Drums In The Deep (Again)

Despite my belief that the Obama administration is trying a Schrodinger’s Cat sort of gambit on Iran, using talk of an attack to try to pressure Iran to the negotiating table as its only safe way to find out whether the cat is dead or just spittingly pissed off, I’m increasingly worried by the drum beat from the Israel First lobby.

Gareth Porter writes today that Obama has made an important tactical mistake, by signalling to Israel that he can still be convinced to join Bibi’s little war.

A story leaked by Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius last week said Panetta believing there was a “strong likelihood” that Israel would attack sometime between April and the end of June. What appeared on the surface to be an expression of US alarm about a strike coming so soon was actually an effort to put pressure on Tehran to make new concessions on its nuclear programme before the sanctions take effect.

Instead of characterising Netanyahu’s posture as irrational and reckless, Ignatius chose to depict the official view of a short and relatively painless war with Iran without the slightest hint that it is rejected out of hand by Israeli intelligence and military leaders. Ignatius was presumably prompted by Panetta to characterise it in a way that would make the Israeli threat more credible to Iran.

What really gave away Panetta’s intention to pressure Iran, however, was the fact that he used Ignatius to warn Iran that, if it retaliated against Israeli population centres, the US “could feel obligated to come to Israel’s defence”.

That warning clearly undercut the painstaking efforts the Obama administration had made over the previous two months to signal to Netanyahu that Israel would be on its own if it attacked Iran without prior US agreement. The sudden reversal in Obama’s policy dramatically illuminated the deep contradictions built into its policy.

Gareth writes that Netanyahu’s counter-strategy is to use the influence of the Israel Lobby in and out of Congress against Obama in the general election, thus either pressuring Obama to make concessions to Tel Aviv or helping install a more sympathetic ear in the White House.

And right on cue, Think Progress reports that the Gang Of Three – McCain, Graham and Lieberman – are trying to float legislation to constrain Obama’s options by putting the Senate on record as “ruling out a strategy of containment of a nuclear-armed Iran.” So far, they’re getting no traction from Dem lawmakers, but the AIPAC policy conference on 4th March may change that. Here’s the AIPAC page on Iran – subtle it is not. Entirely absent from that page, however, is any discussion of what an attack on Iran might look like, or any hint that many of Israel’s military leaders think the price would not be worth the benefit.

We’ve been to this well too many times already. I’ve been blogging since 2004 and every two years since then the war drums against Iran have reached a fever pitch before dying down some again. How many times can we do this before it all blows up, either on purpose or by accident? Tom Barnett thinks an eventual conflagration is inevitable. He may well be right.

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • How much stock do you put in Tom Barnett? I read him a decade back when he was just coming out with the Pentagon’s New Map book, etc. I loved his ideas at first, but eventually concluded that he was… delusional, or at least too naive or, in at least one instance of which I don’t recall the details, a bloodthirsty apologist for slaughter. I don’t know. I gave up on him at some point.

    What’s your opinion of his ideas and analysis?

    Edit: Also, I should mention that I really like your focus on foreign policy issues–that used to be a big hole in my blogroll!

  • Steve, I do like you objective view on the Iran thing. It’s refreshing, and confirmation that I’m not totally off the reservation on my opinions on war.

  • Some days Tom Barnett seems spot on to me, other days he sounds like conspiracy theorist. I think he’s too heavily invested in his “core countries” thing, to be honest, as he usually does far better analysis when he’s not banging that drum. Even so, he’s saying here what a lot of other people are saying in the FP community, and saying it more baldly than most.

  • Thanks for the kind words. At the end of the day, I’m an ex-pat Scot. I don’t have the “brought up with it” appreciation of nuance in US domestic politics that many other bloggers do, and I’ll freely admit that. I’m more at home with foreign policy – which is usually just domestic politics inflicted on foreigners.

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