Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Obama: Pro-Israel, thankfully, but also taking the full calculus prudently

By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, March 6, 2012
President Obama, in his interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and in his address to Aipac, the pro-Israel lobby, offered the greatest support for Israel that any president could at this time: He redefined the Iran issue. He said — rightly — that it was not simply about Israel’s security, but about U.S. national security and global security.

Obama did this by making clear that allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons and then “containing” it — the way the U.S. contained the Soviet Union — was not a viable option, because if Iran acquires a nuclear bomb, all the states around it would seek to acquire one as well. This would not only lead to a nuclear Middle East, but it would likely prompt other countries to hedge their commitments to the global Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The global nuclear black market would then come alive and we would see the dawning of a more dangerous world.
“Preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon isn’t just in the interest of Israel, it is profoundly in the security interests of the United States,” the president told The Atlantic. “If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, this would run completely contrary to my policies of nonproliferation. The risks of an Iranian nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorist organizations are profound. ... It would also provide Iran the additional capability to sponsor and protect its proxies in carrying out terrorist attacks, because they are less fearful of retaliation. ... If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, I won’t name the countries, but there are probably four or five countries in the Middle East who say, ‘We are going to start a program, and we will have nuclear weapons.’ And at that point, the prospect for miscalculation in a region that has that many tensions and fissures is profound. You essentially then duplicate the challenges of India and Pakistan fivefold or tenfold.” In sum, the president added, “The dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world.”
Every Israeli and friend of Israel should be thankful to the president for framing the Iran issue this way. It is important strategically for Israel, because it makes clear that dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat was not Israel’s problem alone. And it is important politically, because this decision about whether to attack Iran is coinciding with the U.S. election. The last thing Israel or American friends of Israel — Jewish and Christian — want is to give their enemies a chance to claim that Israel is using its political clout to embroil America in a war that is not in its interest.
There are still those who argue that sanctions, no matter how stringent, will not bring Iran to a change of heart and mind, and a relinquishing of her alleged nuclear program for weapons, and not just for "energy" purposes. There is also Saudi Arabia, one of whose leaders not too long ago, asked the U.S. to "take the head off the snake" meaning "attack and take the head off Iran.
While there is cogent and mounting evidence that supports the President's framing of the issue, that the Middle East, and hence the rest of the world, would quickly become involved in another arms race, of the nuclear variety, and no one wants that, there is also the conundrum that while China and Russia have agreed to the most recent call for talks with Iran, they have studiously blocked any attempt to bring the conflict in Syria to an end.
It would seem, to the uneducated and untrained eye, from the middle of the North American continent, that Syria, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah are a very "tight" faction, intent on stirring up death, torture and discombobulation among the major powers, for their own purposes. It would also seem too simple to detach the Syrian debacle from the Iran issue, given the active participation of both Russia and Iran in supplying arms for the Syrian government to conduct its carnage.
Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon is certainly of major interest to all the people of the world, and yet, against this dramatic backdrop, we watch the death of men, women and children at the hands of the Syrian thugs. Surely, these two issues are being choreographed by the Iranians and the Syrians, and must not be considered separately and individually by the west.
So, if Obama judges the complications of an Iranian nuclear weapon at five times those of the conflict between Pakistan and India, both nuclear powers, consider the potential impact, not only of a Middle East arms race, but also a combined threat, whether nuclear or not, of Syria, Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah, supported by either China and/or Russia, as a monster having to be reined in by the rest of the world.
Israel's existence is certainly threatened by the madmen in Iran; they have made that public; however, we could all be sucked into a vortex of conflict with the slightest miscalculation on the part of any of the several players, and that could pose an existential threat to global peace and security that would make the economic crisis look like a case of acne on the face of the world's political leaders...hardly worth even mentioning.

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