Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bibi's War Now Coalition and Barack Obama

Bibi is a Tough Task Master

The nature of the deadly game playing out between Jerusalem and Washington these days is thinly disguised blackmail. Netanyahu wants demands an unqualified option to go to war against Iran. He demands that Washington recognize his exclusive right and privilege to start the war against Iran precisely how and when he so desires. The engine is humming and Netanyahu, preening himself as the leader of Israel and of all the Jewish people is in the driver’s seat.

Netanyahu, to employ a mild metaphor, has Barack Obama up a creek without a paddle. Washington has an issue with Iran. Washington claims concern regarding Iranian plans for developing a nuclear military option. Many astute observers believe that

the real reason is that the US is hurting as a result of the expanding political prestige of the Iranians in the region. Whatever the US motivation, it is crystal clear that Washington must exercise infinite care and caution. Obama should be totally and completely in charge of every element and every nuance affecting the outcome of the brewing crisis. But someone else is calling the shots.

In a normal state of affairs, Obama would be constantly in touch with his staff and close colleagues. He would have to process and digest the information and positions of all hues and shades. No one believes that he is doing so. Instead, he is possessed with the need to strike the right kind of stature and to say the “right things “ which will convince the war now coalition of his complete and unstinted readiness to follow Israel into the breach.

Ah, these are times of strange coalitions. [El-Kaideh and NATO are in tandem over Syria]. The coalition between Christian fundamentalism and ascendant Sunni belligerence, enhanced by the ‘severely conservative’ Republicans, and dancing to AIPAC music is a pretty sight, isn’t it. The coalition has the ears and eyes of the local and world media at its service. Barak Obama is mum and cowering. This might be a result of the excellent advice that he is receiving from his election campaign experts. But if he flunks this test of history, he will go down as just another flunkey. History will not forgive those responsible for handing the keys to Benyamin Netanyahu and allowing him to smash up the Middle East.

This strange brew of pro-Western Islamic and Christian fundamentalism is ready and willing to follow the victorious Israeli bombers into Iran. But if things do not work out, we will start hearing the familiar anti-Semitic refrain: the Jews got us into a war that could not be won. The present scenario according to which, Israel, as the virtual representative of the Jewish people, is using every bit of clout to push the United States into what might become a major war cannot fail to warm the cockles of the anti-Semitic heart. For this we needed a Jewish state?

General Dempsey is on CNN, for the ‘nth time to warn Israel against trying to draw the US into war. The ritual is growingly absurd. Netanyahu approves every step by the US against Iran, only to remind the world the very next day that the effort is insufficient. Netanyahu’s ‘insufficient’ grade is a signal to his coalition to pour on more and more accusations as to Obama’s weakness. One US general after another, and one diplomat after another make their timid way to Jerusalem. They are greeted with courtesy and praised for their efforts only to learn the next day that the efforts are still ‘insuffcient.” Bibi is a tough task master.

Were Walt and Mearsheimer Right?

About six or seven years ago, two prestigious academics in the field of international relations , Prof. Stephen Walt and Prof. J.J. Mearsheimer centered public attention on the unique influence of the pro-Israeli lobby on US foreign policy. Walt and Mearsheimer researched this phenomenon, which came to be known as the theory of “the tail (Israel) wagging the (US) dog.”

This approach was challenged by Noam Chomsky and others on the left who argued correctly that the influence of the Israeli lobby depended on its function within the parameters of US interests and policy. Israel, through its lobby in the US could wag the US tail only when the US wanted to wag its own tail.

It appears that the present juncture in US-Israeli relations cannot be described accurately by either of the two main examples . There is sufficient empirical evidence that Netanyahu is able and willing to exploit his capacity to play an independent role. This possibility includes exercising considerable pressure on the US executive branch via the enormous influence of the pro-Israeli Jewish lobby, powerful connections in Congress and the Republican Party. This is so true that the administration appears afraid of any form of confrontation with Israel. Bibi’s war now coalition has become a major force on the US political scene. Bibi seems to have the ability to drag the US into war with Iran by starting a war on his own with a clear intent to force the US administration to come to his side if things get rough. Israel has considerable, critical leeway on a major, fateful issue.

There is definitely a strong element of the ‘tail wagging the dog’ here but with two major qualifications. The Israeli drive for war may reveal tactical or even strategic differences with the United States, but war with Iran is well within the parameters of US policy. In this sense, Israeli adventurism breeds and may even run wild, but can do so on the foundations of US policy and in no way contradicts the US principle position.

Moreover, the inability of the Obama government to impose vital tactical coordination on Israel seems to stem from an overall weakening of the US state system. This, in turn, is a major expression of the crisis in the global status and prestige of the US as well as the unsolved (or maybe insoluble) domestic, internal socio-economic problems in that country. In more and more areas, there is a feeling that in the United States “no one is minding the store.”

However, it is reasonable to believe that US and Israeli interests will coalesce at a certain point and Israel’s ability to push the region over the brink will be restrained. Even so, Obama’s glaring inability to keep Netanyahu on a short leash may set off yet another major catastrophe in this region that is already seeing too much death and destruction.