Two important posts on Peter Beinart’s blog Open Zion. First Beinart, who argues that the US needs to avoid being further nudged towards war against Iran by Netanyahu — and the way is to encourage more public discussion of whether such a war is in American interests. What happens now is Netanyahu & co. press Obama to make commitments to go to war, while Obama’s team tries to reassure Israel that America won’t let Iran have a weapon, and the Israel lobby tries to move the goal posts to prohibit Iran from enriching uranium.
But Beinart rightly worries that there’s so little debate about what a war would mean, the benefits, the costs. He also worries how much Obama is promising Netanyahu in order to persuade Israel not to launch a war on its own this year. Beinart:
In our political system, presidents are not empowered to promise to launch wars in backroom negotiations with foreign leaders. According to the Constitution (you know, the document the Tea Party loves so much), the power to declare war rests with Congress. And while that principle hasn’t exactly been respected in recent decades, the Gulf and Iraq wars were at least preceded by high-profile congressional hearings, intense media focus, and a congressional vote. Today, by contrast, Obama reportedly is talking to Israel about an Iran war while talking to Americans primarily about Medicare and the economy. And the media and Congress are largely playing along.
Bernard Avishai goes further, pushing back hard against the idea that the sky would fall if Iran had a nuclear weapon. Both Beinart and Avishai worry that the Obama team is promising too much to Netanyahu, painting themselves into a corner where they will be forced to carry out Netanyahu’s bidding. Avishai adds:
President Obama is trying to stop the most feverish talk, appealing for diplomacy and patience, dispatching Defense Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey to reassure Israelis that they will not stand alone. But he has also been cornering himself, buying into the preemptive war logic—if only temporarily, and for the sake of Dade County—insisting that America will do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability and, by implication, forcibly opposing any Iranian military activity in the Gulf.
This, I fear, is tantamount to putting American policy in the hands of Netanyahu and Barak, who would feel more brazen about starting the war of they were sure Obama, facing reelection, would have no alternative but to commit to finishing it. Obama, in these circumstances, cannot temporize. He or Secretary Clinton has to make clear, publicly, that it is America’s policy to oppose any unilateral Israeli attack, and, if this should come, Israel will have compromised America’s interests in the region. Obama has his peace prize. This is the moment to earn it.