Robert Merry of the National Interest has written an extremely bold and incisive piece on the divergence of US and Israeli interests regarding war with Iran. He takes his analysis to a unusual next level, urging the president–Obama or his successor–to make explicit the divergence of Israeli and American national interest, to go to the American people and explain it. He thinks the President would win the resulting political battle, and more importantly has no choice but to fight it.
I think Merry is probably right. That question of who would win a showdown with the Israel lobby last arose with reference to the settlements, the Israeli colonization of the West Bank. Probably a majority of Americans oppose them but not many care enough to bring heat to the battle. Faced with Bibi Netanyahu’s and the Israel lobby’s influence among congressmen in his own party, Obama retreated quickly.
An Iran war would be different. Merry:
Consider first the likely consequences of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran—the Syrian civil war exploding into a region-wide sectarian conflict; destabilization of such nations as Bahrain, Jordan and Lebanon; obliteration of the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement; a new Intifada in the occupied Palestinian lands; expanded terrorist activity against the West; a doubling or tripling of oil prices; a likely economic meltdown in Europe and China, with huge subsidiary damage to the U.S. economy. All of these things easily could be triggered simply by an Israeli attack on Iran; all of them likely would be worse if America got dragged into the resulting Israeli-Iranian conflict.
Second, what kind of country would America be if it ceded its sovereignty in matters of war and peace to a tiny ally that seems bent on manipulating American decision making by manipulating American domestic politics? It’s one thing to have Israel thwart America’s efforts to foster a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on Israel’s perception of its own interests; it’s quite another to allow Israel to pull the United States into a war that the American people are not prepared for and that likely would severely harm America’s economic and geopolitical interests.
Merry has taken the Iran debate to an entirely new level. Heretofore realists have generally been content to make the case in foreign policy terms, hoping that the baleful consequences of an Iran war–whether initiated by Israel or Washington–would speak for themselves. But too often foreign policy specialists think the logic of their reasoning alone is persuasive. It’s not. Merry grapples with the politics of taking on the Iran war hawks: not only would a president who allowed a war to start be whipsawed by the consequences, to the detriment of anything else he hoped to achieve; but the American people are ready to listen arguments about why a war with Iran is contrary and damaging to American interests. It’s a bold idea, put forth at a time when not a single sitting U.S. Senator has been willing to adopt this line in public. But I think Merry is right in believing a forceful President has enough ammunition to win such a battle. And he can’t avoid it, even if he wanted to.