Obama, Iran, and the Israel Lobby
By Stephen J. Sniegoski
When, in 1593, Henry of Navarre converted from Protestantism to Catholicism in order to become king of a united France, he is reputed to have said: "Paris is worth a mass." For President Obama, as Robert Wright points out in his article, "Obama's Drift Toward War With Iran" in "The Atlantic" magazine (June 14), his re-election to the presidency would seem to be worth a war. Wright, a senior editor of "The Atlantic," writes: "The most undercovered story in Washington is how President Obama, under the influence of election-year politics, is letting America drift toward war with Iran." Wright notes that "There are things Obama could do to greatly increase the chances of a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear problem, but he seems to have decided that doing them would bring political blowback that would reduce his chances of re-election." And the blowback
Obama fears is "largely from Bibi Netanyahu, AIPAC, and other 'pro-Israel' voices." In short, Obama fears the Israel Lobby more than he opposes a war that would be unnecessary and also of unknown, but possibly immense, consequences.
It is apparent that Obama does not want war with Iran, and he is certainly being pilloried by neocons and other members of the Israel Lobby along with Republican hawks for his alleged appeasement of that country, but although he may eschew outright war measures, the fear of the Israel Lobby causes his administration to pursue an inflexible, pro-Israel hard-line diplomacy toward Iran on the nuclear issue that does not include any real quid pro quo; the diplomatic process has been simply geared to demanding that Iran make concessions, with no reciprocation being offered by the United States and its allies.
The United States is unwilling to offer Iran any significant relief from the draconian sanctions imposed on it "even in exchange for Iranian concessions that would have moved the world further away from war," in Wright's words. Most significantly, "Those concessions would have included Iran's ceasing production of uranium enriched to 20-percent levels."
Weapons grade uranium is 90 percent enriched, but Western officials have been expressed the dire concern that the 20 percent enrichment version, which is used for medical research purposes, could quickly be converted into nuclear weapons-grade material. (Much lower enrichment levels are used for peaceful nuclear power.) Such an Iranian concession would thus be in
line with America's near-term goal of preventing the 20 percent enrichment and would reduce the chances of war. Even if Romney should be elected president, it would be politically more difficult for him to launch an attack, if he so desired; and, if should he think otherwise, it would provide him with more justification not to do it.
Wright's reasoning appears to be perfectly sound. President Obama definitely would seem to have the power to greatly reduce the chances of war with Iran, if he so desired. And Wright also is on the mark when he labels Obama's willingness to improve his election chances by "imperiling peace and America's security" as a "little scandalous, " and that it is even "more scandalous" that people in the "Washington establishment" do not complain about it. But Wright also adds the highly questionable claim that the blowback Obama fears "is probably less forbidding than he assumes. And the political upside of successful statesmanship may be greater than he realizes."
However, though the Israel Lobby is not all-powerful, its staunch opposition would be sufficient to tip the scales against Obama in a close election. It should be pointed out that the only two recent US presidents who lost re-election bids-Jimmy Carter (1980) and George H.W. Bush (1992)-had taken positions antithetical to those of the Israel Lobby and drew its full ire. In short, in political terms Obama's fear of the Israel Lobby is perfectly reasonable for a politician concerned about winning elections, which would seem to be the case for most politicians. And it is obvious that almost all elected politicians act in this manner toward the
Israel Lobby-as clearly indicated by the votes in Congress and the extreme pro-Israel rhetoric of most of the Republican presidential candidates this year.
And to make the political power of Israel crystal clear to Obama, multi-billionaire Zionist Sheldon Adelson, who during the Republican primaries had single-handedly kept Newt Gingrich in the race, has pledged to spend $100 million or more to defeat President Obama. Adelson is an ultra-hard-line Likudnik hawk, but Obama must realize that there are many more less-ardent pro-Israel magnates who would come out openly against his re-election if he should dare to make an open effort to establish peace with Iran, currently Israel's foremost enemy.
Moreover, a contingency which Wright neglects to consider is that if it appears that Obama is falling behind Romney in the polls, which is completely possible given the state of the economy (and some current polls actually show Romney slightly ahead in the nation-wide popular vote), involvement in a war with Iran could likely enable him to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat-the American people patriotically uniting behind the President in wartime.
Phil Weiss, a very courageous American Jew who dares to openly oppose the Israel Lobby, looks at Wright's article in a very different light. He finds the very fact that a mainstream individual in a mainstream publication would dare to make mention of the Israel Lobby to be an issue of utmost significance. He writes: "I believe this is a new consensus: outspoken Americans are actually building a new understanding in the global discourse, that the United States is hamstrung by the special relationship with Israel." http://mondoweiss.net/2012/06/
If there were such a consensus, Obama and other politicians would begin to stand up against the policies advocated by the Israel Lobby. But the fact is that nothing approaching a "consensus" of "outspoken Americans" opposing the Israel Lobby has emerged, as Wright appropriately notes when he refers to the issue of Iran and the Israel Lobby as the "most undercovered story in Washington."
So it would appear that President Obama will continue his policy of "drift toward war with Iran," at least until after the November election. Should he be re-elected, perhaps he would change in his second term, but he still must consider the effect such a move would have on the political success of his second term, his legacy, and, as a relatively young man, his career after the presidency, all of which could be seriously jeopardized by his taking positions that run afoul of the Israel Lobby.