September 29, 2012
Foreign policy issues should not be a factor in election campaigns; we need to tell the world that we are united on issues beyond domestic politics. However, it is too difficult for presidential campaigns to resist stirring things up. Mitt Romney did this in unwise remarks about US policy during the orchestrated riots in Libya and Egypt.
Today, a hot issue is Iran, which has lied, cheated, and continued to work toward producing a nuclear capability that frightens its neighborhood. Israel is not the only country threatened overtly by Iran; those old enemies of Iran, the Arabs, feel threatened too. The United States, whose allies are both Israel and a number of Arab states, worries about our naval operations that protect the flow of oil.
Iran has no friends in this game other than the rapidly disintegrating Syria. But the complexity of this issue illustrates why it should not be a political football in our election.
o Iran. There is great debate on whether Iran is governed by rational or irrational players. Although Shiite Islam is emotional and often irrational, the clerics who run Iran do not seem to be ready to meet their maker. Iran invented chess. They have always been big game players, gamblers living on the edge, and paranoid about how everybody hates them. They have a long bitter history of blaming everyone but themselves for their misfortunes, but have a keen desire to not only survive, but to triumph.
o Israel. I have just given you one view of Iran: a game player but not suicidal. But there are those-such as the right-wing party in Israel, led by Bibi Netanyahu, who believe otherwise. He does not trust that they are rational; he assumes that they are not, and Israel cannot wait until Iran develops a nuclear bomb that they will use on Israel. To defend this view, Iran has certainly threatened that they would do exactly this--but nobody notes that if they do, they would also wipe out their beloved victims, the Palestinians living in and around Israel.
However, many in Israel, even former Mosad heads, think that Iran is rational and therefore knows what would happen to them if they attacked Israel. They believe that if Israel were to attack Iran alone, they would fail to take down the all the nuclear facilities but would have terrible collateral destruction, earning even more hatred from the world.
o The United States. Presidents Obama and Netanyahu have bad chemistry, and Netanyahu is more comfortable with our Republican party. He has long threatened to take on Iran himself because he wants to put us into a position where we have no choice---and this on the eve of the election, which would be a very bad thing to do.
Despite all the propaganda about how Obama is throwing Israel under the bus, nothing of the sort is happening. Relations between the US and Israeli intelligence services and their respective militaries have never been better, according to Defense Minister Ehud Barak. They have trained together and have used some extremely effective intelligence tools to slow down and hamper Iran's progress. The sanctions are working. The US is quietly urging Israel to cool it until our election is over, a fair request it seems to me.
Meanwhile, Republicans are making hay over the antipathy between Obama and Netanyahu in an attempt to lure Jewish voters from their customary position as Democrats. On the fringes are publicity-hungry bigots who love to provoke the Muslim “insulted” industry by mocking Islam or by fringe nuts eager to blame Israel for forcing us into conflict with Iran.
Foreign policy is never an easy discipline amenable to sound bites. It is a complicated, nuanced process that requires in-depth knowledge of the countries involved, a clear understanding of materials (often classified), and the input of many specialists from multiple disciplines. This is far too complex an issue for the game of making political hay. We still have only one president at a time.
Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of Ten Inventions That Changed Everything. You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net