Nearly everyone I spoke to in Israel who ranged in political sympathies from the Likud right to Maretz left thought that the tone of the AIPAC conference had been too shrill and that Israel thought it wrong-headed and too impulsive to be engaged in saber-rattling with Iran at this stage.
In the past, I’ve been occasionally critical of Israeli influence over U.S. decisionmakers when I felt that American and Israeli national security interests were not as convergent in some respective case as some argued. However, in this instance on Iran, Israel’s national security thinkers and diplomats are on the side of logic — and it is in American national interests to hear the Israeli position and consider the roots of their surprising position.
It might sound strange that US strategic thinkers (insofar as we have any) are scaring Israel with their belligerence, but I don’t see why it should surprise anybody. Before 9/11 the Republicans dismissed diplomacy as effeminate buffoonery. After 9/11 they viewed it as an inconvenient impediment to getting their war on. The common thread that runs through both conservative and Republican thinking these days (those two have increasingly become different things) is a faith in the weakness and general futility of international consensus and diplomacy as a way of solving given problem X.
Any diplomatic solution to the Iran “crisis” won’t be a game for amateurs. Unfortunately when you look at our diplomatic talent pool amateurs is what we have. The career diplomats left Foggy Bottom years ago and left behind a cadre of underage hacks, crony hires, neocons and Condoleeza Rice. As the old adage says (more or less), we have a government convinced that diplomacy doesn’t work and determined to prove it.
The choice is even more obvious for an administration for whom policy always serves politics. Diplomacy takes work, it takes time and it demands significant, sometimes painful compromises. Compromise doesn’t sell. Say that we convince Iran to back down from its enrichment-based power program in return for American aid in building a network of more-modern reactors that don’t risk nuclear proliferation. It would take the talk-radio fuzzboxes five minutes to figure out that we’re paying Iran when we could have just bombed them instead. Even if we had the talent to pull it off the result would be red-state suicide.
Politically-speaking, war sells. The shellshocked GOP of ’06 would love nothing more than to turn the dial back to those glory days in the summer of ’02 when you just had to run a picture of Osama or Saddam next to a picture of Democratic candidate X and everybody immediately got what you were talking about. Candidate X thinks that we shouldn’t attack our enemies. Candidate X thinks that we should just sit back and let the terrorists take Topeka! Candidate X must hate America and want the terrorists to win. Because Candidate X hates war. That stuff was ballot-box magic. It’s hard to blame an elected Republican who wakes up from a long ’02 daydream and wants his war cudgel back. Of course war won’t work, unless by ‘work’ you mean a bloody expulsion from Iraq and the loss of a good portion of our Persian Gulf fleet. But that stuff comes later; before war gets mired in reality the general run-up makes for great politics.
You can color me shocked if our Iran policy amounts to anything more than a half-assed retread of Iraq ’02. The leadership doesn’t have the talent for diplomacy, the general idea offends them, and even if it works they a) risk getting punished for succeeding, and b) give up a chance for partisan gains in 11/06. The only remaining question is whether Tom Friedman and Peter Beinart will play along this time.