Republicans Outsource U.S. Foreign Policy to Israel's Netanyahu
Less than one month ago, Republican Senator and possible 2016 presidential candidate Lindsey Graham (R-SC) traveled to Jerusalem to deliver a simple message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "the Congress will follow your lead." Follow Bibi's lead, that is, on policy towards Iran. And now, just as the U.S. and its international partners enter the final, difficult stage of negotiations to prevent Tehran's development of nuclear weapons, Graham and his GOP allies are inviting Netanyahu to address Congress for a third time to blow up any agreement, and with it, perhaps the entire region.
Last week, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, leader of America's closest and most dependable ally, used his joint press conference in Washington to support President Obama's call for Congressional restraint. "It's the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions, or further threat of sanctions, at this point won't actually help," Cameron said, warning passage of the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill now "could actually fracture" the international coalition now in talks with Tehran.
Nevertheless, House Speaker John Boehner gave the President of the United States the finger and declared Israel's PM would be invited to dictate America's foreign and national security policy:
"You may have seen that on Friday, the president warned us not to move ahead with sanctions on Iran, a state sponsor of terror," Boehner said in the Republican meeting. "His exact message to us was, 'Hold your fire.' He expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran. Two words: 'Hell no!' ... We're going to do no such thing.
"I am specifically asking him to address Congress on the threats posed by radical Islam and Iran," Boehner said in the meeting. "America and Israel have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again. Let's send a clear message to the White House -- and the world -- about our commitment to Israel and our allies."
If only that commitment ran both ways. Boehner's announcement comes just days after Israel turned to the Obama administration to block Palestinian moves on statehood and war crimes at the United Nations and the international Criminal Court. Yet Bibi, who says "the U.S. has no better friend than Israel," has repeatedly embarrassed the U.S. over settlement, expansion in Jerusalem and the John Kerry's peace process. It's no wonder Israeli settlers pelted American officials with stones during a recent West Bank visit. (Who's calling who "messianic?") And it's entirely understandable why Obama administration officials would called Netanyahu "chickenshit."
Nevertheless, Republicans have made it clear for years that they take their marching orders from Likud and its far right allies. During the 2012 campaign, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said of his old buddy Bibi, "We can almost speak in shorthand...We share common experiences and have a perspective and underpinning which is similar." President Romney, he made clear, would turn to his former Boston Consulting Group colleague to set American policy in the region:
"I've also known Bibi Netanyahu for a long time. We worked together at Boston Consulting Group. And the last thing Bibi Netanyahu needs to have is not just a person who's an historian, but somebody who is also running for president of the United States, stand up and say things that create extraordinary tumult in his neighborhood...Before I made a statement of that nature, I'd get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say, 'Would it help if I said this? What would you like me to do?'"
No doubt, what Bibi would want him to do is precisely what Governor Romney promised American voters: "The actions that I will take will be actions recommended and supported by Israeli leaders." And as he put it on September 20, 2012, Romney's red line towards the Iranian nuclear program wouldn't have been the one set by President Obama, but the one drawn by Prime Minister Netanyahu:
"With regards to the red line, I would image [sic] Prime Minister Netanyahu is referring to a red line over which if Iran crossed it would take military action. And for me, it is unacceptable or Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon, which they could use in the Middle East or elsewhere. So for me, the red line is nuclear capability. We do not want them to have the capacity of building a bomb that threatens ourselves, our friends, and the world."
But the world crossed that point years ago. The P5+1 negotiations now underway are hoping to reach an agreement that would limit Tehran's ability to quickly manufacture a nuclear device by limiting its stockpiles of enriched uranium and the capacity of its nuclear infrastructure to produce more. American and Iranian officials will resume talks in Geneva next week, with the hope of reaching a framework in March for a final agreement by the June 30 deadline.
