Everyone knows the basics of the dispute over the nuclear deal with Iran. In no time at all, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaped directly into the American political arena to take potshots at that agreement in a way that, had any other world leader acted similarly, would have been denounced across the political spectrum. And he did so backed not only by his own party and government but by established opinion makers in Israel, all of whom are deeply convinced that the deal is neither reasonable nor in Israel's best interests. Similarly, when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other similar organizations got involved in a giant, multimillion-dollar lobbying effort to ensure that the agreement is given a congressional thumbs down, they represented not just the interests of Netanyahu and the Israeli ruling elite but of American Jewish opinion, which naturally believes that a deal bad enough to be nixed by Israel is not in the best interests of the United States either. All of that seems obvious enough -- the only problem being that it isn't so.
Let's start with Jewish opinion in America. When Steven Cohen, a professor at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, conducted a poll of American Jews, including those who, like myself, are not religious, he found that an astounding 63% approved of the nuclear deal, a figure impressively higher right now than American opinion on the subject generally. In other words, with the single exception of J Street, all the major Jewish organizations that are lobbying against the deal and claiming to represent American Jews and Jewish opinion don't. As Cohen and Todd Gitlin wrote recently in the Washington Post, "Plainly, the idea that American Jews speak as a monolithic bloc needs very early retirement. So does the canard that their commitment to Israel or the views of its prime minister overwhelms their support for Obama and the Iran deal. So does the idea that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads, or represents, the world's Jews."
So call that a bit of a surprise on "Jewish opinion." But what about Israel, where support among key figures for deep-sixing the nuclear deal is self-evident? Again, just one small problem: almost any major Israeli figure with a military or intelligence background who is retired or out of government and can speak freely on the matter seems to have come out in favor of the agreement. (The same can be said, by the way, for similar figures in this country, as well as Gary Samore, a former Obama administration White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction and until recently head of United Against Nuclear Iran, a Sheldon Adelson-funded group whose job is to knee-cap such an agreement. He stepped down from that post recently to support the nuclear deal.) In Israel, a list as long as your arm of retired intelligence chiefs, generals and admirals, officials of all sorts, even nuclear scientists, have publicly stepped forward to support the agreement, written an open letter to Netanyahu on the subject, and otherwise spoken out, including one ex-head of the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, appointed to his position by none other than Netanyahu.
In other words, the well-financed fast and furious campaign here against the nuclear deal (which has left just about every Republican senator, representative, and presidential candidate in full froth) and the near hysteria churned up on the subject has created a reality that bears remarkably little relationship to actual reality. Fortunately, TomDispatch regular David Bromwich is available to offer a cool-eyed look at just what's behind that version of reality and I'm sure you won't be shocked to learn that, in the process, one familiar label instantly pops up: neoconservative. Tom
Playing the Long Game on Iran
The Neoconservatives, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Republicans Game the System
By David Bromwich
"We're going to push and push until some larger force makes us stop."- Advertisement -
David Addington, the legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, made that declaration to Jack Goldsmith of the Office of Legal Counsel in the months after September 11, 2001. Goldsmith would later recall that Cheney and Addington were the first people he had ever met of a certain kind: "Cheney is not subtle, and he has never hidden the ball. The amazing thing is that he does what he says. Relentlessness is a quality I saw in him and Addington that I never saw before in my life."
Goldsmith did not consider himself an adversary of Cheney and Addington. He probably shared many of their political views. What shocked him was their confidence in a set of secret laws and violent policies that could destroy innocent lives and warp the Constitution. The neoconservatives -- the opinion-makers and legislative pedagogues who since 2001 have justified the Cheney-Bush policies -- fit the same description. They are relentless, they push until they are stopped, and thus far they have never been stopped for long.
The campaign for the Iraq war of 2003, the purest example of their handiwork, began with a strategy memorandum in 1996, so it is fair to say that they have been pitching to break up the Middle East for a full two decades. But fortune played them a nasty trick with the signing of the nuclear agreement between the P5+1 powers and Iran. War and the prospect of war have been the source of their undeniable importance. If the Iran nuclear deal attains legitimacy, much of their power will slip through their fingers. The imperialist idealism that drives their ventures from day to day will be cheated of the enemy it cannot live without.
Iran might then become just one more unlucky country -- authoritarian and cruelly oppressive but an object of persuasion and not the focus of a never-ending threat of force. The neoconservatives are enraged and their response has been feverish: if they were an individual, you would say that he was a danger to himself and others. They still get plenty of attention and airtime, but the main difference between 2003 and 2015 is the absence of a president who obeys them -- something that has only served to sharpen their anger.
President Obama defended the nuclear deal vigorously in a recent speech at American University. This was the first such extended explanation of a foreign policy decision in his presidency, and it lacked even an ounce of inspirational fluff. It was, in fact, the first of his utterances not likely to be remembered for its "eloquence," because it merits the higher praise of good sense. It has been predictably denounced in some quarters as stiff, unkind, ungenerous, and "over the top."
Obama began by speaking of the ideology that incited and justified the Iraq War of 2003. He called it a "mindset," and the word was appropriate -- suggesting a pair of earphones around a head that prevents us from hearing any penetrating noise from the external world. Starting in the summer of 2002, Americans heard a voice that said: Bomb, invade, occupy Iraq! And do the same to other countries! For the sake of our sanity, Obama explained, we had to take off those earphones:- Advertisement -
"We had to end the mindset that got us there in the first place. It was a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy; a mindset that put a premium on unilateral U.S. action over the painstaking work of building international consensus; a mindset that exaggerated threats beyond what the intelligence supported. Leaders did not level with the American people about the costs of war, insisting that we could easily impose our will on a part of the world with a profoundly different culture and history. And, of course, those calling for war labeled themselves strong and decisive, while dismissing those who disagreed as weak -- even appeasers of a malevolent adversary."
In this precise catalogue of mental traits, Obama was careful to name no names, but he made it easy to construct a key:
A mindset characterized by a preference for military action: President George W. Bush ordering the U.N. nuclear inspectors out of Iraq (though they had asked to stay and complete their work) because there was a pressing need to bomb in March 2003;