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“They Won’t Get in Our Way…” to Armageddon

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“I know what America is. , move it in the right direction. They won’t get in our way…” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 2001

Yesterday I watched the address of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as it occurred live. I watched as the majority of our elected Senators and Congressmen, seem to hang on every word and rise to give thunderous applause to Netanyahu’s blatant attempt to not just hijack but to commandeer U.S. foreign policy to serve Israel. If any other foreign leader had been invited by any other party to do the same at any point in our history there would be an outcry.

 Now please do not get me wrong. Iran is an enemy, they continually work against us in attempting to destabilize the Middle East and advance their Shia’ Moslem version of the Apocalypse. However, they are very pragmatic and with the major demographic shifts there could easily come a point when the young people of Iran, tired of the repression of the Mullah’s overthrow them. Likewise I do believe that the Iranian nuclear program must be monitored and if it looks as if they are about to produce a bomb that can be delivered by air or missile that could harm us or any ally that they will have to be stopped. I have written about this before so I will not go into that here. Likewise, before calling me anti-Semetic please look at the body of my writings which not only are supportive of Israel but those of a realist who understands that anything which involves the United States in yet another pre-emptive war is not in the interest of the United States or Israel. 

 At the same time the speech was insulting because the United States has given Israel everything that it ever has needed since its founding in 1948. American Presidents from Truman to Obama have bent over backwards to support Israel. In 1967 the Israeli Navy and Air Force launched a sustained coordinated attack on the USS Liberty during the Six Day War which killed 34 and wounded 171 United States Navy Sailors. The Israelis, despite evidence to the contrary, including the testimony of the crew of the Liberty claimed that they had mistaken the ship for an Egyptian destroyer. The Johnson administration accepted the Israeli version and quickly buried the incident.

In October 1973, if it had not been for the actions of Richard Nixon Israel very likely would have ceased to exist, Nixon rushed emergency supplies of tanks, aircraft and weapons aboard U.S. ships and cargo aircraft, and confronted the Soviets who were threatening to intervene. 

Since then we have provide Israel advanced weapons and weapons technology in abundance, we share intelligence with Israel that we share with no-one else, and we have always supported Israel in the United States every time there is an attempt to rebuke, condemn or sanction Israel. Even President Obama and his administration has done this with abandon. 

 And what credit do we get? We get a few meaningless platitudes from Netanyahu before he attempts to commandeer U.S. foreign policy with the active aid and support of John Speaker of the House Boehner, support that is in clear violation of one of the oldest laws dealing with foreign policy enacted by this country’s founders in 1799. 

 The speech and the reception of the Representatives and Senators who invited Netanyahu to give it and their wild adulation was not only insulting but flies in the face of what our every one founders believed reference foreign policy and relations and actually a clear violation of the Logan Act of 1799 that prohibits unauthorized citizens from negotiating with a foreign government.

The Logan Act reads:

“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.” 

 And this my friends was exactly what happened here. While negotiating with members of the Israeli government as Speaker of the House, Boehner kept his efforts secret for over three weeks. Boehner only told the White House when he had secured a deal for the Israeli Prime Minister to address a Joint Session of Congress, which is in itself a highly unusual event. If fact Winston Churchill was the only foreign leader to receive such an invitation. I do not want to be cheeky, but Netanyahu is not a reincarnated Winston Churchill. Unlike Britain in late 1940 Israel has the capability of destroying every one of its enemies with its large stock of fully operational and deplorable nuclear weapons and delivery systems, most of the latter supplied by the United States and other Western Allies. 

Not only this, but the invitation coincided with the closing weeks of Mr. Netanyahu’s reelection campaign, and is a blatant attempt to sway Israel voters to vote for him.

What the Speaker did was unethical, illegal and against every founding principle of American foreign policy dating back to George Washington and John Adams.

The nearly orgasmic applause of the Republicans to every thing that Netanyahu said was sickening. Especially when Netanyahu demanded that  the United States walk away from the negotiation table, and especially when Netanyahu threatened to attack alone if necessary. Of course, knowing his audience, he said, he knows that would not happen. It was like watching them cheer on Armageddon. 

 Mr. Netanyahu knows that he can use fear to get Americans to do his bidding, as well as the beliefs of the militant Conservative Christians who pray for such a war in order for Jesus to return.

Netanyahu presented a very black and white image of the Middle East. It was as insulting as it was fear based, conflating Iran and the Islamic State competing “for the crown of militant Islam.” He said, “In this deadly game of thrones, there is no place for America or Israel…” and urged no middle ground short of destroying Iran. Netanyahu’s option was to walk away and offer Iran a deal that no nation with any self-respect would agree to, in fact walking away will usher in the war that Netanyahu says that the tactic will avoid. 

