima or Labour, I’d be pretty upset by the president’s analogy.
And then there’s this follow-up line: “America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world’s leading sponsor of terror to possess the world’s deadliest weapons would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” While Bush has long described the possibility of Iran’s obtaining a nuclear weapon as “unacceptable” and endlessly repeated that all options remain “on the table,” I don’t remember anything quite as strong as this, particularly given both the venue and the fact that he spoke from a prepared text. (If readers know of a similar or stronger formulations, please pass them along.) “[U]nforgivable betrayal for future generations” has a certain legacy ring to it, especially from a president who thinks he will only achieve vindication 50 years from now.
Those of you who have read my articles for IPS and/or this blog know that I have been more skeptical over the last couple of years (and particularly since last December’s NIE) than many of my colleagues about the possibility of an attack by the U.S. on Iran’s nuclear facilities — as opposed to an “accidental” war touched off by an incident at sea or a border clash of some kind — before Bush leaves office. That skepticism was based on what appeared, at least until recently, to be the decisive shift in the balance of power within the administration in favor of the “realists”, led by Gates and Rice, at the expense of the hawks, led by Cheney, as well as the fact that key hard-liners close to Cheney’s office — including even John Bolton and others at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, and the Weekly Standard — seemed resigned to the prospect that the Bush era would end with a whimper rather than the hoped-for bang. The fact that the kind of agit-prop that the administration and the neo-cons orchestrated in the run-up to the Iraq invasion has been almost entirely lacking over the past two years also made me doubtful, particularly of those persistent predictions over the same period that an attack was imminent.
But I’ve had to reassess recently, especially in the wake of Adm. Fallon’s resignation and the more-hawkish statements about Iran’s interference in Iraq coming out of the Pentagon, including from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Michael Mullen, over the past two weeks. I still believe the Pentagon strongly opposes war, and Gates’ remarks to the American Academy of Diplomacy Wednesday make his position pretty clear. But I’m becoming less confident about his — and the other realists’ — ultimate influence on Bush, at least with respect to Iran (as opposed to North Korea). Adding to my concern was a report by a reliable source that a prominent neo-conservative close to Cheney’s office who several months ago believed there was virtually no possibility that Bush would order an attack on Iran before he left office has apparently changed his mind. This individual (whose name I can’t divulge at the source’s insistence) recently told my source that such an attack would take place between the November elections and Bush’s departure and that it would be “massive.” I subsequently heard from a knowledgeable Israeli source that he had recently heard the same scenario from two of his sources in Israel. In that connection, Todd Gitlin’s reflections on TPM Cafe about what he was hearing in Jerusalem this week seem clearly relevant. (Gitlin attended Shimon Peres’ Presidents Conference where, according to Laura Rozen’s excellent warandpiece.com, the Israeli host was seated in the front row between Bush and Freedom’s Watch funder and Netanyahu backer, casino multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Her rendition of Nahum Barnea’s column for Yediot Aharanot on Adelson is another must read this week.)
This is not to say I am by any means convinced that the U.S. will attack Iran before Bush leaves office. As noted above, I still believe Gates and the Pentagon would strongly oppose such an attack, and even Rice would feel compelled to warn the president of the very, very serious diplomatic consequences, particularly for trans-Atlantic relations. And the intelligence community will clearly be prepared — if asked — to tell Bush that the chief beneficiary of such an attack, apart from Iranian hard-liners, would be Al Qaeda. And the Treasury and Energy secretaries might get a word in about the impact of an attack on the global economy and oil prices. But given the recent train of events, as well as the president’ rhetoric this week, (even it was aimed mostly at influencing the political campaign back home), I have to believe that an attack is more possible — albeit still not probable — than I had believed before.