Notes From the Margins…


  • March 07, 2012
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In these troubled times, with the Western world lurching toward a catastrophic war with Iran with all the vision and foresight of a stag party in the last stages of a pub crawl, we are fortunate to have leaders with the integrity and foresight to steer us away from the brink.

Thus we saw Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a characteristically measured and thoughtful speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Monday, in which he rejected the “preposterous” idea that “we should accept a world in which the Ayatollahs have  atomic bombs”.

As usual, Netanyahu compared Iran to Nazi Germany and evoked the Holocaust as a justification for preemptive military action.  But he went further than usual, quoting from the 1944 US government letter of response to a request from the World Jewish Congress for America to bomb Auschwitz, which rejected this option on the grounds that “Such an effort might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans”.

So Ahmadinejad is Hitler and the Iranian nuclear program is paving the way for a new Auschwitz, and anyone who baulks at the idea of bombing the hell out of Iran is colluding with genocide.  Even by Netanyahu’s standards this was shameless political blackmail.

The Israeli leader knows that he has Obama over a barrel, or feels that he has.   The U.S. president is in an election year, and anxious not to be outflanked by the  Republicans by showing less than whole-hearted support for the military option in dealing with Iran.

But Obama is also justifiably reticent about waging another war in the Middle East with unforeseeable consequences when his second term is by no means guaranteed.  In any case,   the leader of the world’s only superpower isn’t going to allow himself to be railroaded into a war that he doesn’t want by Netanyahu’s brazen demogoguery, is he?

Maybe not, but then again maybe yes.    Last week Obama reassured Netanyahu before he had even arrived in the U.S. that he had “got Israel’s back” and that he was “not bluffing” about the prospect of military action against Iran.

Yesterday the Peace Laureate was more  nuanced and restrained,  rebuking his Republican opponents who have been queuing up at the AIPAC policy conference for “beating the drums of war”.  Obama pointed out, correctly,  that “typically it is not the folks who are popping off who pay the price” for the wars they advocate, and warned Israel against taking  military action  “prematurely”.

All this sounds relatively sane compared with the bloodthirsty rantings of the G.O.P war clones queuing up at the AIPAC policy conference to reject Obama’s ‘appeasement’ and declare their willingness to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.    But then we learn from Haaretz  that Obama has instructed his Defence Secretary Leon Panetta to accede to a request from Netanyahu for GBU-28 bunker-piercing bombs and advanced refuelling aircraft.

So even as Obama  insists that his defence of “Israel’s back” isn’t intended to give Netanyahu a green light for a preemptive military strike, he is speeding up the transfer of weapons that will make this outcome more likely.

And on the other side of the pond,  we have a country with centuries of experience in international affairs, whose government is able to offer a more sober assessment of the current crisis.  Thus David Cameron could be found yesterday  warning  the Commons liaison committee that Iran’s  ambitions “were dangerous for the Middle East” and also posed a security threat to the UK, since ” there are signs that the Iranians want to have some sort of inter-continental missile capability”.

These ‘signs’ follow similar declarations from William Hague last month that a nuclear Iran could trigger a “new Cold War” and that Iranian missiles could reach the UK.  Though Cameron, like Obama, warned Israel of the dangers of “premature” military action, his speech produced the predictable flurry of dread-soaked headlines in the national press today, as it was undoubtedly intended to.  defines the noun ‘statesman’ as: ‘a  person  who  exhibits  great  wisdom  and ability  in  directing  the  affairs  of  a government  or  in  dealing  with  important public  issues.’  Your Dictionary  defines ‘statesmanship’ as:  ‘ the ability, character, or methods of a statesman; skill and vision in managing public affairs’.

When the historians of the future look back on our era, they may well be struck by the  absence of  any of these qualities amongst the leaders who are currently dragging the world toward disaster.

Because rather than statesmanship, the evidence of the last week suggests that we are ruled by liars and weak men who lack vision or wisdom, and that we are all trapped dangerously in the world defined by the  Katha Upanishad in which “Abiding in the midst of ignorance, thinking themselves wise and learned, fools go aimlessly hither and thither, like blind led by the blind”.





  1. Herbert Baierl

    7th Mar 2012 - 11:54 am

    Maybe a chinese politician, who matches the definitions of “statesman”, should declare that he already has given the Iranians 100 nukes in a oil for nukes program. At least the media and war mongers reaction would be funny to analyze.

    • Matt

      7th Mar 2012 - 5:49 pm

      It would indeed.

  2. Ian M

    7th Mar 2012 - 5:19 pm

    Hi Matt,

    Came here via the ML board and just wanted to say how much I’ve appreciated your recent output. You write engagingly on important topics and deserve a much wider audience in these times of Universal Deceit, IMHO. Keep on truckin’!


    • Matt

      7th Mar 2012 - 5:48 pm

      Thanks a lot Ian. Much appreciated.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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