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May 2, 2012

How Badly Has War Rhetoric Backfired on Iran Hawks?

Threats of war with Iran were never intended to drive the U.S. and Iran into sustained talks.
Hawks in Congress have gone so far as to attempt to institutionalize the U.S. “no-contact” policy with Iran.  Bibi Netanyahu has in many ways so effectively perpetrated the post-Cold War reorientation of Israel against Iran as to take his country to the brink of war.
But in pushing the policies of no-contact and permanent hostilities with Iran, while at the same time ruling out the very policy of containment, the hawks have taken a failed paradigm to its logical, unsustainable conclusion.  Having brought Israel and the rest of the world to the fork in the road, we are faced with either choosing war or shifting to a new paradigm.
Netanyahu’s war threats were supposed to pressure the international community to expand Iran’s isolation and to further institutionalize Iran’s non-relationship with the United States.  The war threat, faithfully amplified by willing stenographers in the U.S., has been aimed more at the U.S. and international community than at the Iranians.
But the security establishment in the U.S. is firmly against the idea of war with Iran.  And, we are now finding out, Israel’s security establishment agrees and is deeply concerned about the potential of Netanyahu taking Israel into the abyss.  In just the past few weeks, the current IDF chief and the former heads of Shin Bet and Mossad, not to mention Netanyahu’s political opponents, have joined a building chorus of voices in Israel who have pounced on an opening to confront Netanyahu over his dangerous war posturing.
Meanwhile, because other means have failed to mitigate the side-effects of looming war—namely record high oil prices—diplomacy may be exactly what the saber rattling has unintentionally forced current United States political leadership into pursuing, despite the political costs. 
In an election year, it is perhaps strange that President Obama has decided to reinvest in diplomacy that he himself has characterized as a political liability.  But the political costs for the President of being maligned as “soft” on Iran because of daring to negotiate have been eclipsed by the even bigger liability of high gas prices.  And the real costs of war with Iran simply do not add up when you consider that anything short of a full-scale occupation (which experts say would require around one million troops) would be more likely to deliver an Iranian nuclear weapon than doing nothing at all.
Doing nothing at all, however, is not an option.  Hawks criticize the President as being more concerned with preventing Israeli from bombing Iran than with preventing an Iranian nuke.  This silly notion assumes we can’t do both.  It misunderstands that both challenges are endemic of the same flawed and untenable paradigm that Obama pledged to shift by pursuing direct negotiations.
The President, I think, is indeed more concerned at the moment with the need to prevent a potentially imminent war than he is with the distant threat of Iranian building a weapon—a decision they have yet to even make that would likely take years for them to actually achieve.  But above all, his Administration may be most focused on dealing with what is already here—an escalating cold war with Iran that could not just spiral into real war, but which has helped produce high gas prices that are hurting the economic recovery and pissing off voters.   And, while it may be the economic threat that helped spur the new U.S. willingness to engage, ultimately a shift away from the absurd paradigm of trying to turn Iran into another Cuba is the only solution for all of the above threats (and more–including meaningfully dealing with Iran’s repression of human rights, democracy, and civil society).
While the U.S. is talking directly to Iran, Israel is unlikely to bomb.  Those talks can, hopefully, yield immediate Iranian concessions to cap its nuclear program and produce a diplomatic process that puts us on track for a peaceful resolution, shifting us off of the current war trajectory.  Talks can also, hopefully, yield reciprocal moves by Europe and possibly even the United States to hold off on implementing oil sanctions that would not just punish Iran, but would further squeeze the oil market and punish ourselves.
So, thank you to Netanyahu and the neocons and the hawks in Congress for taking us to the brink and forcing some tough decisions.  Now it’s time to find out if we will be able to make the right one.

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