Friday, September 14, 2012

Potentially Extremely Bad Ruh-Roh

Bad JuJu

On Monday of this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly scoured out the American government and the Obama administration for not making a commitment to "red lines" for the intransigent Iranian government over its nuclear program -- a point past which the United States would militarily support an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. (See updated reports on this and following events here from the New York Times.)
Mr. Netanyahu’s unusually harsh public comments about Israel’s most important ally... laid bare the tension between him and President Obama over how to handle Iran. They also suggested that he is willing to use the pressure of the presidential election to try to force Mr. Obama to commit to attack Iran under certain conditions...

Mr. Netanyahu, speaking at a news conference in Jerusalem, said, “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
In addition, the Israeli Embassy in Washington reported on Tuesday that the White House had declined a request by Netanyahu to meet with the President later this month when Benny attends (and presumably addresses) the UN General Assembly.

The White House replied when asked that the decision not to meet was due to a conflict with the President's schedule, and conveyed to the Prime Minister's office "long ago". Later, they denied any such meeting was even scheduled: “Contrary to reports in the press, there was never a request for Prime Minister Netanyahu to meet with President Obama in Washington, nor was a request for a meeting ever denied.”

In case you hadn't noticed, not only did the White House's response appear inconsistent, it was the functional equivalent of calling Netanyahu's office a bunch of liars, which isn't exactly the tone you want to set in international relations. CBS news reported yesterday that the refusal may have been fueled by Netanyahu's warm reception to Mitzy last month -- a way for the Obama administration to say, "You want to support our opponent in the election so openly? Fine. No face time for you".

On Tuesday night, Obama called Netanyahu and spoke for an hour, as the NYT reported, "hashing through the Iran confrontation and their misunderstandings".

On Wednesday, as a result of a trailer for an unreleased, anti-Muslim film that had been posted roughly a week ago on YouTube (and created by either an U.S.-Israeli businessman, an Egyptian, or an ex-con with half adozen aliases, depending upon who you talk to), the U.S. Embassy compounds in both Egypt and Libya were attacked.

The clip, which depicted the chief focus of Islam as a buffoonish child molester, had been posted earlier with an English audio track, and then reposted (in case anyone in the Middle East missed it) with Arabic translation. It appeared that whoever was behind the film's production wanted a reaction from the Muslim world -- and given the response to the release of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad by a Danish artist almost a decade ago, the film's producers understood exactly what they were doing. Why they were doing it now is another question.

The U.S. Embassy in Egypt -- which experiences generally peaceful protests on a regular basis -- issued a brief comment, before the attacks occured:
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
It seemed a clear statement of American values (publicly-declared ones, at any rate) and the position of the American government. The Cairo Embassy released it to blunt any public protest over the YouTube clip in Egypt.

It didn't. The Embassy compound in Cairo was breached, and an American flag was pulled down and torn apart to a cheering crowd. But this was nothing compared to what happened to the Embassy compound in Benghazi, Libya: The Ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three members of his staff were killed by what may have been a planned attack.

Back in the United States, Little Mitzy immediately criticized Obama for the "apology" made to the attackers.
I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.
Not long after, Herr Reince Priebus, chairman of the Rethug National Committee, specifically accused the President of sympathizing with the attackers in a Twitter feed: "Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic."

Except for Herr Priebus, no other Republican notable stepped up to support Mitzy's statement, which was both factually inaccurate and so obviously use of a violent, tragic episode for political gain. Normally, the yapping of the right-wing echo chamber as their newest lie is circulated is immediate and loud. Not this time.

For his part, Obama remarked that "Governor Romney tends to shoot first and aim later", adding that Mitzy's statement was a good example of how not to conduct foreign policy.

The dark of the moon occurs this coming weekend, on Sunday, September 16. It won't occur again until Monday, October 15th; and in November -- election month in America -- there is no dark of the moon at all; the calendar moves from waning to a waxing crescent with no moonless night over November 13 - 14.

If Netanyahu's government has finally made its decision to strike Iran, they would want the American military to stand behind them. But even though the United States may have shared a large amount of intelligence with Israel about Iran since January, 2009, and may even have collaborated in cyberwarfare attacks on the Iranian nuclear industry's centrifuge infrastructure, Netanyahu is disappointed with Obama and his administration's position on Iran.

As a result,
Benny may have courted Mitzy (whom he's known since their days together at the Harvard B-school), and blasted Obama this week, to force the United States to draw a 'red line' for Iran and make a public declaration that includes military support. It may contain some theatre, political maneuvering.

But what if it isn't? What if Netanyahu's remarks on Monday were the public expression of a deep exasperation (Pal; you just don't understand the stakes), a last public signal that time is short? What if Israel decides to attack without more than a courtesy call to the President as the jets are hitting their first targets?

It would be amazingly awkward timing -- committing the U.S. to a larger Middle East war weeks before a national election. Any failure to back Israeli action would have domestic political repercussions (Would you want to be known as the President who left Israel in the lurch?). If this were part of Netanyahu's analysis, it would be cynical -- but, he's a hardball player; and the stakes (over there) are life and death.

No matter my personal opinion, there is no good outcome from an attack on Iran -- for all the obvious reasons: People killing each other is bad, an important safety tip for Life On Earth we don't seem to have learned. Iranian civilians will die; and the Iranian military will target Israel's population; civilians will die there, too. No real surprise.

The people running Iran's government are insane. In the even more insane mix of politics and religion that characterizes that region of the planet, the Iranians would argue that an attack is part of a great American / Zionist conspiracy against Islam. And, we live in a world of gullible True Believers, and that message will resonate with weak-minded 12th Century Types a segment of the population in Muslim countries. We can expect to see what happened in Benghazi and Cairo (and now, Yemen) multiply across the globe, wherever fine Islamist propaganda is sold.

What can't be estimated is the endgame. All simulations of a military attack on Iran that have been publicly reported indicate that a short, limited conflict is unlikely; once war begins, any predictions of what will happen go out the window.

No one knows how regional players like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Jordan will be affected, or to what extent larger players -- the United States, Russia, China -- will be drawn in. Will the Iranians close the Straits of Hormuz? What will be the position of the Emirates, of OPEC, the Arab League?

What would the effect to the U.S. Presidential elections be? If Obama took the high and sensible road, refusing to allow America to be drawn into (another) regional war, Mitzy would shank him in public. Even if Obama made only a limited gesture of military support to Israel's unilateral attack, Mitzy and the Rethugs would howl even louder.

However, committing our military to ensure Israel's security could lead to decades of asymmetrical warfare with 'Islamists' (the new media term for 'bad' Muslims, I assume), terrorist acts on American soil, and an increase of the influence of the security state-mentality.

Even if Obama unhesitatingly committed U.S. forces to the region, the Tea Partei and the Rethugs would howl that he was too slow, or didn't do it right, or is a Negro.

So, I'm not necessarily saying that over this weekend, the Israeli Defense Force will hit Iran with everything but the kitchen sink. But I wouldn't be surprised if they did; and I won't be surprised when it happens. Neither, I think, will the Iranians.

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