In recent weeks, President Obama has wisely cooled his previously red-hot rhetoric in preparation for a US attack on Iran. Perhaps the reality of blow back on the US from another pre-emptive military attack on a mostly defenseless Mideast country gave the administration good reason to pause. Or perhaps it was the sudden realization that the country's real national security interest does not lie in provoking another costly war. Negative impacts of a new war on the upcoming presidential election may also have benefited the cause for peace.
Even the usual administration spokespersons have tamped down their rhetoric with Joint Chief Martin Dempsey in a recent CNN interview referring to the Iranians as a "rational player" stating that it would not be "prudent to attack" and that the US has "not concluded that Iran is an existential threat" and further that "a strike would be destabilizing." At the January 31st Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, National Security Adviser James Clapper and CIA Director David Petraeus agreed that there was no evidence of Iran's nuclear weapon capability.
However, a bi-partisan group of U.S. Senators disagree. Just prior to this weekend's AIPAC Policy Conference, thirty-five Senators (20 R's and 15 Dems) introduced Senate Resolution 380 "regarding the importance of preventing the government of Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability."
Eerily similar to the 2002 Joint Congressional Resolution to authorize military force against Iraq, SR 380 reads like an unabashed pro-war tract, inflammatory and belligerent, as if eager for war, with all its death and destruction. Rather than a thoughtful, discreet document designed to encourage diplomacy and negotiation with a commitment to international law and prevention of a loss of lives, SR 380 represents an attitude of intolerance and a set of flawed assertions.
While the most effective public policy decisions are the result of a basic fairness and objectivity, a deliberate balance of interests and a regard for truth -- SR 380 has none of those qualities. The Resolution lacks any credibility as it holds Iran to a higher standard regarding IAEA inspections, adherence to the Non Proliferation Treaty and disdain for UN Resolutions -- all of which Israel has repeatedly refused to obey.
The wording and tone of the Resolution puts the squeeze on the administration to ratchet up its response to appeals of support from Israel -- just at a time when the administration may be looking for a way out of a guaranteed global debacle and an ensuing public relations disaster that the president himself contributed to by insisting for too many weeks that "everything was on the table."
Instead of presenting a united front with the administration in favor of allowing the sanctions, ineffective as they are, to calm the roiling waters of war, it is alarming that at least half a dozen liberal Democratic Senators signed-on to such a heavy-handed proposal in support of a military conflict in the world's most volatile region.
With the US intelligence community and the president in agreement that there is no evidence of an imminent threat from Iran, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what motivated Democratic liberals to sign their name on the dotted line. As the administration is showing admirable (albeit temporary) restraint in its patriotic fervor to attack, the source of the Senate's strident resolution language is easily transparent.
It is true that Senators are frequently pressured to take political positions when, in truth, they would prefer the alternative but the reality is that there are powerful bull-dogs with hefty political muscle who represent omnipotent constituencies that are not satisfied with compromise -- and AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) is one of those. (See The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy by Mearsheimer and Walt).
Given the forceful nature of the Resolution, it is a sure bet that AIPAC, not known for a velvet glove approach to lobbying, provided the draft that became SR 380. As 10,000 people are expected to attend AIPAC's Policy Convention on Sunday and Monday, it is no coincidence that the resolution is just in time for participants to fan out on Capitol Hill and hustle any reluctant Members of Congress who have not yet endorsed the resolution. To refuse AIPAC, acknowledged as one of the most powerful and effective lobbies on the Hill, is risky business jeopardizing campaign contributions and assuring a difficult re-election campaign.
With the not-surprising news that Israel will not advise the US prior to initiating an attack and with all the lives lost and suffering of the last decade, it is inconceivable that the Senate has now backed itself into a corner of potentially repeating its 2002 gross error of judgment that continues to haunt the nation's conscience. The possibility that the Senate will adopt SR 380 on the heels of the AIPAC meeting with no realization that every war is a disaster in every way, is reason to question whose national interest the Senate represents.
As Israel's best and perhaps its only real friend, the US has an enormous opportunity to leverage its historic billions of dollars in grants, loan and subsidies to demand adherence to UN Resolution 242 in 1967 that calls for Israeli withdrawal from its occupied territories and Resolution 465 of 1980 affirming the need for dismantling settlements in Arab territories. Both resolutions were adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly and implementation would be a huge step in the direction of peace and reconciliation.
If the president is unwilling to put his authority on the line in a determined effort for a negotiated, permanent peace agreement, to transform the US role as a fair-minded and impartial participant , then Zbigniew Brzezinski's comment to Fareed Zakaria on Feb. 26 that Obama had "walked away from" the peace process will become the president's legacy -- and former Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh's warning that those who attempt to "persuade world opinion that the lamb has devoured the wolf" is as apt today as it was in 1951.