Saturday, September 15, 2012

Come On, Mr. Ignatius, You're Not Puzzled

David Ignatius claims to be puzzled by the demands Binyamin Netanyahu is making of the Obama Administration:
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues his almost daily demands that the United States announce its “red line” for going to war with Iran, the question puzzling the White House is what he wants beyond what President Obama has already stated.
Ignatius points out that President Obama has made clear statements about Iran, and has described "a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." He describes a potential response, previously articulated by others, that Israel itself has not articulated a clear "red line" beyond which it will attack Iran. He questions the logic behind Netanyahu's proposed "red line", a point at which Iran would have the capacity to "produce enough highly enriched fuel for a bomb". He points out that the measure of capacity is subjective and that the U.S. could continue to act even after that capacity was arguably reached.

Is he deliberately missing the point?

Netanyahu does not define for his own nation the "red line" he asks of the United States, and has deliberately chosen a measure that turns on estimates and assumptions, because he is attempting to corner the U.S. - to get the U.S. government to tie itself to a threshold measure that he can declare Iran to have crossed, and then call upon the U.S. to live up to its commitment by engaging in what would be a large-scale, costly adventure in Iran, and also commit itself to cleaning up the mess that is likely to result.

Right now it appears that pretty much every military and intelligence leader in Israel believes that an attack on Iran would be a terrible idea, likely to cause Iran to redouble its nuclear efforts while consolidating the current regime's power, and potentially opening up a proxy war through Lebanon and putting Israelis at risk of attack throughout the world. Netanyahu's response is described as condescending to them that they're worried about international reactions and the reports of human rights commissions, and are choosing to put Israel at risk instead of getting behind an attack.

The only person who is routinely described as firmly in Netanyahu's corner is Ehud Barak, and that firmness may be wavering. Meanwhile Netanyahu's actions are raising concerns about the extent to which a nation as dependent on the U.S. as Israel should be attempting to meddle in and influence the outcome of a U.S. presidential election.

Ignatius states what should be obvious:
Netanyahu should understand that no country can allow another to impose the conditions under which it will go to war. The Israeli leader wants a tripwire that would trigger military action. But presidents don’t turn over that power of war and peace, even to their best friends. Indeed, it’s precisely because Obama means what he says about going to war that he wants maximum flexibility in how and when he takes action.
But there are two balls in play - President Obama and Mitt Romney. Ignatius is looking at President Obama and asking, "How could Netanyahu expect his stunts to persuade the President of anything." But what if Netanyahu is doubling down on the notion that Mitt Romney will win the election? If you follow Romney's dangerously incompetent foreign policy rhetoric, you'll find lots of support for the idea that he'll engage in military adventurism. And given Romney's desire to bash Obama on foreign policy issues, no matter what the facts or circumstances, Netanyahu can reasonably be assumed to be inviting Romney to declare the "red line" that, as Ignatius has said, no responsible President would accept? Mitt Romney, as usual, is trying to have it every possible way, but it's reasonable to infer that Netanyahu's hope is that the campaign now sticks with Dan Senor's position, or edges even closer to the line proposed by Netanyahu.

Frankly, Netanyahu seems to accept that his stunts, demands, refusal to cooperate with peace initiatives and interference in the election have destroyed any chance he has of having a constructive working relationship with President Obama - a type of relationship that, to Netanyahu, would appear to involve having the President doing everything he wants, when he wants it. So what's another cup of poison or two between friends?

If Obama is reelected, the present situation will continue - a cool relationship, but with the U.S. refraining from punishing Israel for the intransigence of its Prime Minister. If not, he may have a pre-election commitment from Romney that he can use, along with his latest "intelligence estimates", to call upon the U.S. to "keep its word" and attack Iran. It's not a winning strategy if Obama is reelected, but either way he can't lose.

Ignatius suggests, "Obama should help the Israeli leader to climb down from his unwise rhetoric." The problem is, from Netanyahu's perspective the rhetoric represents sound strategy. He's already been warned by many of his fellow countrymen, political, military and intelligence, that his strategy is unsound, and that it's unwise to antagonize the President. He's rejected all of that advice, so what possesses Ignatius to believe he'll be receptive to correction by Obama?

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