Sunday, March 11, 2012

What To Do About Iran?

The topic of whether or not to bomb Iran's nuclear sites has been much in the news of late. Both President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu recently addressed the annual AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) convention. Since then, there have been numerous editorials and opinion pieces in the newspapers. The purpose of this blog is to give you various viewpoints, with, of course, my own commentary along the way.

* In making a legal argument against a preemptive strike, Bruce Ackerman cites the UN Charter which allows self-defense against an armed attack. The right to a preemptive strike, however, goes back to the reasoning put forward by Daniel Webster. Webster said that such a strike could only be justified if there was a "necessity of self-defense, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation." Ackerman (described as a professor of law and political science at Yale) goes on to suggest that the UN Security Council should approve aggressive use of military force. (From an opinion piece in the 3/5/12 LA Times.)

The problem that I have with Ackerman is that the UN is not simply made up of democracies. It includes dictatorships and totalitarian regimes. I am hard pressed to understand why a democracy should be constrained by such a body. Russia and China are permanent members of the Security Council. They would never approve of military action against Iran. And the Human Rights Council of UNESCO (the UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization) recently decided to keep Syria on the Council. A country that is presently murdering thousands of its own citizens is kept on the Human Rights Council. Hence, my lack of respect for, and confidence in, the United Nations. (From, 3/9/12.)

* In a 3/6/12 editorial, the New York Times said that "Iran's nuclear appetites are undeniable, as is its malign intent toward Israel (and) America..." They go on: "We don't know if there is any mix of sanctions and diplomacy that can persuade the mullahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions." But, "Tehran's recent offer to return to the negotiations is almost certainly a feint, but must be tested." They conclude: "...Israel should not doubt this president's mettle..."

So, after acknowledging Iran's indisputable nuclear ambitions, their animosity toward Israel and the U.S., and even that Iran's new move to negotiations is likely a ploy, what do they conclude? Let's just wait. This, to me, is nothing other than typical leftist refusal to live in the real world. It is letting their beliefs (in Obama, in the peace process, in whatever) dictate their reality. Diplomacy has been tried for the last eight years or more. Iran feigns interest, all the while building up a significant nuclear program, and enriching uranium beyond the level needed for peaceful purposes. But let's talk some more?

* The 3/6/12 editorial of the IBD (Investor's Business Daily) was rather more blunt: "...Netanyahu shouldn't trust Obama's rhetoric..." They point out that Obama wants to give diplomacy a chance. (Obama said: "...I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy..." at AIPAC.) The IBD goes on to say that Obama failed to tell Abbas that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state for the peace process to move forward. Obama also kept quiet during the Iranian uprising of 2009. Yet he supported the Arab Spring, resulting in Islamic run states in Egypt and Libya. The IBD questions whether Obama's tough talk at AIPAC was "something other than an election-year sop to Obama's faltering Jewish support."

* Obama did give some tough talk at AIPAC. He said his policy was not one of containment (of a nuclear-armed Iran) but rather was one of preventing Iran from getting a nuke. He made this very important comment: "No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel's destruction. And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak (Israel's defense minister) and all of Israel's leaders."

* Charles Krauthammer, in the 3/9/12 IBD, quotes an Obama Administration official as saying this: "We're trying to make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel." Krauthammer notes that Israel would look bad to the U.S. and the world if they attacked while the U.S. was engaged in negotiations. (And, I would add, the constant comments by Administration officials about why an attack would not be prudent at this time all have the same purpose.) Per Krauthammer: "...Obama wants to get past Nov. 6 without any untoward action that might threaten his re-election." (Which might explain why Obama sees no need to take action this year, while the Israelis fear that Iran will have a nuke by year's end.)

* Thomas Sowell agrees that Israel should not trust Obama. He notes how Obama spoke of "shovel-ready" jobs with the stimulus, and when they failed to materialize Obama then made a joke and laughed about it a year later. Obama promised transparency in his Administration. Remember how all proposed legislation would first be posted online? Yet massive pieces of legislation were passed without even the Congress reading it. (A la Pelosi's "we have to pass the bill (Obamacare) to see what's in it.) Obama promised higher ethical standards, except if he wanted someone in his cabinet (such as the Treasury Secretary who failed to pay taxes for a number of years). (And I would point out that Obama promised to end partisanship and be a uniter. But when Republicans made some proposals for "Obamacare," Obama refused, and said: "I won the election." Sowell goes on: "If you were an Israeli, how willing would you be to risk your national survival on Obama's promise to stand by your country?" Sowell concludes with a quote from Churchill: "Do not let us take the course of allowing events to drift along until it is too late." (Sowell's comments from a 3/7/12 opinion piece in the IBD.)

