Burning Issues brings our best opinion writers to one podium, where they respond, in brief and in real time, to a question about one of the hottest news topics on the agenda. A link to the writer's most recent column appears after each post.
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Question #20In what way are the leading US presidential candidates' stated positions on the war in Iraq likely to impact how they would handle the coming crisis with Iran? Should Israel be worried by these positions?
Contributions by MJ Rosenberg, Saul Singer, Jonathan Tobin and Elliot Jager
The candidates' stated positions on Iraq will not affect how they will handle Iran simply because stated positions do not necessarily reflect what they think or will do when in office.
But Iraq, and feelings about it, will affect everything about US foreign policy in the future and that affects Israel.
First, all the Democrats believe the Iraq war was a disaster, from conception right through today. And each one of them will get out as soon as he or she can. The next President will have no choice. This war is even less popular than Vietnam was; the overwhelming majority of Americans hate everything about it.
Republicans are divided. John McCain and Rudy Giuliani still support it but Rudy has a less than zero chance of becoming the Republican nominee while McCain's candidacy is suffering because of support for the war.
How will this affect Iran policy? First, the neoconservatives who, it is widely believed with good reason, helped push America into the Iraq war are finished. It is inconceivable that anyone identified with neoconservatism will be appointed by any future President or would be confirmed by the Senate. The word neocon has virtually become a curse word.
Israelis who believe that neocons are their friends will have to do without them. But I think most will say "good riddance." After all, the only thing neocons have done for Israel is to give many many Americans the false impression that Israel is the reason the United States went into Iraq.
But neocons are not the only people worried about Iran. They are just the people whose worry immediately is converted into bombastic threats.
Every candidate - Democrat and Republican - is deeply concerned about the strong possibility that Iran will go nuclear and by the current regime's threats against Israel.
The main way the Iraq experience will come into play is that the next President, not to mention the American people, are going to firmly resist any rush to war so long as there are other options on the table.
Manipulation of intelligence - the neocon specialty - is not going to happen. But if the facts demonstrate that America and Israel are militarily threatened by Iran and its weaponry, America will act.
However, it must be noted, the architects of the Iraq war badly weakened America. Remember how Americans resisted going into World War II after it was revealed that they were lied into World War I? That could happen again. The security hawks are discredited because the neocons are - and that is dangerous. But most hawks are not neocons and most, in fact, despise them.
But the lies of the neocons will make Americans more skeptical about official pronouncements that Iran has WMDs and is ready to use them. They will, not surprisingly, recall the lies put out by the civilians in the Pentagon (not by the military) and could perhaps dismiss genuine threats.
This is what the Iraq war did to America. We will all pay a price for that.
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It is in Israel's interest for America to be strong and united. Today, US energies and treasure are being squandered in Iraq, while the home-front is divided. The president refuses to admit that the war in Iraq is not worth fighting; that no one really knows what "victory" means anymore in the Iraqi context.
It was interesting that most of the presidential candidates attended the State of the Union address, and I wondered what they were thinking sitting there.
George W. Bush is in terrible political shape; a lame duck with rock bottom approval ratings, both houses of Congress against him, and a losing war on his hands.
But whoever takes over from Bush in two years' time is going to inherit the Iraq mess. It won't matter how they stood on the war when it first started.
Because even Bush admits, Iraq today is not the war America entered, only the war it now finds itself in.
Regardless of how they stood on the war, the next president is going to have to get the US out of the Iraqi civil war.
Being bogged down in Iraq for no good reason saps US resolve for the battle against Iran and al-Qaida. Never let the enemies define how and where you confront them.
But whoever becomes president should demand from her or his defense and intelligence advisors the kind of data Bush failed to ask for in going after Iraq.
No one wants to see precipitous action on Iran. The next president needs to expend all necessary energies in finding out what is really going on in Iran; who calls the shots; where their nuclear weapons program really stands and what needs to be done.
Whatever action the next president takes must be based on an American bipartisan consensus - one that s/he must create.
I would rather see a strong president, backed by popular support address the Iran crisis than a weak one.
What Israelis need to worry about is that the next president will fail to make Iran a priority, will fail to keep Israel in the loop and will fail to lead the free world in this effort. If Americans elect that kind of president, Israel will have lots to worry about - and, in the long-run, so will America.
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Some Democrats claim that one of their main concerns about the war in Iraq was that it distracted from the more serious threat from Iran. Democratic candidate John Edwards, who has staked out one of the most aggressively pro-withdrawal positions on Iraq, has said that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.
The question is whether the Democrats are serious about confronting Iran or not. Edwards took a leaf from James Baker's book and called for "direct engagement" with Iran. In other words, even on Iran, the Democrats are not looking to join forces with President George Bush but to differentiate themselves from him.
This is a terrible mistake for the Democratic Party, bad for the US, and bad for Israel. If the Democrats are as serious as Bush is about stopping Iran, and if they want to address the damage they claim was caused by the war in Iraq, they need to team up with Bush on this critical issue.
Imagine how powerful it would be, for example, if the Democratic leaders of Congress were to join Bush in a meeting with the leaders of the UK, France and Germany and say: "We need to cut our trade, credit and diplomatic relations with Iran. We can force the mullahs to back down if we stand together."
If American divisions on Iraq lead to paralysis on Iran, this is devastating for US interests and for Israel. But if these divisions can actually be employed to forge a unified stance on Iran, America and Israel will be greatly strengthened.
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Right now, it's easy for most of the candidates to sound relatively tough on Iran while opposing the war in Iraq. Indeed, one of the staples of current American political rhetoric is that we are fighting the wrong war in Iraq while allowing Afghanistan to slip away and Iran to grow more dangerous.
But Israelis who are concerned about America's willingness to use whatever force is necessary to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons should be worried about the precipitate decline in support for the Iraq war.
It's all well and good for American politicians to denounce Iranian Holocaust denial and other expressions of Islamist extremism. But if that sentiment is not accompanied by a willingness to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions and its potential to create a second Holocaust, then it means little.
The current mood here is one of a growing disdain for foreign military adventures. Statements by leaders such as retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a once and perhaps future Democratic presidential candidate make it clear that they view the agitation for a stronger posture on Iran as coming from the same "neo-con" frame of reference that led to the invasion of Iraq. That bodes ill for friends of Israel.
It is true that many Israelis and most American Jews see no purpose in America persevering in Iraq. But what they should understand is that the consequences of an American withdrawal -- which will bring with the perception of a severe defeat for American interests and prestige --- will embolden Iran and other Islamists forces.
Unlike Vietnam, a conflict in which American withdrawal and defeat ultimately meant little to US strategic interests and allies, a negative outcome in Iraq will have serious implications for Israel's security. Once the United States starts retreating from the Middle East, Israelis may find that there is no stemming the tide of disaster.
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