Robert Wexler, former Florida congressman and a key Obama ally on Israel/Palestine issues, was one of the speakers at a Churches for Middle East Peace dinner last night. Wexler is a liberal Zionist, who (correctly) sees Israel’s long term interest in a two state solution, and has taken a lot of flack for defending Obama from attack by the Zionist right. But last night he was terrifying.
wexler and netanyahu (Photo: S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace)
He began by saying he didn’t want to spend much time talking about the troubled peace process, about which there was little new to say, but Iran. What followed was a “Oh how it pains me to conclude this” analysis about how the US (not Israel) must launch a military attack on Iran, due to the progress Teheran has made in its nuclear program. Only then, Wexler said, in a line eerily evocative of the the neocons’ “road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad” line of 2002, will Israel feel secure enough to make peace with the Palestinians. Obama faces the choice of going down in history as the president who was on watch while Iran acquired nuclear weapons, or being the one who stopped it. An Iranian bomb would unleash all kinds of unknowable dangers in the Middle East, but the consequences of the US attack on Iran are knowable. Much as it pained him to say this (channeling the classic Israel “shoot and cry” trope) American military action is the most rational course. He closed by calling explicitly for “regime change” in Teheran.
None of this went over very well with our group. One former ambassador asked a pointed question about whether the Grand Bargain was possible, and when Wexler said it had been tried, the questioner pointed to the Obama administration’s dismissive reaction to the Turkey/Brazil initiative on Iran’s nuclear program. I asked, “While I agreed that the consequences of a nuclear Iran are unknowable, could he please tell us the consequences of a US attack, since he claimed they are knowable.” He didn’t answer, pontificating for three minutes on “what if they got the bomb” and then saying American military planning could game out the consequences of a US attack. One sentence.
A couple of thoughts. First Wexler made not even passing mention of a possible Israeli strike– he seems to know that Israel by itself doesn’t have the capacity to end Iran’s nuclear program or do very much more than damage Iran and stir up hatreds that will last generations. So this has to be an American operation. Secondly, he is a major liberal Democratic foreign policy figure, and Obama seems to rely upon him. It’s the first time I’ve seen a representative of this group call explicitly for American attack on Iran.
At my table, the feeling was that we were witnessing the opening volleys of a major new push for war, by liberal Zionists and liberal hawks. By supporting Obama on two states (not that it has made the slightest difference) Wexler has positioned himself as a necessary ally of the administration, so if he defected because of Obama’s reluctance to launch a war, it might be seen as politically damaging. I would like to think that Wexler has no influence in the Obama White House, but I don’t believe that. And he wants another American war on a Muslim country, consequences be dammed. His position is exactly the same as Richard Perle’s.