Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me,” goes a well-known American saying and is an apt description for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt at selling another war in the Middle East, a push for a military attack on Iran. Netanyahu’s visit and planned speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on March 3 has boomeranged into a major crisis, opened old American wounds about the Iraq war and, in my view, will effect U.S.-Israeli relations in the long run.
What was supposed to be a speech intended to push the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama into a belligerent stand against Iran has become a debate about Netanyahu’s earlier push for Iraq’s invasion and duplicity in exaggerating Iran’s threat. Recently leaked Mossad cables contradict Netanyahu’s claims made during his 2012 speech at the U.N. General Assembly regarding the advancement of Iran’s nuclear program. Former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan confirmed the same position on Iran’s nuclear program in a recent interview.
Indeed, the past few days witnessed intense pressure on Netanyahu to cancel the speech with renewed attention to the lead-up to the Iraq war. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reminded Congress, “The prime minister, as you will recall, was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush, and we all know what happened with that decision.”
The Iraq war and the decisive neoconservative role in it will not go away anytime soon as Netanyahu’s efforts are once again directed at disrupting the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran and a demand to move toward the military option. Netanyahu’s policy on Iran has been focused on getting U.S. support for a possible Israeli or American military strike against nuclear instillations and demanding the imposition of tougher sanctions moving forward, something that the U.S. Congress had already adopted.
The same logic or, in reality, the illogic of Netanyahu and neoconservatives that pushed for the Iraq war is at center stage with the debate on Iran. John Mearsheimer, who co-wrote a book focusing on the role of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in shaping U.S. Middle East policy with a particular focus on the push for the Iraq war, is clear on the neoconservative role and the Israeli lobby’s push for the Iraq war.
We need to give a longer context to the current debate on shaping the “new Middle East” by means of a “clean break” strategy that was championed by Netanyahu and other key figures in Bush’s first term in office. The list of participants in the “clean break” strategy includes “the Prince of Darkness” himself, Richard Perle, from the American Enterprise Institute and Study Group Leader, who said: “[Bush] did not make decisions … in part because the machinery of government that he nominally ran was actually running him. The National Security Council was not serving [Bush] properly.” What Perle left out is that national security machinery was under the direct command of the neoconservatives and Israel-first Washington crowd, which included Douglas Feith at the Pentagon.What initially was an objection to the invite being made without first consulting with the White House has become a problem of credibility as Netanyahu’s push for the Iraq war has reshaped the conversation. In the lead up to the Iraq war, Netanyahu descended on Washington to offer a “persuasive” nudge to hesitant Democrats and guaranteeing that a free Iraq would be a game changer for the Middle East.
Netanyahu then spoke to a U.S. Congress with a neoconservative wind behind him and a U.S. president leading an executive branch that had already decided on a war but needed congressional Democratic support. In 2003, the opposition to the war in Iraq was real and not confined to people in the streets. Rather, it included congressional leadership and some in the U.S. military who were skeptical about the planning efforts and the downplayed troop numbers needed to accomplish the mission. Indeed, Netanyahu’s visit in 2003 was instrumental and successful in pushing Democrats into supporting this totally fabricated war effort.
A number of grassroots organizations and national figures have expressed opposition to Netanyahu’s visit, which points to the emergence of visible cracks in AIPAC’s political invincibility on Capitol Hill. The campaign against the speech has already had a full page ad in The New York Times by the National Iranian American Council, plus ads by American Muslims for Palestine and a coordinated petition and letter writing effort led by the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, Code Pink, Friends of Sabeel in North America and Jewish Voice for Peace among many others. The framing in these efforts has centered on making a distinction between American and Israeli policies. Furthermore, the groups involved articulated the need to give U.S. policymakers enough time to succeed in the negotiations with Iran rather than push for war.
Consequently, former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan is on point in declaring, “The person that has caused Israel the most strategic damage when it comes to the Iranian issue is the prime minister.” Changes in U.S.-Israel relations were already underway beginning after the failures of the Iraq war and Netanyahu’s arrogant, bullying attitude, and his involvement in U.S. domestic power struggles is rapidly accelerating the process.