Beyond pledging “support” for Israel, and pledging to end the Iranian bomb project by force, the Republican aspirants to replace Obama avoided discussing the Middle East. Not a particularly strong suit for the Democrat. Why the hesitation?
In his 13 November column on Jerusalem Post Shmuel Rosner observed that, minus a few desultory comments the Republican contenders for their party’s nomination paid almost no attention to the region in their recent “foreign policy” debate. On the surface this might be surprising considering the vulnerability of the president in this area, at least among the Jewish community. So how explain the avoidance of the issue by the Republicans who, by tradition, consider themselves the party of an activist foreign policy? Perhaps the reason is less to be found in the vulnerability of the Democrat incumbent than in the record of his predecessor George W. Bush.
The Oval Office, Wikipedia
On 20 March, 2003, Bush committed the full power of the United States military to the invasion of Iraq. Whatever motivated the invasion, whether "oil" or those absent weapons of mass destruction (WMD), whether it was his desire to promote “democracy” in the Arab world as he later claimed; whatever History eventually defines as the actual motive what Bush did achieve was an “unintended” and unanticipated outcome by fulfilling Iran’s wildest dream. In the 1980’s Iran-Iraq war Iran suffered more than a million casualties, and failed to defeat Iraq. By his invasion Bush transformed Iraq from a barrier to Iranian ambitions across the Gulf to a potential satellite of the Islamic Republic. He replaced Iraq’s Sunni regime with one dominated by Iraq’s Shi’ites, closely related by religion and culture to Iraq’s neighbor to the east. No longer a barrier, Bush provided the Islamic Republic with a superhighway into the heart of those coveted Saudi oil fields.
Prior to the invasion Iran had been an important source of “intelligence” to the Bush administration regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Ahmadinejad even provided the White House a paid agent to substantiate the disinformation. Ahmed Chalabi was a close and trusted advisor to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the darling of Bush neocons.
Boots on the ground our forces found themselves targeted by Iran-financed, trained and Revolutionary Guards-led insurgents. To date nearly 5,000 troops died, victim to progressively more sophisticated Iranian roadside bombs. That the Iranians were behind the insurgency was known to our generals from the start. But due to, “fears that taking too active a role against Iran and its assets will put U.S. military personnel at risk of Iranian retaliation in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the administration chose to remain silent in word and deed. This policy of appeasement would extend also to Iran’s nuclear arms program. In effect, Bush encouraged by neglect the development of the Iranian bomb.
But the disaster represented by Bush’s Middle East foray extends farther than the region itself. Invading Iraq also created threat and uncertainty to Middle East oil resulting in a dramatic rise in the cost of oil. Bush chose to fund the war “off the books: “This was the first time in American history that the government cut taxes as it went to war (the same tax cuts for the wealthy the center of controversy today). The result: a war completely funded by borrowing. U.S. debt soared… As a result of two costly wars funded by debt, our fiscal house was in dismal shape even before the financial crisis.”
On assuming office President Obama asked the chief architects of Bush’s hand’s off Iran policy to remain on the job. So avoiding the confrontation is at least a bi-partisan policy. But the fact remains that the Republicans are not only in bed with Democrats regarding Iran, but are the actual architects of the policy. That nearly all debaters were on board regarding a new and “tough” Iran policy, implying a change from Obama, Rosner offers the following caution: “As reassuring as this might sound, I should remind the readers that Democratic candidates made similar – and in some cases even more forceful – statements before the 2008 elections.
With this as background it is perhaps more understandable why the Republicans all but avoided discussing the Middle East. The chaos of the region was initiated by a Republican president. Under Obama things have gotten a lot worse, but it was the Bush who created the conditions for the disaster.
111119 - Israel F15I’s refueling, (photo by Reuters)
As regards Israel’s role in this faintness-of-heart US approach to Iran, the last time I was in Israel shop after shop displayed the same tee-shirt inscription, “Don’t worry, America, Israel has your back!” In this instance the United States, beyond administration protests to the opposite, has set Israel up as its patsy, to initiate the attack and take the fall for those consequences our latest SecDef advocate-of-hesitation, Leon Panetta, parroting his predecessor: 1. “it could have a serious impact on U.S. forces in the region,” and; 2. “there are going to be economic consequences to that, that could impact not just on our economy but the world economy.” And if Israel initiates the attack Israel and not its “ally,’ the American regional hegemon, then Israel, rather than the United States, will alone face the repercussions of a world sunk even deeper into economic misery.
But implicit in these warnings by Panetta/Gates is that somehow, 1. American forces in the region have been relegated to the role of passive reassurance to our friends and allies, not combatants, and; 2. that those “economic consequences,” grown only more severe by administration neglect and the passage of time, outweigh the consequences of a nuclear Iran and the likelihood of a regional nuclear arms race. And the more states in this unstable region possessing that weapon, the more likely Islamist terrorists will also go nuclear. And while Israel is at the forefront of counter-terrorism, the most likely targets for nuclear terror are Rome, Madrid, London and, yes, New York. And this is the ultimate, to borrow that over-worn Gates/Mullen dictum, the real “unintended consequence” of America’s policy of avoidance initiated by President Bush.
Topical writings from 2007 on the Bush Administration: