Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Israel Radicalizes U.S. Politics

Clearly, a war against Iran would be bad news, but even if war is avoided, the crisis atmosphere being generated by Israeli politicians is causing severe long-term damage to the national security of all involved states – the U.S., Israel, and Iran.

Many observers have warned that a US war with Iran would be a disaster far worse than the US occupation of Iraq. Americans need to remember the lessons of the Iraq war: we did not win. Whether or not the U.S. was defeated outright in its attempt to conquer and occupy Iraq may be argued; the ultimate outcome will not be known for years. But U.S. forces were pretty clearly booted out. All those monster bases designed to project U.S. military force throughout the region are now in the hands of Iraqis, are they not? And those Iraqis are leaning pretty publicly to the side of Tehran, are they not? Aside from a handful of much richer corporate CEOs, what American would call that “victory?” Iran is a much harder target than Iraq, likely requiring far more blood and treasure. Clearly, Israel's efforts to provoke impressionable US politicians into attacking Iran constitute a clear and present danger to US national security.

But even if no war occurs, the US will still have suffered grievous harm from Israeli behavior. Regardless of whether or not Israel actually wants a war against Iran, its politicians are generating dangerous war fever in the US and are thus radicalizing US politics. The minimal result of this is the strengthening of short-sighted, violence-prone extremists in the U.S., provoking global instability and an accident-prone U.S. foreign policy. Almost certainly, this militarization of foreign policy will be accompanied by bigger, more centralized, more elitist domestic government. The second result of war fever is the long-term strengthening of the military-industrial complex and the concomitant weakening of US diplomacy. The third result, flowing from the first two, is that US foreign policy is constrained, and, as US flexibility decreases, the US will become weaker, less able to deal with the complex international challenges it faces. Decision-makers under the pressure of public war fever will plan less carefully, consider a narrower range of options, and will inevitably find violent options easier to choose for short-term political reasons even if those options are understood to offer little chance of long-term success. Finally, as should be obvious, this whole process will, as it strengthens those US political circles favoring militarism, weaken US democracy and undermine US civil liberties for war fever and democracy are bitter enemies.

The actual dynamics of these changes provoked by war fever are even more complicated and ominous than the above enumeration suggests, for they interact, generating positive mutual feedback loops: i.e., the longer politics are radicalized, the greater the gap between any real justification for war and the degree of war fever. War fever becomes less and less a response to reality, more and more a result of the internal dynamics of political behavior: war becomes justified by war fever. The more politics are radicalized, the weaker become politicians advocating cautious, reasoned evaluation of policy choices and the stronger become politicians willing to exploit tension for personal gain, which instantly translates into the personal gain of the leaders of the military-industrial complex. As this process continues, those CEOs, in turn, do not only get richer but interfere in politics, turning into advocates of the wars from which they benefit. Few will be the citizens who point out the obvious conflict of interest. The stronger the extremist coalition becomes, the more international tensions will rise for other countries will react to the rising U.S. challenge, either by arming and preparing to resist or, as is evidenced by the behavior of elites from Pakistan to Paraguay, by cooperating with U.S. elites against the interests of their own people, thereby provoking popular resistance, which in turn will lead to violence that will be cited by U.S. extremists as “proof” that a foreign policy based on war is required and as justification for curbing the domestic U.S. civil liberties that are frequently the primary target of extremist U.S.politicians in the first place. Expansionist Israeli politicians crying wolf about regional adversaries as a cover for their plans to colonize the West Bank provide, in turn, marvelous cover for rich Americans who want to transfer the funds of social service programs into their own pockets. The new partnership between the Israeli right wing and the U.S. super-rich stands on a foundation of solid gold.

The nuclear argument, not to mention the far more fundamental general strategic argument, between Iran, the U.S., and Israel, has many facets. Regardless of one's opinion of the alleged Iranian nuclear threat, regardless of one's opinion of the quality of Iranian governance, regardless of one's opinion of Iran's political challenge to U.S. regional supremacy, the tactics being pursued by Israeli politicians are causing profound long-term harm to U.S., and Israeli, national security and are poisoning the political culture of both countries as well. 

In sum, even if no war with Iran occurs and even if the feared Iranian nuclear challenge evaporates in the noonday sun, Israel will have caused severe long-term harm to US national security and to US political culture by its waving of the bloody flag. The endless public crisis atmosphere being generated by Israeli politicians does not help protect Israel; it hobbles Israeli and American decision-makers, who cannot completely insulate themselves from public emotions. It also strengthens radicals in Iran because public war fevers are contagious. Right-wing, violence-prone politicians willing to exploit public fears for private advantage on all sides are strengthened; moderates are made to appear disloyal; decision-makers get tunnel vision; CEOs of military-industrial corporations and extremist politicians profit while the long-term security of all diminishes.

Thanks, Israel. With friends like you...

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