Friday, September 14, 2012

“Israel, Iran and the Bomb”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Israel, Iran and the Bomb”
September 14, 2012

The relationship, which was never warm and fuzzy, has become frostier between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as Iran’s centrifuges keep spinning. In any case, it would be unlikely that a conservative Israeli Prime Minister and a left-wing U.S. President would form a close friendship. Nevertheless, the U.S. is one of Israel’s best friends on a diminishing roster of friends, and the country is the sole democracy in the Middle East, a region that appears to be falling under the spell of the Muslim Brotherhood. Rhetoric between the U.S. and Israel recently heightened, with Mr. Netanyahu desirous of “red lines”, and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton saying that the U.S. was “not setting deadlines.”

When world leaders convene in New York next week for the annual opening of the United Nation’s General Assembly, it appears that the two leaders will not meet privately, despite a request from Mr. Netanyahu. Whether this is a “snub” by Mr. Obama, as some suggest, or, as others conjecture, a carefully orchestrated political move to avoid what could be an embarrassing meeting, no one really knows. Perhaps it is because Mr. Obama felt it more important to attend a $40,000 a plate fund raiser, which he will be doing at Jay-Z’s club in New York on Tuesday evening.

What we do know is that Israel is a country one eighth the size of Florida in which 7.7 million people reside. And we know it is being threatened by a much larger enemy that is developing nuclear weapons. When one looks at a map of the Middle East, other than Lebanon, Israel is the smallest nation in the region. Nevertheless, it includes over 40% of the world’s Jewish population. Iran, 1100 miles to the East, and separated by Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, has a population ten times that of Israel. Its leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. The country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed to confront and defeat the “cancerous tumor that is Israel.” In a world that sometimes seems mad, these men stand out. Israel is under daily threat from terrorists. In 2011, they killed 23 Israelis and wounded 92. Is it any surprise that Israelis may be concerned for their lives should Iran develop the bomb? Why does so much of the world seem so blasé regarding the situation? With what we know of the nature of Iran’s leaders, why, for example, does Reuters, in a news item earlier this week, refer to Iran’s “suspected” pursuit of nuclear weapons? If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you can be pretty sure it is a duck.

The situation reminds me of the well known, and relevant, quote uttered more than two hundred years ago by Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” The policy of the United States, in the post-War years has been to support Israel, while trying to maintain a level of stability in a notoriously unstable region. Certainly oil has been a motivating factor, but so has been the tinderbox nature of the region. The thousand-year old conflict between the two branches of Islam, Sunni and Shiite, when not in open conflict, is always at risk of igniting.

This week’s violence against the United States within four Muslim nations, theoretically made more liberal by the Arab Spring, only serves to highlight the risks inherent with the Obama policy of coddling our enemies while alienating our friends. The fact that the terrorists struck on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 was surely no coincidence. The focus of the media, however, was on the (perhaps) impolitic words of Mitt Romney, in response to the siege of the embassy in Cairo. With the subsequent killings in Libya, there is no question but that we should mourn the dead and side with the President when, sounding just like his predecessor whom he openly despises, he vowed: “Make no mistake, justice will be done.” However, contrary to those like the New York Times, who would like to use the episode to solidify support for the President’s re-election bid, this is the right time to debate the President’s foreign policy.

The United States has risen to become the most powerful nation on earth. Certainly, we can all agree it has not always conducted itself in a morally exemplary fashion. Yet, on balance it has been a force for good, and millions of people around the world are better off for our existence. We should never gloat, nor flex our muscles unreasonably. We should stand for the principles of freedom. While apologies are appropriate for specific violations of moral behavior, there should never be an apology for an American who says something with which we might disagree, but which is his perfect right. The fourteen-minute YouTube clip “Muhammad Movie Trailer,” which has been out for two months, may be in bad taste and provocative, but the rights of the man who made it need to be protected. No American should ever apologize for the right of people to have their say. Consider what the human condition of men and women would be like today had Hitler succeeded, or had Communism prevailed?

Today, in the Middle East, the civilized world is faced with a dilemma far exceeding what is happening in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia or Yemen, and that is the prospect of a theocratic Islamic nation – one that harbors, condones and promotes terrorism – coming into possession of atomic weapons. It is a nation, as I wrote above, that has threatened to eradicate the state of Israel. The leaders of Iran have never made any secret of their hatred for the United States or Israel, yet Mr. Obama chose to ignore the pleas of Iranian citizens when, in their “Green Revolution,” they rose up against the dictatorial regime of the Ayatollah and Mr. Ahmadinejad, during the summer of 2009. During the Arab Spring of early 2011, Mr. Obama deliberately avoided trying to affect change, instead deciding, in his own words, to “lead from behind.”

In 1946, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) was created. Until being disestablished in 1992, it acted as a deterrent to the Soviet Union. When I was growing up, one of their bases was located in Newington, New Hampshire – Pease Air Force Base. The sign outside their gate may have seemed ironic, but it proved true and it worked – “Peace is our Profession.” Democracies have armies, not to invade neighbors or create colonies to exploit; they have them to preserve peace – peace through strength. As every schoolboy knows, signs of weakness invite disrespect and provoke attacks.

Sanctions against Iran never worked during the Bush Administration and they are not working now. There have been too many exceptions allowed, and as Ms. Clinton said, the U.S. will draw no lines in the sand. The Obama policy is the reverse of President Theodore Roosevelt’s, which was to walk softly, but carry a big stick. There is foretelling wisdom in a sentence that appeared in yesterday’s lead editorial of the Wall Street Journal: “A nation that appears so reluctant to stand by its friends won’t be respected or feared by its enemies.”

Sitting in front of a computer in Old Lyme, Connecticut provides no insight as to what course of action we should take regarding Iran, but to do nothing, to not stand up for our beliefs, to not be empathetic to the real fears of Israel, could lead to untold horrors. Writing of another frightening time, the historian, Ian Kershaw noted, “The path to Auschwitz was paved with indifference.”

Squabbling over words from Mr. Romney detracts from debating what seems to me to have been the overwhelming tragedy of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East – an inability to acknowledge that evil exists, that terrorism is real and not “man caused disasters,” and that toughness and compassion are not incompatible. We owe it to ourselves, to those who came before us and to our children and grandchildren to be ever vigilant for evil, which may seem foreign to a nation such as ours, but which unfortunately is a constant presence.

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