Iran, the Israel Lobby, and the Kennan Connection

Some important publications are currently celebrating the career and ideas of George Kennan, the Cold War guru responsible for the policy of containment against the Soviet Union. That’s partly because a good book or two about Kennan have come out over the last couple of years; but there’s a less literary subtext to the current Kennan-mania. It was Kennan, you see, that convinced the US political class after the Second World War that America could defeat the Soviet Union politically, without going to war. Now that the neo-cons are promoting war with Iran, cooler heads in the Obama camp will argue for containment of Iran, rather than war. So the Kennan back story is being punched up preparatory to making their case.

If you thought the neo-cons would go away after lying in order to start a near-genocidal war in Iraq, think again. The neo-cons don’t just have influence over foreign policy in the Republican Party—–they’re in charge of it. The Republican base responds to macho toughness, the more patriarchal the better. The neo-cons are the most warlike, aggressive-sounding bunch in town, so they win the most points. And they are AIPAC and the Israel Lobby writ large, AIPAC being the organization that currently runs the biggest pay-to-play ATM for campaign “bundling”—-that is, legal bribery—-for uncritical Israel supporters in Congress.

So the Republicans are going to spend the rest of the Presidential campaign arguing for war against Iran, with the Democrats making the case for “containment.” Both sides are already staking out their positions. Lobby spokespersons want the US to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities, or at least to give Israel the green light to do it. Liberals, centrists and realists oppose such a course, since they know what a disaster this would be for American interests—–therefore arguing for containment of Iran rather than an unprovoked attack. One big issue is whether the US will let the Israelis use the air space over Iraq, which the US controls. Of course, the Israel Lobby and its AIPAC-connected US politicians are starting not-so-subtly to threaten that Israel will attack anyway, thus forcing Obama’s approval once the planes are launched—–and since the Israelis would use the bunker-busters given to Israel by the US, the Arabic-speaking and Muslim-majority worlds will inevitably see it as a joint attack.

The realists in government and the State Department know very well that Netanyahu is deceitful, and that at this point in history the Israeli political class is led mainly by extremists. But unlike the Cold War, US realists aren’t trying to contain only one country—–they’re trying to contain two belligerent nations, Iran and Israel. Iran may be moving toward operations on US soil, such as the belated attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador. Israel’s PM Netanyahu, on the other hand, already exerts maximum influence over US foreign policy in the Middle East through its American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) campaign largesse, which openly facilitates Israeli interests rather than American ones, the logical outcome of an electoral system set up like a casino rather than a public service for popular representation.

Thus Israeli PM “Bibi” Netanyahu can use his paid-up pawns in Congress to triangulate the Obama administration in a dizzying variety of ways. In domestic US affairs, he can threaten to intervene in the upcoming election against Obama if he doesn’t give Israel the green light to use Iraqi air space. Internationally, he can threaten unilateral war against Iran if Europe isn’t nice to him. And he can threaten action against the Palestinians to get his way both in Europe and in the US. It has become painfully clear that his ultimate goal is the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the remaining 22 percent of Mandate Palestine, either all at once, or slowly, by making life so miserable they’ll move away.

Of course, the Israel Lobby doesn’t consider the incredible human cost of an attack against Iran, or how harmful it would be to the US, because religious nationalists simply aren’t able to consider the suffering they cause—–remember, they believe they’re acting out the interests of God, history or some other transcendent abstraction. It’s clear, however, that an attack on Iran will cause the Middle East to explode, and there would be devastating attacks against American embassies around the world—–and in the Arabic-speaking regions the people might not even let diplomatic relations with the US to continue at all.

Remember, please—–or take note, if you didn’t already know—–that one of the great resentments that generated the Arab Spring was that the US paid billions to tyrants in that region, specifically so they would make nice to the Israelis, repressing their own people in the process. If Netanyahu uses an Iran attack or some artificial crisis involving Iran to annex parts of the West Bank, there will almost certainly be another war in the Middle East. And that might not be all—–Israel’s much-anticipated attack on Iran might be the onset of the religious war between Islam and the West that we are all trying to prevent, but which Netanyahu and the neo-cons seem anxious to provoke.

In such an event, the hard right in the US would roll out their endgame gambit for the total destruction of religious liberty in the US—–internment of Muslims during wartime, identity cards, the whole business. At last Michelle Malkin would have the concentration camps for Muslims that she loves to talk about—–and even if she doesn’t get the internment camps right away, she’ll be able to mainstream her arguments for them. That’s the neo-con strategy: to use the trauma of war or threats of war to mainstream hitherto unthinkable arguments. It’s Shock Capitalism, as Naomi Klein would have it, but with the neo-cons manufacturing the artificial crises and using the resulting shock to push through their anti-democratic programs.

