Walt, Karon and Leveretts say ‘alarmist’ Goldberg Iran piece promotes Israeli objectives

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I still haven’t read the Jeff Goldberg piece in the Atlantic (I need time and space to do the St. Vitus dance that will inevitably follow) but cooler heads have– Tony Karon at rootless cosmopolitan, and Stephen Walt and Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett at Foreign Policy– and all these writers concur that the Goldberg is an argument for war and that it’s a war with a strong Israel interest. I find it amazing that such an Israelcentric argument can be put forward in establishment debate after a, Goldberg helped lead us into the Iraq war on a dubious basis without suffering much diminution of influence, and b, Goldberg himself admitted last year on Israeli television that when it came to Iran, Israeli interests and U.S. interests diverge, and Jews will feel torn. 

Here are excerpts from the three writers emphasizing the Israelcentric aspect of Goldberg’s argument. Karon says that "former IDF Corporal Jeffrey Goldberg" wrote an "alarmist screed" at the behest of his Israeli sources:

why call in Goldberg? Well, quite simply, because Goldberg is one of the most influential opinion-makers among hawkish Israel backers in the Democratic Party camp. Such are his pro-Israel hawk credentials that if Goldberg can be convinced, there’s a chance you can convince the likes of Lester Crown. Not that Rahm succeeded, of course; that’s why Goldberg is pushing the line that Israel is going to do something crazy early next year.

Walt also says the piece serves an "alarmist" agenda:

a central purpose of this article is to mainstream the idea that an attack on Iran is likely to happen and savvy people-in-the-know should start getting accustomed to the idea.  In other words, a preemptive strike on Iran should be seen not as a remote or far-fetched possibility, but rather as something that is just "business-as-usual" in the Middle East strategic environment. If you talk about going to war often enough and for long enough, people get used to the idea and some will even begin to think if it is bound to happen sooner or later, than "’twere better to be done quickly." In an inside-the-Beltway culture where being "tough" is especially prized, it is easy for those who oppose "decisive" action to get worn down and marginalized.  If war with Iran comes to be seen as a "default" condition, then it will be increasingly difficult for cooler heads (including President Obama himself) to say no.

You’ll recall that a similar process of "mainstreaming" occurred over Iraq: What at first seemed like the far-fetched dream of a handful of out-of-power neoconservatives in 1998 had become a serious option by 2001. By 2003, aided in no small part by the efforts of journalists such as Goldberg, the idea had been embraced by liberals and others who should have known better.  

Then Walt quotes his and John Mearsheimer’s book, The Israel Lobby, to identify the sources of Goldberg’s thinking:

If the United States does launch an attack, it will be doing so in part on Israel’s behalf, and the lobby will bear significant responsibility for having pushed this dangerous policy."

Now the Leveretts. Goldberg is offering "the neoconservative case for attacking Iran," they write here. And at FP, one of their themes is the Israelcentricness of Goldberg’s  argument.

Goldberg’s reporting also reveals that the case for attacking Iran — especially for America to attack so Israel won’t — is even flimsier than the case Goldberg helped make for invading Iraq in 2002, in a New Yorker article alleging that "the relationship between Saddam’s regime and Al Qaeda is far closer than previously thought." Goldberg’s case for war on Iran starts with the Holocaust — and a view of the Islamic Republic as a latter-day Third Reich, under ideologically obsessed, anti-Semitic leadership to which "rational deterrence theory … might not apply."…

Goldberg’s reporting on his conversations with Israeli generals, national-security policymakers, and politicians makes clear that, in fact, those at the top of Israel’s political order understand Iran’s nuclear program is not an "existential threat." His interlocutors recognize Iran is unlikely to invite its own destruction by attacking Israel directly. Rather, they say, a nuclear Iran "will progressively undermine [Israel’s] ability to retain its most creative and productive citizens," according to Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

"The real threat to Zionism is the dilution of quality," Barak tells Goldberg. "Jews know that they can land on their feet in any corner of the world. … Our young people can consciously decide to go other places [and] stay out of here by choice."

…In other words, Israeli elites want the United States to attack Iran’s nuclear program — with the potentially negative repercussions that Goldberg acknowledges — so that Israel will not experience "a dilution of quality" or "an accelerated brain drain."…

[P]reventing "dilution of quality" or bolstering Israelis’ perceptions regarding their country’s raison d’être can never give an American president a just or strategically sound cause for initiating war. And make no mistake: Bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would mean war.

…Israeli elites want to preserve a regional balance of power strongly tilted in Israel’s favor and what an Israeli general described to Goldberg as "freedom of action" –the freedom to use force unilaterally, anytime, for whatever purpose Israel wants. The problem with Iranian nuclear capability — not just weapons, but capability  — is that it might begin constraining Israel’s currently unconstrained "freedom of action." In May, retired Israeli military officers, diplomats, and intelligence officials conducted a war game that assumed Iran had acquired "nuclear weapons capability." Participants subsequently told Reuters that such capability does not pose an "existential threat" to Israel — but "would blunt Israel’s military autonomy."

One may appreciate Israel’s desire to maximize its military autonomy. But, in an already conflicted region, Israel’s assertion of military hegemony is itself a significant contributor to instability and the risk of conflict. Certainly, maximizing Israel’s freedom of unilateral military initiative is not a valid rationale for the United States to start a war with Iran. Just imagine how Obama would explain such reasoning to the American people.

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Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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