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29 April 2012

The Neocon factor

THE US involvement with the disastrous Iraqi war ended four months ago; it cost it in excess of 4,500 dead, 30,000 wounded, and more than a trillion dollars.

The invasion launched in March 2003 was a conflict of choice, since no compelling rationale existed to justify it. Yet, at the time it was vigorously promoted with a well-orchestrated campaign, conducted through mass media, and argued by a coalition of zealous politicians known as neoconservatives.

Supporters of the invasion were generally sympathisers of Israel, and believed that Saddam Hussein was a peril to the Jewish state and inimical to the US interests. As it turned out, the Iraqi ruler was far more concerned about a threat from Iran, and his bedraggled army presented no real danger to Israel, let alone the US, his frequent empty blusters against the Jewish state notwithstanding.

In the months preceding the invasion, the perception was generated that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons, which he was ready to transfer to Al Qaeda terrorists. It is now clear that most if not all the damning information was drawn from faulty or unreliable intelligence reports that ultimately proved fallacious. The realisation of the pointlessness of the Iraqi war drove the popularity of President Bush to one of the lowest levels for any president.

Nearly a decade has passed since the US and Britain invaded Iraq, the involvement lasting nearly nine years. The repercussions of the invasion, nevertheless, continue to torment the Iraqi population, while thousands of returning American war veterans suffer from devastating physical and mental disabilities. Although withdrawn from Iraq, US forces continue to battle the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan as they have been doing for 11 years.

Initially, the war had some worthy objective: to rid the country of the brutal, misogynistic Taliban rule. America, however, was unprepared for the enormous task of reconstruction and radical transformation of Afghan society, which had stubbornly resisted such changes for millenniums. The war is no longer popular. Recent opinion polls have shown that a clear majority (69 per cent) of American public is tired of the conflict, and would like the troops brought home.

While the situation in Afghanistan remains volatile, there are signs of an incipient conflict with Iran on the issue of nuclear arms development. Much of the rhetoric urging a military strike against Iran is driven by the same coalition of forces that pushed this country to invade Iraq nearly a decade ago — Israel’s supporters, evangelical Christians and conservative politicians. They believe that a nuclear Iran would constitute an existential threat to Israel.

Iran is already reeling under punitive economic sanctions mandated by the UN, but many from both Democratic and Republican parties would like to see military action against Iran’s nuclear installations. The Iranian leader, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, does not help his cause or earn world sympathy as, while stridently denying any intention of making nuclear weapons, he makes inflammatory statements against Israel, threatening to wipe the country out of existence.

Such bluster is ill-advised, but more importantly is devoid of any real credibility, since Israel has a powerful arsenal of nuclear weapons and an efficient delivery system, capable of reaching Iranian metropolises.

It is unlikely that in this election year, with all the economic and financial problems facing the country, the Obama administration will initiate a new conflict with Iran by targeting its uranium enrichment facilities. President Obama has made that much clear, repudiating “the loose talk of war.” Even the Israeli rhetoric has largely cooled, although only two months ago a unilateral Israeli strike looked very likely.

The US has apparently succeeded, at least temporarily, in restraining the hawkish Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu, from attacking Iranian uranium-enrichment facilities, since it would drag the US into the conflict, with unforeseeable consequences. Various opinion polls suggest that the Israeli public also has no appetite for initiating the war with Iran, inviting retaliatory attacks.

The powerful influence that the Israeli government can exert on the US foreign policy was evident last month, when its highly influential lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), held its annual convention in Washington D.C. The highest officials of the US government, senators, congressmen, along with the president and his Republican rivals, made their appearance and reaffirmed their commitment to Israel in its confrontation with Iran. The support of the US politicians does not flow gratuitously or entirely for altruistic considerations.

Pro-Israel donors have contributed over $47m since 2000 to various candidates of both parties seeking elections to the US Congress. While the debate about how aggressive the US policy should be towards Iran is driven mainly by the most hawkish Israeli supporters, it is no secret that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, fearful of a nuclear Iran, will shed no tears if Iran’s nuclear capabilities are crippled.

Paradoxically, opposition to any military action against Iran also comes from an unlikely source, some liberal Jewish groups in America. In recent years, a coalition of progressive Jews, known as J Street, that supports the two-state solution, one Jewish and the other Palestinians, has gained much strength and visibility.

They present an alternative to the more hawkish groups such as AIPAC, and advocate a diplomatic resolution, as opposed to use of military force, of the Iranian nuclear problem. J Street has established itself as a moderate lobbying group, with a broad, holistic vision of Middle East disputes, dispelling the notion that the American-Jewish community is monolithic and blindly supports all Israeli policies.

By Syed Amir | The writer is a freelance contributor; http://dawn.com/2012/04/29/the-neocon-factor/


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