 The speech was eerily reminiscent of Netanyahu’s words to a Congressional committee in 2002 in the lead up to the Iraq War, which of course was such a success. Netanyahu has been using the same tactics to get the United States to do Israel’s bidding for two decades, capitalizing on America fears, and the underlying apocalyptic strain of American Evangelical Christianity which has found its way into the political mainstream. Back in 2002 Mr. Netanyahu said:

“There’s no question that [Saddam] has not given upon on his nuclear program, not [sic] whatsoever. There is also no question that he was not satisfied with the arsenal of chemical and biological weapons that he had and was trying to perfect them constantly…So I think, frankly, it is not serious to assume that this man, who 20 years ago was very close to producing an atomic bomb, spent the last 20 years sitting on his hands. He has not. And every indication we have is that he is pursuing, pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. If anyone makes an opposite assumption or cannot draw the lines connecting the dots, that is simply not an objective assessment of what has happened. Saddam is hell-bent on achieving atomic bombs, atomic capabilities, as soon as he can.”

“Today the United States must destroy the same regime because a nuclear-armed Saddam will place the security of our entire world at risk. And make no mistake about it — if and once Saddam has nuclear weapons, the terror networks will have nuclear weapons.” 

 
“If you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region… The task and the great opportunity and challenge is not merely to effect the ouster of the regime, but also to transform the region.” 

 The scary thing is that when you look at the Americans who most strongly “support” Israel, they are men like fundamentalist Christian zealots like John Hagee, and Tim LaHaye, who have spent the better part of fifty years preaching a version of Bible prophecy which for Jesus to return and institute his “millennial kingdom” Israel must be devastated by a war that claims two-thirds of Israelis before the “remnant” accept Jesus as their Messiah. By the way this point of view is also held by top contenders for the GOP nomination in 2016 for the GOP nomination in 2016 and many House and Senate GOP leaders. But, my friends, if you disagree with them, some of their “Christian” pundits will call you a traitor who should “be hanged” in from of the Capital Building. 

 Now, be assured, Netanyahu doesn’t believe that for a second, he is a cunning politician, and he has no problem using the political power of the people who believe this to get his way with America. I believe that this will in the long run be bad thing both for the United States and Israel. I think that it is unbelievably unwise and may create an actual rift between our countries and fracture what has been throughout our history a bi-partisan support for Israel, and for what reason, short term political gain, both in Israel and the United States by those that brought it on. 

 My objection to what happened yesterday was not that Iran should not be opposed, nor the security of Israel be compromised. My objection is that what happened yesterday was against everything that our founders believed in and violated the law. Of our land. 

As an American my loyalty is to this country and our Constitution, not to an errant and heretic view of scripture that surrenders American rights to the whim of a particular warmongering Israeli politician. Netanyahu is a politician who has more than once stated his disdain for this country and sees us as a means to achieve his end, even if that means committing the United States to a war from which no good can come.

 Mr. Netanyahu and his American allies pushed us into a war in Iraq which was disastrous, not only for the human lives lost and devastated, the reputation and image of this country, and the economic burdens incurred, but also because it has unleashed turmoil in the region far greater than anyone imagined.

I am an American and my allegiance is not to Israel, it is to this country and our Constitution. I will be damned if allow myself to be silent while religious zealots, be they American, Iranian, the Islamic State, or Jewish try to bring about their version of Armageddon.

 Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts on the Iranian “Deal”

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Yesterday negotiators from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China finished hammering out a tentative deal with Iran regarding that nation’s nuclear program.

There are a lot of opinions about the deal, some positive, some definitely negative and quite a few like mine a wait and see attitude. Now I am hopeful that the deal is a positive first step in assuring that Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. In fact I pray that it does.

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The fact is that we have to try, even if some allies for their own reasons disagree. The Israelis are understandably concerned, especially since the last President of Iran, most of the Mullahs that actually run that country and the Revolutionary Guard have expressed their belief that Israel should not exist. Thus for the Israelis this can be seen as an existential matter. If Iran were to get operational nuclear weapons and use them against Israel that state would suffer greatly. Likewise the Saudis are distrustful of the Iranians, but for different reasons. For the Saudis this is the great conflict between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam, a conflict that appears to be gaining steam in Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon. It is  conflict that has the potential to be the Islamic equivalent of the Thirty Years war, that great bloodletting between Catholic and Protestant Europe. Iran and the Saudis are the leaders of the respective factions of Islam, they are mortal enemies.

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We have to be cognizant of both the Israeli and Saudi concerns. They are legitimate and because they are allies we must take them into account. That being said the most important security needs to be addressed by the United States are those of the United States. Sometimes those are not always the same of allies, even allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia. That is something that has to be weighed in this case.

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The cold fact of the matter is that for many years we in the United States have become accustomed to resorting to military force first and neglecting the other aspects of national and international power that could be brought to bear to in achieving our national security and foreign policy goals. Those other aspects include economic power, information and diplomacy which unfortunately have been neglected. Presidents and our Congress have, even in spite of the misgivings of military leaders pursued the military option first.

