By Andrew Levine. This article was first published on Counterpunch.
The Internet is a mixed blessing. One of its less welcome consequences, for Americans, is that newspapers have become hard to come by at the crack of dawn — especially outside major cities and their inner suburbs. Home delivery has gone the way of physical bookstores.
Those of us who cannot wait to find out what harms have transpired overnight, and who cannot start the day with actual newsprint, must therefore go straight to our computers or, worse, our phones, or else turn on National Public Radio (NPR).
If you catch a break there, you might get to listen to interesting stories – last week, for example, there was a series of reports on yoghurt. I had never thought to correlate its rising popularity in the United States with the declining popularity of cottage cheese, and I learned that my preference for unsweetened yoghurt is becoming more common among my compatriots.
But this hardly makes up for an early morning barrage of conventional wisdom –not just on days when Cokie Roberts holds forth — and pro-regime (though not necessarily pro-government) propaganda.
In comparison, silence is golden. Music would be golden too, but my local NPR station makes listeners wait for the conventional wisdom and pro-regime propaganda to conclude before they whip out their CDs. What better reason could there be to sleep in?
Since it is radio, listeners cannot just scan what they are going with, and then skip over the malarkey. Another difference from The New York Times is that no matter how hard you look (or listen), there are few, if any, pellets of real news to ferret out.
I’ve grown used to this, despairing of NPR a long time ago. Even so, I sometimes do turn the radio on first thing in the morning.
And so it was, one day last week, that I, along with who knows how many others, was awakened by the voice of Benjamin Netanyahu – holding forth or, as NPR would say, being interviewed. I could hardly believe my ears; this wasn’t a nightmare – it was really happening.
Speaking in his sternest, most sententious voice, the Bibster was complaining about the deal the Americans and their negotiating partners in the P5 + 1 had reached with Iran. No surprise there; he has been doing it non-stop.
Even so, starting the day with Netanyahu is “cruel and unusual punishment;” I would expect even a chastened American Psychological Association to agree.
To be sure, NPR, like The New York Times, has long been a place to go for pro-Israel propaganda. Nevertheless, that interview marked a new low.
The man jabbered on like a befuddled High School principal telling the assembled student body how disappointed he was in them for some incident or other — and admonishing them never to do anything so dastardly again.
Netanyahu is a first-class bastard (mamzer is the technical term). But credit where credit is due: he knows how to milk his American High School education for all it’s worth.
One could almost feel sorry for him — in the way one does for someone who has just been publically humiliated. He had done all he could to scuttle the deal, and yet it happened.
Will his defeat bring the Israel lobby down? It certainly won’t do it any good.
The fissures are already becoming apparent; AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is on its way to losing the Democratic Party. This would mean that it is losing all but the most retrograde American Jews.
To the extent that this comes to pass, Netanyahu will have created a genuine “existential threat” — not to Israelis per se, but to their prosperity, and to the carte blanche “the world’s only superpower” accords its too-big-for-its-britches client state.
For these things and more, Israel depends on American largesse; and, without at least the passive support of the majority of American Jews, this is bound to dry up. Congress will be the last to know, but even in its benighted precincts, light sometimes does seep through.
No wonder Netanyahu is losing it: there just aren’t enough Jewish Republican plutocrats with Zionist predilections to fill the void.
And if word gets out that Israel’s interests and America’s are at odds, even evangelicals awaiting the End Time will become less passionate about the self-declared “nation state of the Jewish people.”
However much they yearn for the day when the world’s Jews are gathered together in the Promised Land so that Jesus can cast them into Hell for all eternity, they are jingoists above all. For them, unlike Sheldon Adelson and others of his ilk, who only want to cast Palestinians out of the Promised Land and don’t care where they go after that, the red, white and blue comes first.
How ironic! The (non-existent) Iranian bomb has been Netanyahu’s go to existential threat since the nineties. And when this was not enough, he would conjure up others as needed. It was his way of keeping an otherwise fractious citizenry under control, and assuring that money would continue to flow in from abroad. Now he may finally have brought a real existential threat on.
