Robert Merry, editor of the National Interest, has a very forceful piece attacking the idea of a war with Iran and saying that it’s time for Israel and the U.S. to get a divorce. Notice especially here the undercurrent of resentment at “ethnic-group,” “parochial” politics driving US policy. This is aimed right at the Israel lobby and the issue of conservative Jewish influence. The American discourse is waking up, the DNC platform charade has played a role. The Walt and Mearsheimer thesis is now mainstream, and watch as the Establishment begins to align itself with that understanding, rather than continue to beat it with a club.
Consider first the likely consequences of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran—the Syrian civil war exploding into a region-wide sectarian conflict; destabilization of such nations as Bahrain, Jordan and Lebanon; obliteration of the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement; a new Intifada in the occupied Palestinian lands; expanded terrorist activity against the West; a doubling or tripling of oil prices; a likely economic meltdown in Europe and China, with huge subsidiary damage to the U.S. economy. All of these things easily could be triggered simply by an Israeli attack on Iran; all of them likely would be worse if America got dragged into the resulting Israeli-Iranian conflict.
Second, what kind of country would America be if it ceded its sovereignty in matters of war and peace to a tiny ally that seems bent on manipulating American decision making by manipulating American domestic politics? It’s one thing to have Israel thwart America’s efforts to foster a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on Israel’s perception of its own interests; it’s quite another to allow Israel to pull the United States into a war that the American people are not prepared for and that likely would severely harm America’s economic and geopolitical interests…
All of this argues for the American president—either Obama or his successor—to separate his government starkly from the Israeli government on the matter of an attack on Iran. But what about the political backlash? It would be fierce, as anti-Iran hawks and friends of Israel throughout America go on the attack. The pro-Israel lobby would mobilize, and evangelical Christians would swarm into political action like angry hornets. Journalists would speculate widely that the president had destroyed his political standing with Jewish voters. But all this would miss the big picture….
The president would win that argument, but first he would have to demonstrate the fortitude to take it forcefully and deftly to the American people.
Such a political victory in turn would transform U.S. relations with Israel. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that interest-group politics, and particularly ethnic-group politics, drive events. That’s often true, but not when a national consensus emerges that runs counter to the parochial interests of particular groups. As Woodrow Wilson once wrote, “If [the president] rightly interpret the national thought and boldly insist upon it, he is irresistible.”
Last night it struck me that it’s time for Obama to give “The Race Speech,” the speech that honestly discussed racial politics during the ’08 campaign, but about the Israel lobby. If he did so, Americans, including most American Jews, would be on his side.