After the attacks of September 11th 2001 the Bush Administration with the authorization of Congress pursued an almost single minded military solution to those attacks. That response was not only against the Al Qaeda terrorists but against their Afghan Taliban hosts and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

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Those campaigns have worn our military down. The resources spent in those countries, the lives lost, the money spent and the wear and tear on equipment have harmed our national security. But even above that in terms of strategy we eliminated the one natural enemy of Iran which helped hold them in check. We invaded Iraq and left it in a condition that it could no longer be the western bulwark against Iran. We turned down Iranian offers of help after September 11th and in doing so lost opportunities which might have led us and Iran down a different path. Instead President Bush declared Iran and Iraq both parts of an “Axis of Evil.”

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It was a declaration that the Iranians rightly understood as a declaration of war. Legally it may not have been, but the stated strategy enunciated by men like John Bolton and those we call the “Neocons” inside the Bush Administration and in associated think tanks could only be understood by the Iranians in that light. That end state envisioned by Bolton then and even now was regime change in not only Iraq, but also Iran. We have to ask ourselves this question: If another nation did this to us, how would we respond? I dare say that we, like the Iranians would dig in our heels and seek to develop military capacities that could defeat them, or if not defeat them make their “success” so costly that our enemies would not press us.

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Now because of those choices we are faced with a situation where Iran is estimated to be reasonably close to developing a nuclear weapon capacity. It is something that if it happens will result in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The Israelis already have that capability and the Saudis are reportedly pursuing that capability. Thus it cannot be allowed to happen.

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That being said there are ways to ensure that does not happen. One advocated by those opposed to the deal is a hard line approach including pre-emptive military strikes against Iran, which not only would bring about a regional war but at best delay Iran a few years in procuring nuclear weapons.

The other is the course that has been pursued by the Obama Administration over the course of the past few years. That is the use of economic sanctions and diplomacy. As I said at the beginning this has not been our default policy over the past 12 years. But it is necessary. We are not in a good position to add yet another war, a war with world wide security and economic implications to our plate.

The fact is that due to the wars of the past 12 years as well as budget cuts including the sequestration cuts we are not in a good position to wage another war. We are stretched thin. Readiness thanks to sequestration is declining. The Chief of Staff of the Army stated that only two combat brigades are immediately deployable for combat operations. Could we launch another military campaign? Yes we could. But war, if we believe Clausewitz war is an extension of politics and policy. But we have to ask if would it achieve our overall policy goals? That I am not sure.  Clausewitz wrote: “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by the war and how he intends to conduct it.”

In fact even if we delivered punishing strikes to Iran the costs could be great, and not just the economic costs.  Our campaign would have to be an air campaign to destroy hardened targets many of which we do not know the exact locations. Our record in such air campaigns is mixed. We spent over 70 days pounding Serbia with little to show for it in actual damage to their military. Likewise Iran is not Iraq, our targets will not be exposed in the open desert. Additionally Iranian A2/D2 (Anti-Access/Area Denial) capabilities pose great risks for US and Allied Warships as well as bases in the Arabian Gulf. If an Iranian Kilo Class submarine were to sink an American Aircraft Carrier it would not be a tactical setback, it would be a major loss of American strategic capability not just in the Middle East but world wide.

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Likewise as I mentioned before we took out the one natural opponent of Iran when we overthrew Saddam Hussein. In doing so we destroyed every bit of infrastructure, military power and civil government structures that any new Iraqi government would need to maintain any sense of a balance of power in the Arabian Gulf.

All that being said do I trust the Iranians? I cannot say that I do. I am a realist. I enlisted in 1981 in large part because of the Iranian takeover of the American Embassy and the hostage crisis. They remain a dictatorial regime which persecutes religious minorities including Christians. They restrict their people from open access to the internet and persecute political opponents. The Revolutionary Guards Corps, the most powerful organization in Iran has actively worked to destabilize other countries in the region. Their influence is great especially in regards to Lebanon’s Hezbollah which has launched missile campaigns against Israel and been active on the side of Syria dictator Bashir Assad in that country’s brutal civil war.

However the path of diplomacy must be given a reasonable chance to succeed. In the early 1970s President Nixon started a process of detente with the Soviet Union and Communist China. It was not embraced by hawks. President Ford, Carter and Reagan continued those policies to one degree or another with the final result being the fall of the Berlin Wall, collapse of the Warsaw Pact and overthrow of Communism.

This deal is a start. It is not perfect at all. I see issues in it. but it is based on the politics and art of the possible. It has the potential to be a game changer in a region wracked by war and revolution, a region led for the most part by despots in which terrorists often operate freely. I don’t know if it will work, but I hope it does.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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