No doubt, he figured that Obama was too weak to stand up to the Israel lobby. This was a reasonable expectation, based on past experience. But then, in his arrogance, he overreached. And so, the joke is on him.
As news of what transpired in Vienna trickles out, and as we see its aftermath unfold, we will know how far off his miscalculation was.
It is looking like it was far off indeed. In official Washington, only Republicans groveling for a share of Adelson’s gambling receipts are still behind the Bibster a hundred percent.
All the Republican Presidential candidates are still on board, of course, but this hardly matters. That gaggle of flyweights and buffoons is only good for late night comedy shows; the next President will be a Democrat – most likely, sad to say, Hillary Clinton.
That that dreadful – neoliberal, militaristic and, above all, opportunistic — woman is siding with President Obama on this is as clear an indication as can be of which way the wind is blowing.
Of course, the Paper Tiger that the Israel lobby is becoming is not dead yet; and Obama’s feet of clay have not quite hardened enough to finish it off.
We will see how much, if any, additional military aid the U.S. will now give Israel – to make amends. Obama is sending mixed signals. Maybe he has some Machiavellian reason for this. More likely, it is just his clay feet acting up.
But in much the way that baubles and trinkets cannot be counted on to restore relationships wrecked by infidelity, more military hardware for the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, to use against Palestinians cannot hide the fact that a “special relationship” of great importance to Israel has been breached. Time will tell how broken it is, and to what extent it can be put back together.
Netanyahu ought to have figured out long ago that, even with his suburban Philadelphia upbringing and his American accent, and notwithstanding the money his bipartisan backers throw around, he cannot interject himself quite so blatantly into the American political scene.
Israel’s Nukes Unscathed/ Iran: the Bad Guy Still
But, even if Netanyahu is too dense to understand how utterly dependent Israel is on Obama’s good graces, he can still take solace in the fact that, thanks to Obama, all was not lost in Vienna; not by any means.
For one thing, Israel’s nuclear weapons were never up for negotiation; they remained the non-issue they have always been.
For all the media blabber about how Obama has turned over a new leaf, becoming the President people thought he would be in 2008, he and John Kerry kept on doing what American Presidents and Secretaries of State have been doing for as long as Israel has had the bomb: keeping stone silent about it.
From the beginning, Israel’s nuclear weapons have been such a non-issue that, though everybody knows about them, they are so thoroughly out of the public’s mind that they don’t even function like the proverbial elephant in the room. On this, Vienna changed nothing.
Netanyahu can also rejoice in the fact that “the international community” – the current euphemism for the West and others who defer to the American hegemon’s designs – is steadfast as ever in upholding the view that, under no circumstances, should Iran be permitted to have nuclear weapons of its own.
The double standard held. What is permissible for Israel and other states in the thrall of nationalistic and theocratic ideologies will not be permissible for Iran – not now, not ever!
Even in a world in which hypocrisy is the rule, the wrong-headedness evident here is unusually flagrant. Nevertheless, it remains firmly in place, as unchallenged and unchallengeable as ever.
And yet Netanyahu remains ungrateful. Either he is too shallow to see it or else, more likely, it matters more to him that he was personally humiliated than that the cause he champions dodged a bullet. What an ingrate! What a piece of work!
* * *
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement has lately become one of Netanyahu’s “existential threats.” At opportune moments, it is his existential threat du jour.
Called into being ten years ago by key figures and organizations in Palestinian civil society, BDS offers a peaceful way for individuals and groups around the world to protest the injustices Palestinians suffer under Israeli occupation, and to act in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The Occupation has gone on for so long, and the injustices are so salient that Netanyahu and his co-thinkers do have reason to fear that BDS will undermine support for the ethnocratic regime they lead. The movement is growing rapidly, despite all the obstacles defenders of the status quo put in its way; and this is not about to change.
BDS militants are therefore on a roll and not inclined to pull their punches. Yet, even they seldom raise questions about Israel’s two to four hundred nuclear weapons.
