- March 07, 2012
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.
Dictionary.com 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”.