The potential harm of an attack on Iran is so severe that it’s no wonder that US progressives support containment of Iran as opposed to war against it. But there’s a third position that nobody is discussing that should be raised. Why should Israel have nuclear weapons, and Iran shouldn’t? It doesn’t make sense to people in the Middle East, and to be sure it is flagrantly unfair. This third position, for a nuclear weapon-free Middle East, needs to be articulated. The Israel Lobby has already targeted this idea as being politically incorrect, so if you raise it in interviews MSM media people will often studiously pretend they don’t hear what you’ve said. But the idea will never get traction unless people stubbornly and repeatedly keep raising it.

One big argument for a nuclear weapon-free Middle East is that in this part of the world, nuclear weapons don’t provide security but actually encourage disruption and chaos. If nuclear weapons provided security, Netanyahu would have long ago negotiated with the Palestinians and a Palestinian state would have come into being—–but the presence of weapons of mass destruction make him more arrogant and unyielding, not less. Why should he give the Palestinians anything when he has enough firepower to kill all the Arabs in the Middle East? Netanyahu uses his weapons of mass destruction to give Israel impunity for the apartheid system he is building in the West Bank. As long as he has that much firepower, Netanyahu has no reason not to keep building new settlements and sabotaging the two-state peace process.

In 1947 George Kennan subjected the Soviets to a scathing psycho-historical analysis, arguing that their foreign policy was driven by deficits in their society. The Soviet Union, he wrote, believed that “no opposition to them can be officially recognized as having any merit or justification whatsoever.” Opposition came only come from those with an ulterior motive. And since the political class lived to wield power, “it became necessary to justify the retention of the dictatorship by stressing the menace of capitalism abroad.”

Oddly, aspects of this insightful analysis of Soviet psychology could similarly apply today to Israel. Israel has failed in its historical mission to provide a safe haven for Jews; its cruel dispossession and continuing oppression of the Palestinians make endless conflict inevitable. As quality-of-life issues escalate within Israel, it channels more and more of its frustration into organized aggression against the Palestinians, and against real and imagined enemies at home and in the world at large. As George Kennan observed regarding the Soviets, they couldn’t tolerate criticism because their dream of a Workers’ Paradise hadn’t panned out. Likewise, the vaunted Zionist dream is turning out to be a nightmare. What to do? You start blaming everybody else, picking fights with everybody and trying to control what everybody else thinks and feels.

So the Israel Lobby starts pushing for the US to attack Iran. And the Democrats reply with the George Kennan formula, which is for containment and not war. But it was precisely because of that anticipated liberal response that the American Israel Public Affairs Council legislation H. Res. 568 was being introduced this week in the House of Representatives. According to journalist M.J. Rosenberg, the resolution being introduced “was the centerpiece of AIPAC’s recent conference.” Mr. Rosenberg reports that on the last day of the conference some 13,000 AIPAC delegates (that’s right, you read correctly––13,000) were dispatched to Capital Hill “with instructions to tell the senators and representatives whom they met that supporting this resolution was number one on AIPAC’s election year agenda.”

That resolution is about Iran, or course. And there is one part of the resolution that is especially interesting. It specifically states its “opposition to any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.” Get that? It’s war or nothing, according to AIPAC.

The liberal Dems will continue to promote the George Kennan option of containment rather than open conflict. But that will not be enough for AIPAC, the neo-cons and the rest of the Israel Lobby. They want war, they want it now, and they want to fight the Iranians right down to the last American. I can tell you what the Republicans will do. They will support war against Iran, and oppose the policy of containment as the policy of cowards, even as their advisers tell them that it’s all rhetoric, it’s all a political game, and that they really don’t have to fight Iran once they get into office.

I can also tell you what the liberal Dems are going to say, as the election gets closer. They’re going to tell AIPAC’s boss Netanyahu that sanctions go beyond mere containment, that it’s a really robust approach that, when used with diplomacy, can produce real results. And I think they’ll probably be right when they say that––sanctions really do go beyond containment. But why do the Democrats have to explain themselves to AIPAC, anyway? Because if they don’t come hat in hand to AIPAC, “Bibi” Netanyahu might cut off their money next year–and with all the corporate bucks going to the Republicans, Democrats are doubly dependent on money from AIPAC.

They’re playing with fire, all of them.

What’s best––I mean really best––for the US in the Middle East? Peace, of course; but nobody is openly advocating it, since our foreign policy in the Middle East evidently exists mainly to protect the interests of the current Israeli government. And American interests are not always the same as Israel’s. So how do we get our government to consider American interests? Perhaps by publicly insisting that America’s best interests are, in this instance, also humanity’s best interests––peace and universal human rights. It certainly doesn’t consist of fighting a war we can neither win nor afford, on behalf of a arrogant client state in which human rights exist, all too often, only for those with the right religion.

This was published on May 14, 2012, on Pilgrimsoulblog.

Lawrence Swaim

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