On August 5, in a long-awaited speech on the agreement limiting Iran's nuclear program, President Obama separated himself definitively from Israeli hardliners (see our conference proceedings for a discussion of what the deal means, p. 1). Such defiance of the Israel Lobby is rare, though in 1980, President Reagan sold AWACS radar planes to Saudi Arabia against Israel's will. Then, a dozen years later, President George H.W. Bush lamented being "one little guy" up against thousands of lobbyists extracting loan guarantees for Israeli settlements from the Congress.
Obama chose to make his arguments for the Iran deal at American University, where President John F. Kennedy had defended the test-ban treaty with the Soviet Union in 1962. That diplomatic feat had its critics too, but the threat of global annihilation during the Cold War conveyed gravitas, just after the "missiles of October" confrontation. Today, the agreement between Iran and the world's major powers (Russia, China, England, France, Germany and the United States) has already been endorsed by the Security Council, though the domestic political churning in Washington will continue for weeks, as lobbyists for Israel work to pry support away from the president.
Pandering to Israel has cost the United States much more than the annual transfer of billions of dollars. The Iraq War was fought on Israel's behalf, at an exorbitant cost and the sacrifice of the lives, limbs and psyches of America's "other 1 percent," as Obama called those who served. There has been no democratic sharing of that burden, not even in the form of a tax increase; the moneyed 1 percent refuse to contribute. The United States broke and nearly destroyed a major Arab country in 2003 — to the benefit of Iran, which those who concocted the plan now want to destroy because it is too powerful. "Oops," as Rick Perry famously admitted about a 2012 debate gaffe. Not even that much of an admission of guilt has come from the neoconservative guardians of Israel who are now plumping for another Mideast war.
On the subject of gaffes, consider Jeb Bush's inability to answer the question of whether his brother made a mistake in 2003: "If you had known then what you know now, would you have invaded Iraq?" Jeb said he would have, though he walked it back once the absurdity of his response had sunk in. He had answered this question: "Knowing what we knew then, would you have invaded Iraq?" Of course, Jeb Bush would have done what his brother did: follow the instructions from Dick Cheney's separate government and start the Middle East dominoes falling, Iraq first.
There were cooler heads back then, however, who in the run-up to the 2003 invasion argued against the war. The mainline media, busy selling the government's policy to a scared public, paid little heed, but the analysts below made a strong case in this journal between 2001 and 2003:
Chas W. Freeman, Jr.: What level of effort at nation building, and for how long, would be required to democratize Iraq or to persuade Iraqis that they should endorse and support U.S. policies in the Middle East, especially those with regard to Palestine and Israel?..
[The administration] argued in the beginning that, if Saddam Hussein had WMD, that would justify invading Iraq. Then they argued that, if he denied having WMD, that would mean he was lying and therefore we would be justified in invading Iraq. Now they argue that, because the inspectors cannot find WMD, that means they're so well hidden that the only way we can find them is to invade Iraq.
This war, unlike the last one, is not intended to restore the status quo... but to overthrow the status quo and rearrange the region to our own liking, whether those who live there like it or not.
Anthony H. Cordesman: If it is not clear that there is a moral and ethical goal to this war that serves Iraq's needs and not our own, and if we are not prepared to act on that from the day we go in, ...all the other issues relating to whether we should go to war are moot. Our military victory will be a grand strategic defeat.
Joseph L Wilson: It was very difficult to pin September 11 on Saddam Hussein....They've been scrambling for an argument to justify an invasion of Iraq ever since, and WMD provides the rationale.
Judith Yaphe: Ridding the Iraqi military of its Baathist faith can be done. Ridding it of its pride in its Arabism, militant opposition to Israel, and aspirations to once again be a preeminent power in the region may not be possible.
Michael C. Hudson: Perhaps the administration's fixation with Iraq is based on our ability to exploit our comparative advantage with high-tech conventional military power over a relatively weakened "conventional" state adversary.
Leon T. Hadar: The American people will not be ready to create and sustain an empire.... The United States needs to work in concert with the big Western powers.
Ian S. Lustick: The vastness of the nation's ignorance was blindingly apparent in George W. Bush's soliloquy, in which he genuinely wondered how it is that Americans could be so hated in the Muslim world when we are so manifestly good.
This is a supply-side war....The opportunity was the sudden appearance, as a result of 9/11, of a supply of political capital unavailable before. This explains the rush to war as the political victory of a preexisting cabal [Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Feith, Perle, etc.] and its use of the 9/11 aftermath to suppress bureaucratic, intelligence and military opposition to its fantasy. ...[Their] vision includes U.S. exploitation of the oil wealth of Iraq, the establishment of military bases in the heart of the region and the elimination of all pressures on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza.
Mohammad Ayoob: Why Iraq and why now? In much of the Middle East, the only plausible answer is ...Israel. No matter the long-term outcome of the war — whether it is resolved cleanly or ends up in a mess — Israel stands to benefit.
Time will tell whether the inspections provisions of the nuclear agreement can verify Iran's compliance, but until then, we should remember how wrong the war hawks were on Iraq.