US policy since 1978 has tried to use money and spasmodically force to bring the states of the region to peace. For whatever bipartisan reason we have wasted forty years trying to bring peace where the Romans, the Crusaders, the French, the British, the Ottomans, and the United Nations could not.
If you are an American or an Israeli you can take the view that no country has directly mobilized and attacked Israel conventionally, so the policy is a success. If you are a Palestinian or one of their growing numbers of sympathizers you see a region wracked by war, insurrection, occupation, and invasion. It is impossible to reconcile those two world views.
I accept the basic Israeli proposition that they are surrounded by hostile states, including states such as Iran that deny the Holocaust and preach a modern form of it. I accept that Israel has a right to self-defense. The problem in my view is that US policy interferes in Israel’s right to self-defense, distorts the region’s politics, and holds out as solvable the unsolvable.
Israel has a strong record on self-defense and on when to use it. Unlike so many US allies who have disarmed in reliance on the US military shield (much of NATO beyond France and Britain), Israel has always sought the capability of defending itself. Independence of action was a central tenet of its founding faith in the shadow of the Holocaust.
We now have tension in the US/Israeli relationship, because the Israeli Prime Minister and the Defense Minister have by all accounts made the decision to attack Iran. The only thing holding back Israel from attacking is US pressure. The tension has less to do with personality and politics and everything to do with divergent national interests.
It is clearly a reasonable moment for the Israelis to conclude a preemptive assault on a Holocaust denying, genocide preaching, nuclear state neighbor is timely. And it is just as reasonable to conclude that given geography, Iranian ballistic and miniaturization capabilities, and the bipartisan precedent of allowing North Korea and Pakistan nuclear arms, that the US is under no imminent Iranian threat. The US has more time, hence the divergence in the US and Israeli national interests.
Forty years of history should convince us we cannot bribe the parties in the Middle East to achieve peace. We have failed to bring peace and democracy to the Middle East at the tip of a spear. And yet we pursue a policy that is based on those two premises.
US policy in the pending Iran vs. Israel and the Gulf States (who are apparently privately supportive of US and Israeli strikes on Iran) should be focused upon:
- Selling Israel the arms it believes it needs to defend itself, including weapons for a massive prolonged raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities;
- Stop telling Israel when it can or should defend itself; and
- Listen to the people of the Middle East – they want less coercive US involvement, not more.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has been accused of interfering in the US election for saying, “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.” He is precisely right.
But the reaction should not be for the United States to sacrifice its national interests for Israel’s national interest. It should be to free the Prime Minister to carryout his highest duty. And that duty is to protect his country and its people from threats to their existence.
I have yet to hear a single military case that argues that a prolonged attack on Iran will permanently halt its nuclear program, although they all warn that such an attack could spark a regional war. And so our President should carry out one of his highest duties. That duty is to avoid deploying our men and women, as Roosevelt said the night after D-Day “pride of our nation”, into harms way where they cannot be effective and the fight is not yet, if ever, ours.
Imagine if we had spent the last nine months sending Israel bunker busting bombs, electronic warfare planes, aerial tankers, training, and whatever else it needs to attack Iran. Because if you are an Iranian, are you more or less worried after the US has empowered Israel to act unilaterally? Are you more likely to negotiate with an Israeli force locked and loaded or with the US and Israel divided? And if the Iranians do act irrationally, should not Israel be in a position to attack on its own?
Our level of involvement in the Holy Lands must begin to reflect its central fact for US national interests. Whether one party or the other rules all or part of it, no US jobs will be created, no US child will receive a greater education, no US debt will be retired, and most importantly no threat against the US will disappear.
For a much more in depth proposal to change US policy in the Middle East and the Holy Lands see my video blogs on this topic.