Dr. Strangelove comes to Washington
Like a mad seer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pretended to predict the apocalypse in front of the United States Congress last week. Negotiations with Iran are worthless according to him, adding that they're the greatest threat to the planet and a year away from getting the bomb; he even went so far as to describe Iran as "spreading its tentacles of terror around the globe." If only a few days ago we were going mad over "The Dress," Netanyahu, or "Bibi" as his fans lovingly call him, wanted us to cower in fear after "The Speech."
The speech had already been controversial because Netanyahu had been invited by the Republicans without bothering to tell President Obama. The fact that he was invited should surprise no one, as Netanyahu is in perfect sync with the radicals of the right. Imagine if Dick Cheney had been president of the U.S. instead of George W. Bush and you'll get a sense of who rules Israel at the moment. It is a heartbreaking reality to admit for supporters of Israel, both Jewish and non-Jew, who identify as progressive and have to face the fact that an extreme, war-hungry clique runs the country. It's like a love affair or crush gone sour, when the image one has of a beloved is shattered when disturbing or unsavory truths are exposed.
It was quite disconcerting to watch our elected officials rise and howl like wolves ready for war every time Netanyahu made some grand pronouncement painting Israel as some kind of Sparta readying itself to face the Persian hordes.
It was a speech that had little connection to reality. For over a decade, Israel and subsequent U.S. administrations have been screaming every year that Iran is close to attaining a nuclear weapon. But there has never been any definitive proof. Even the George W. Bush administration was blocked from making any military moves towards Iran in 2007 when a National Intelligence Estimate revealed Iran stopped even pondering the making of a nuclear weapon in 2003.
The situation with Iran is similar to the long history of mistrust and aggression the U.S. has had with Cuba. Since the 1979 Revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah, Iran has been an enemy state because it is nationalist, independent and espouses a radical form of government that challenges our interests in the region.
Is it a nice form of government? Of course not. But we're happily in league with Saudi Arabia, a much more extreme, repressive theocratic monarchy that supports U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Netanyahu knows America loves fantasy and he delivered a rather bland one. The Israeli press, which is less forgiving than its American peers, mercilessly mocked Netanyahu's visit and claims. With Israel heading to the polls next week, it was seen in Israel as nothing more than Netanyahu using the U.S. Congress as an election campaign stop. "Vote for me, I'll protect you from evil Iran," is the gist of his image.
The day after the speech, the Jerusalem Post reported that Meir Dagan, the former chief of Israel's top spy agency the Mossad, called Netanyahu's speech "bullshit" and mocked the Prime Minister's claim that Iran was less than a year away from acquiring the capability to make a nuke. At an anti-Netanyahu rally attended by thousands in Tel Aviv on Saturday, Dagan went on to say "our leadership scares me more than our enemies."
Interestingly enough, Netanyahu never mentions in any of his grand public proclamations that Israel already has quite the well-stocked nuclear arsenal. It is no joke to say that Israel could render Iran to dust in 10 minutes. The idea that a sanctioned state, surrounded by U.S. military bases in nearly all of its neighbors poses an immediate threat to the mightiest military power in the Middle East goes against any rational thought. Iran hasn't invaded anyone since the fun days of the Persian Empire.
The Republican Party however, has forgotten this as well. On Monday, 47 Senators decided to pour gasoline on the fire by signing an open letter to Iran essentially saying that any deal struck between Tehran and the Obama administration will be discarded after Obama leaves office. Even that rabble rouser of so-called libertarianism Rand Paul caved and signed.
"It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” says the quite pompous, condescending letter.
And that master of eloquence, Texas governor Rick Perry, has decided to cast himself as some sort of expert on foreign policy and released a video also denouncing the talks. These are your elected officials pushing us towards catastrophe out of sheer, cynical, political interests. Democratic Senator from New Jersey Robert Menendez has been another right-wing harpee attacking the notion of dialogue with the Iranians (and Cuba for that matter). Not surprisingly, he now faces serious corruption charges.
Maybe Netanyahu is one big showman using fear to retain power. That is one assessment by the wise Israeli commentator Uri Avnery, who suspects that Bibi still doesn't have the cojones to bomb anything in Iran without U.S. consent. In a recent article Avnery cites the grave economic consequences of such a war. For starters, Iran would close the Strait of Hormuz through which 80 percent of the world's oil supply transits.
But politicians have a long history of being irrational, and if the Republicans continue on their mad course, and if Netanyahu squeezes another electoral victory out of the Israeli electorate, they will moving us closer to a nightmare where we will be counting bodies like sheep to the rhythm of the war drums.