Issue of Israel Striking Iran Becoming the Most Important Election Wild Card
Originally published in Tikkun magazine
In the past month, we’ve seen the issue of a possible Israeli strike against Iran receive increased attention. This is thanks, in part, to the GOP candidates’ irresponsible (yet politically expedient) parroting of right-wing talking points on the matter in a race to win over both “pro-Israel” backers and votes.
Politically-motivated bluster aside, though, there is a real potential for the issue to become a significant part of our national discourse in the run-up to the 2012 election.
Political guru Nate Silver certainly feels such is the case, particularly after reading a Times piece on the U.S. military’s classified war simulation last month, which showed that an Israeli attack on Iran could have perilous consequences for America.
Silver Tweeted, along with a link to the Times‘ article:
Pretty clear that Iran/Israel is displacing Europe as the most important election wild card.
The GOP sees this as a winning issue – a foreign policy arena where they can score points by playing both on voters’ fears and prejudices (against both those evil Iranians and our dark-skinned President). It’s for this reason that conservatives have been playing up the rhetoric and drum beats, doing everything possible to convince Americans that both an Israeli attack and an American response are not only necessary, but inevitable (which couldn’t be farther from the truth – more on that below).
Just witness the blustery “HR 3783 – Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012,” which is sponsored by Jeff Duncan (R – South Carolina) and has made it out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. While it will be put to a vote, the bill has little chance of passing. But passing isn’t the point. Raising the issue’s profile is.
Witness also the Times‘ article over the weekend entitled “Hawks Steering Debate on How to Take on Iran,” an article which almost accepted the inevitability of an Israeli strike. Of course, as M.J. Rosenberg points out in The Huffington Post, those cited for the story are a veritable who’s who of conservatives invested in making the issue of Iran front-and-center:
The far-right Emergency Committee for Israel and its vice-chair, the Christian right and GOP leader, Gary Bauer. The ECI’s chair is William Kristol, a leading Republican;
The House Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the GOP’s #1 spokesperson in Congress and close ally of Binyamin Netanyahu;
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a hawk in almost all conflict situations and a vehement adversary of President Obama;
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC;
Sheldon Adelson, the “billionaire casino owner” who is a primary funder of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign;
The Republican candidates for president; and
Richard N. Perle, the leading neoconservative who famously started pushing for war with Iraq within 24 hours of the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Two years ago, the potential for an Israeli attack on Iran began to receive public attention thanks, in part, to Jeffrey Goldberg’s cover story for The Atlantic, which predicted an Israeli strike within 12 months.
That story, which cited Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as well as high-ranking Israeli officials, and which made an Israeli attack seem inevitable, was one of the first notable seeds placed in our media on the issue of a contemporary attack. Goldberg recently admitted that it’s possible Netanyahu was bluffing, both then and now. And while he doesn’t yet believe in this possibility (or won’t admit to believing in this possibility), he’s likely just one in a series of pawns that have been used by both Netanyahu and his Republican, conservative allies for a host of security and political reasons.
While the U.S. military is not taking any chances, the likelihood of an Israeli attack is small. The Israeli public is squarely against such an attack, the Obama administration’s disapproving stance on the matter is quite clear, and most parties involved understand (even if they won’t say so publicly) that Iran is nowhere near capable of producing a nuclear weapons program.
While anything is possible, the chances for an Israeli attack are slim.
But you wouldn’t know that by listening to Romney on the stump. Or Santorum on the pulpit. Or Gingrich in a donut shop. All of whom continue to saber rattle, hoping this issue’s bark will yield some savory electoral bites.
Follow the author on Twitter @David_EHG.