* Netanyahu's speech to AIPAC was classic Netanyahu - direct and to the point. "Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself." "The Jewish State will not allow those who seek our destruction the means to achieve that goal." Netanyahu talked about how some still argue that maybe Iran is not a seeking a weapon; and that it is better to accept an Iran with nukes than start a war. (That would be the dreamers on the left.) Netanyahu pointed out that years of diplomacy and sanctions have done nothing to even slow Iran's nuclear development. In acknowledging the concern that an attack would prompt retaliation by Iran, Netanyahu referred to a letter from the World Jewish Congress to the U.S. government in 1944. The Jews were pleading for the U.S. to bomb Auschwitz. The reply was that such an operation would divert too many resources, was of doubtful efficacy and "might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans." These are the same arguments being made by many today in arguing against an attack on Iran. And what could have been more vindictive towards the Jewish people than the Holocaust? Netanyahu: "As Prime Minister of Israel I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation."

* My take. First, let's acknowledge that the decision to bomb or not bomb does not necessarily involve the same analysis for the U.S. as for Israel. Even Obama expressed his understanding of "the profound historical obligation" that weighs on Israel's leaders. If "Never Again" means anything, it must mean that no country expressing a desire to wipe Israel off the map can ever be allowed the means and opportunity to do so. Two well placed nukes could essentially destroy Israel and annihilate half the Jewish population of the world. One or two nukes on American soil would be devastating, but it would guarantee the end of Iran. It is not a calculus that Israel can make.

Obama said to AIPAC that "Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat." So, the second issue is whether or not the U.S. will supply the necessary weaponry (such as bunker-busting bombs) to Israel to do just that. Only Obama knows the answer to that.

As Netanyahu pointed out at AIPAC, the issue cannot simply be framed in terms of possible retaliatory acts by Iran, and whether or not an attack is worth the cost. We must also ask what the cost will be if nothing is done to stop Iran. It has been pointed out that if Iran gets the bomb, other countries in the Middle East have already indicated that they would feel a need to do so; countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Is a nuclear arms race in the Middle East good for world peace and security, or does it enhance the likelihood of nuclear war or terror? And isn't it interesting how Israel's open secret of having nukes does not provoke the same desire of other Middle Eastern countries to get their own nukes? This is because those countries recognize Israel obtained those weapons for defensive purposes, and as a deterrent; and Israel has never threatened, or expressed a desire, to wipe any other country off the map.

It does not seem likely that Israel will be willing to wait until next year (after the U.S. election) to attack. The question, therefore, is what will the U.S. do? Earlier in the Obama Administration, with lots of U.S. troops still in Iraq, Obama adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski suggested that if Israel flew over Iraq to attack Iran, U.S. fighter jets should shoot the Israelis down. (Brzezinski was also Carter's National Security Adviser.) I guess that's one option, although I do not see Obama doing that. So then, will Obama supply Israel with the necessary weaponry? Will Obama have the U.S. participate or even take the lead? Or will Obama simply wait until the election is over, at which time it might be too late?

No one can reasonably deny that there are consequences to both action and inaction. But the burden clearly is greater on Netanyahu than on Obama. His country, while strong militarily, cannot compare to the strength of the U.S.A. No Israeli leader can sit by and watch the destruction of the Jewish people. As the IAEA recently noted, Iran is enriching uranium at a rapid pace, and to a level more than is needed for civilian use. Iran has missiles that can reach Israel, and parts of Europe. (Once again, I am not holding my breath waiting to see if the Europeans will do anything.) Diplomacy and sanctions have been tried and have failed. Iran will not be deterred from obtaining a nuclear weapon short of military action. As Netanyahu said at AIPAC: "The purpose of the Jewish State is to defend Jewish lives and to secure the Jewish future." Netanyahu concluded: "In every generation there are those who wish to destroy the Jewish people. In this generation we are blessed to live in a time when there is a Jewish State capable of defending the Jewish people."