Could there be a clearer indication how thoroughly repressed the issue is?
BDS militants would do well to turn their attention to Israel’s bombs, and not just for the dangers they pose for regional and world peace. Because they deter outside powers from interfering with the Israeli government’s freedom of action, they also play a role in maintaining the status quo. They enable the malefactors in charge to do practically anything they want.
America is Israel’s principal and most indispensable enabler; but Israel’s nukes also deter the United States. The fear is not that Tel Aviv will vaporize New York. It is that Israeli machinations could set events in motion that would drag the United States into conflicts that could take a nuclear turn, especially with Israel leading the way.
American planners therefore believe that they cannot do anything, or allow anything to happen, that would cause Israel to bring the house down, Samson-style, upon its enemies – and therefore also, because geography is destiny, upon itself.
Without nuclear weapons, Israel could still continue its occupation of Palestinian lands, and it could go on treating Palestinian Israelis, some twenty percent of Israel’s population, as second-class citizens. But, with nukes in reserve, the Israelis have a leg up.
An Iranian bomb would neutralize this advantage. This is why Netanyahu and the others insist that it not be built.
Israel’s government is full of baleful characters some of whom plainly do believe their own propaganda. But surely there are a few comparatively sane minds among them who realize that the last thing Iran would do with a nuclear weapon it doesn’t have, and never will obtain, is explode it over Israel.
If they are genuinely afraid of that, there are plenty of places in Israel and abroad where they can get help.
On the other hand, if their fear is that an Iranian bomb would keep them from doing what they want to Palestinians and to neighboring states, then they are most assuredly on to something.
Were Iran to join the nuclear club, it would have a deterrent too; Israel’s regional monopoly would be over.
And contrary to what is taken for granted in both official and public opinion in the West, that might not be a bad thing. As long as Israel has a bomb – indeed, many bombs — the world might actually be safer and more just if Iran had one too.
Nuclear weapons, if used, can do no good — only incalculable harm.
And because when they exist, they can be used, they ought to be banished from the face of the earth; or, since the genie is out of the bottle, placed under such strict controls that they could never be deployed.
But this is not going to happen anytime soon. Even significant reductions in nuclear stockpiles are unlikely because the P5 +1 powers are fine with nuclear weapons, provided they are not Iranian. They certainly don’t want to give up any of their own.
Their position is not quite as reckless as it seems. From the dawn of the nuclear age, a balance of terror helped keep wars between nuclear powers — the United States and the Soviet Union, and later China — “cold.”
This was hardly the same as keeping the peace. If anything, the balance of terror made proxy wars between the United States, the Soviets, and China more frequent. However, we are all still here; but for the balance of terror, we might not be.
It has been evident too for a long time that, in overt and subtle ways, nuclear weapons affect a country’s diplomatic and military interactions with other states and with non-state actors.
Israel’s nuclear weapons are a case in point. Their effects are largely detrimental. But this has more to do with Israeli foreign policy generally than with the bare fact that Israel has the bomb.
Still, the more nuclear states there are, the more likely it is that someday nuclear weapons will again be used on human populations; and therefore the more likely it is that humankind will bring doomsday upon itself.
This is why nuclear proliferation should be kept at bay. But because some states are more bellicose than others, not all proliferation is equally pernicious.
The very worst kind would be for nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of non-state actors – zealous nationalists or theocrats especially.
But then for nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of some state actors would be nearly as bad. This is how it is already with states that have had the bomb for some time; the danger is everywhere, but some nuclear powers are more dangerous than others.
France and Britain have had the bomb since the fifties, but their weapons might as well be in American hands. Now that Gaullist pretenses of independence have faded into oblivion, the French are as servile to the American hegemon as the British have been since even before the end of World War II. Therefore, French and British nuclear weapons neither add nor subtract to the nuclear danger; they serve only to assuage the vanity of those former world powers.
One good thing Europe could do – if, after Greece, it has any goodness in it – would be to insist that all EU nuclear states disarm. Better yet, it should insist on the permanent removal of nuclear weapons from EU territory. If nothing else, this would be an important symbolic act.