But in Jerusalem, Benjamin Netanyahu wants carte blanche to strike Iran's nuclear facilities when and if he deems it necessary. And the draft of the Kirk-Menendez bill that would automatically impose new sanctions on Iran if the nuclear talks fail also gives Bibi that and more. Even as the U.S. and Iran are helping their common ally Iraq fight the Islamic State, the legislation's commitment to support an Israeli preventive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities that almost ensures the Washington and Tehran will come to blows. As Section 2b, part 5 of the draft mandates:
If the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.
Now, the lack of an explicit AUMF in the "Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act" doesn't mean its supporters aren't giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu de facto carte blanche to hit Iranian nuclear facilities. Senators Graham, Rubio and their GOP allies have stated their support for such an authorization. Regardless, the ensuing Iranian retaliation against Israeli and American interests would almost certainly trigger the commitment of U.S. forces anyway.
Even if the Israelis alone launched a strike against Iran's atomic sites, Tehran will almost certainly hit back against U.S. targets in the Straits of Hormuz, in the region, possibly in Europe and even potentially in the American homeland. Israel would face certain retaliation from Hezbollah rockets launched from Lebanon and Hamas missiles raining down from Gaza.
That's why former Bush Defense Secretary Bob Gates and CIA head Michael Hayden raising the alarms about the "disastrous" impact of the supposedly surgical strikes against the Ayatollah's nuclear infrastructure. As the New York Times reported in March 2012, "A classified war simulation held this month to assess the repercussions of an Israeli attack on Iran forecasts that the strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead, according to American officials." And that September, a bipartisan group of U.S. foreign policy leaders including Brent Scowcroft, retired Admiral William Fallon, former Republican Senator (now Obama Pentagon chief) Chuck Hagel, retired General Anthony Zinni and former Ambassador Thomas Pickering concluded that American attacks with the objective of "ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear bomb" would "need to conduct a significantly expanded air and sea war over a prolonged period of time, likely several years." (Accomplishing regime change, the authors noted, would mean an occupation of Iran requiring a "commitment of resources and personnel greater than what the U.S. has expended over the past 10 years in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.") The anticipated blowback?
Serious costs to U.S. interests would also be felt over the longer term, we believe, with problematic consequences for global and regional stability, including economic stability. A dynamic of escalation, action, and counteraction could produce serious unintended consequences that would significantly increase all of these costs and lead, potentially, to all-out regional war.
If this all sounds like the hypothetical scenarios of a bunch of doves in the Pentagon and the State Department, it is worth recalling the America reaction to the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 U.S. servicemen and wounded hundreds of others. As former Clinton and Bush counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke recounted in his book, Against All Enemies, President Clinton and the Joint Chiefs contemplated a massive U.S. invasion of Iran in response to the involvement of its agents:
In our meeting with the Pentagon in 1996, Shali was talking about al-out war. The military had a plan for almost any contingency. The plan on the shelf for war with Iran looked like it had been drawn up by Eisenhower. Several groups of Army and Marine divisions would sweep across the country over the course of several months.
(Ultimately, President Clinton opted against the invasion of Iran, in part because of the difficulty in proving the U.S. intelligence case against Tehran to the international community. In the end, the U.S. launched a large-scale covert action campaign against Iranian intelligence assets worldwide. Apparently, the message was received with zero distortion; Iran has not targeted United States interests since.)
The Pentagon's 2012 war-gaming in a simulation called "Internal Look" served to reinforce for U.S. military officials "the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of a strike by Israel, and a counterstrike by Iran." As for the impact on the global economy, in November, the Federation of American Scientists estimated that a U.S. campaign of air strikes would cost $700 billion; a full-scale invasion could have a total impact of $1.7 trillion.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, long-time Middle East diplomat Martin Indyk expressed concern over Mitt Romney's proclamation that there should be "no daylight" between the President of the United States and Israel. Mitt Romney's statements about his BFF Bibi, Indyk warned, suggest that he would "subcontract Middle East policy to Israel," adding "that, of course, would be inappropriate." But now, Congressional Republicans seem content to do just that. The American decision about war and peace shouldn't be made in Washington, but in Jerusalem. And if he survives the elections in March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be the one making it.