Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bunker busters postscript

The long excerpt in last week's Newsweek on the war between Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama from Peter Beinart's  new book did not get into the subject of the bunker busters mystery up until the peroration, where he writes
Although his top generals have warned that an Israeli strike would be militarily ineffective and regionally destabilizing, Obama has refused to say so himself, let alone publicly pressure Israel not to attack. Instead, according to the Israeli newspaper Maariv, he has tried to buy off Netanyahu with the promise that if Israel delays a strike until 2013, the US will sell it the bunker busting bombs and long-range refueling planes it needs to do the job. [jump]
From Zazzle.

Obama may believe he can cut a diplomatic deal with Tehran before then, but the political pressure on him to avoid doing so will be at least as great as the pressure to which he succumbed during the settlements fight. In Obama’s first two years, his failure to defend the progressive vision of American interests and Jewish values that he learned in Chicago helped doom the peace process. If he fails this time, the price may be war.
Obviously I am impressed and heartened at how far Beinart's views on Israel and Palestine and Iran have evolved since his New Republic days, especially since he's such a good writer, which makes it hard, I imagine, to change your mind. (That's where Christopher Hitchens went so wrong, if you ask me: he'd denounced Saddam Hussein so powerfully when it didn't have any political meaning that he couldn't go back on it when people in power took him seriously. What the fans don't realize is that if some politician had decided to bomb Mother Teresa in her orphanage Hitchens would have joined their party too.)

But he's still doing something wrong here, perhaps with some of that convert's excessive zeal, but also some pre-conversion bad journalistic habits,  notably that treatment of the situation as a contest between two men, from which one will emerge as the winner while the other slinks back to the locker room, out of the lights.

Beinart's thesis is a bit related to that of Obama as our first Jewish president;  that Obama, reared to politics in the nourishing shade of the great Saul Alinsky by liberal Jews such as Abner Mikva and David Axelrod, is uniquely suited to understanding that it's not anti-Semitic to oppose a bad Israeli government; but when it came to opposing Netanyahu, in spite of the support of George Mitchell and Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emanuel and "Jewish members of Congress", he has done nothing but retreat:
“Most of the Jewish members feel very uncomfortable with the settlement policy and with Netanyahu personally,” explains one Democratic strategist. But members of Congress also worried that the administration did not fully grasp what it had gotten itself into. “If you’re going to pick a fight with a bully,” explained a congressional staffer who works on Israel policy, “you need to win.”
There are a few things wrong with this. Clinton was intellectually and emotionally just as prepared, but more frightened, especially after Hillary Clinton allowed herself to be photographed having a hug with Mrs. Arafat and media hell broke loose. They even shared a great many of the same people, such as Mitchell and Emanuel and Clinton herself, not to mention the late Richard Holbrooke and the unspeakable Dennis Ross. Then, the progressive Jewish congresspersons do not have any particular sway. Just because they're Jewish doesn't mean they inoculate a person against accusations of anti-Semitism, either; they get accused of it all the time themselves (as anybody who used to work at the New Republic ought to know very well). And the accuracy of that Maariv story is not exactly unquestionable.

Most importantly, Obama has never picked a fight with Netanyahu; he has picked fights with situations that need to be rectified, the plight of the Palestinians, the looming of an Iranian war, and tried to rectify them, inviting others to come along, including Netanyahu. Netanyahu regards that as a personal challenge, a glove on the ground, because that's the kind of person Netanyahu is—emotionally stuck in middle school.

Obama has no doubt often been very angry at Netanyahu, as Beinart tells us he has, over his stupidity and dishonesty and bad manners; but his aims have always been at the situation: to bring the two-state solution to reality, to prevent war.

With the first, of course, he has failed so far, and it doesn't seem likely that he will get any farther. The real culprit is the Israeli voters, who are worse than ours in Kansas at defeating their own interests, poisoned with hatred and worship of the Big Man. With the second he has succeeded, so far, and presumably up to November at the least. And afterwards? Well, maybe the dog will start talking.

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