Saturday, September 27, 2008

No war with Iran?

In the midst of the worst economic crisis since 1929 and the worst political crisis since Watergate, an astonishing news story has come out in Britain (as usual), stating that President Bush, in May of this year while in Israel for the celebration of its independence—the same trip in which he gave the speech endorsing Bible-based Zionism which I commented on here—told Ehud Olmert that he would not approve an Israeli attack on Iran. This is quite extraordinary news, for at least three reasons. This has been reported in the Guardian.

To begin with, Sarah Palin, just yesterday, told Katie Couric that we should not “second-guess” anything Israel finds it necessary to do in its own defense. That is evidently what President Bush did, according to European diplomatic sources who have heard about it from Israeli sources, and it would interesting to ask her about this in the vice-presidential debate next week.

Secondly, it was only two months after this meeting that Benny Morris wrote his notorious op-ed in the New York Times, on which I commented at length, attempting in effect to blackmail the United States into joining an Israeli attack on Iran on the grounds that an attack that did not finish the job would lead to a nuclear war. One can reasonably infer that President Bush’s words to Olmert had something to do with Morris’s piece.

But most interestingly of all, this statement came a bare two months after Admiral Fox Fallon had to resign as CENTCOM commander, reportedly because he had expressed his opposition to war with Iran too forcefully. George F. Kennan, whose memoirs I was re-reading this week, commented that Secretary of State Dulles had to fire him from the State Department in 1953 because Dulles had no alternative but to follow the containment policy associated with Kennan’s name. In the same way, apparently, Fallon had to go because he was right, perhaps as a sop to neoconservative elements and to Vice President Cheney, who have favored war with Iran all along. (Bob Woodward's book, which I have now finished and will be discussing at length within a few days, suggests another explanation: that Fallon was let go because he did not agree with his subordinate Petraeus or his superiors about the absolute military priority of Iraq.)

Last night's debate was on the whole encouraging with respect to Obama's performance and prospects, I thought, but discouraging for anyone looking for a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy. Obama agreed that Ukraine and Georgia should be in NATO as soon as possible and agreed on the need for missile defense (which remains useless against a real threat.) While he spoke in his closing statement about the decline of our prestige, he did not dare suggest that Russia was emboldened against Georgia by our own unilateral actions. I was shocked last week when a good friend suggested that Richard Holbrooke might be his Secretary of State, because I thought that we had dodged that bullet when Hillary Clinton lost. Clearly Obama is running as what passes for a centrist today on foreign policy and we will have to wait until when (and if) he is in office to find out whether he can restore some sanity in that realm.

Because of travel, this may be the last post this weekend, but I will make up for that Monday evening if necessary.

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