Getting the United States, China, and Russia to let up a little on the balance – actually, a gross imbalance (in America’s favor) – of nuclear terror would be of great symbolic value too; and getting these countries to agree to serious reductions in their nuclear arsenals would be a major step towards making the world a safer place.
There is some urgency in this, now that the United States is hell bent on pushing Russia into a corner and on keeping the Chinese down.
There was a time when a few naïve souls thought that Obama, the Nobel laureate, was a nuclear abolitionist. He did nothing to discourage this impression; though, in fact, he is anything but. Except for the deal with Iran, his main achievement in the nuclear field has been to “update” America’s nuclear arsenal.
Even so, among the five “original” nuclear powers – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China — some semblance of Reason is apparently in control. The world is in peril thanks to their bombs, but the situation could be worse.
“Rogue” North Korea is more problematic, but Reason seems to be more or less in control there too.
That desperately poor country has no place to deliver its one or two bombs, and no way to get them there, if it did. Also, the functional equivalent of a dozen world-class SWAT teams is stationed just outside its door — poised and ready to pounce should the hapless Kim Jong-un decide to expose the country he inherited to a military analogue of suicide by cop.
But, as long as North Korea has the bomb, outside powers will not attack it in a way that might lead to its use. This is the main reason why the North Korean bomb is dangerous. It demonstrates the benefits nuclear weapons confer even to small and otherwise defenseless states that the international community would love to crush.
Reason’s hold over India and Pakistan is more tenuous – thanks to the twin evils of nationalism and religion. It doesn’t help either that the American hegemon clumsily plays one side off against the other. Thanks to all these factors, the Indian subcontinent has become a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Because nationalism and religion afflict Iran too, there is a good case for not adding an Iranian bomb to the mix. Still, it is easy to see why Iranians would think that they need a deterrent of their own. They are surrounded by the most unhinged and war prone nations on earth – India, Pakistan and Israel.
And they have Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States – effectively allied with Israel – determined, for their own reasons, to keep Iran down.
Even so, the Iranians appear to have concluded long ago that nuclear weapons are more trouble than they are worth. And just in case the “hardliners” our media harp on get their way even so, Iran has now effectively taken the very possibility of developing a nuclear deterrent off the table.
Only neocons or, insofar as there is a difference, Zionist ideologues could find Iran’s position insufficiently concessive; and only politicians groveling for their money would stoop so low as to take up their cause.
We will be hearing a lot from those base and servile politicians in the months ahead because AIPAC is joining forces with a fringe rightwing Iranian group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), to launch a campaign to spend some $20 million lobbying Congress to kill the deal.
They have even brought back Joe Lieberman, sanctimonious twit extraordinaire, to help lead the campaign. Lieberman is Lindsey Graham’s and John McCain’s good buddy. Donald Trump, where are you when we need you most?
Therefore we Americans will soon be exposed to an endless barrage of propaganda compared to which wake up calls from Benjamin Netanyahu will seem almost pleasant.
Expect the AIPAC-MEK alliance to go on about how Iran supports and encourages “terrorists.” For them, this means Shiite resistance fighters like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.
And expect AIPAC to tell all who will listen that Iran does more than offer verbal support to Hamas and other Palestinians fighting against, rather than collaborating with, the Israeli occupation. Too bad for them that, with each passing day, fewer Americans — including American Jews — care.
It bears mention that the “terrorists” in question are hardly Iranian concoctions; they are indigenous movements that Iranians naturally support. It should also be said that along with its rival, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas represents Palestinians’ national aspirations.
To the extent that the Iranians are guilty as charged, it is because they are acting in more or less the way that America does when it finds anti-Russian political formations on Russia’s peripheries. The main difference is that America is less discriminating. The United States cannot wait to offer lethal aid and diplomatic support — and Victoria Nuland’s brownies – to anyone whom they think might cause Russia grief.
In both cases, unseemly characters benefit. The United States is disposed to make common cause with quasi- or outright- fascists. The embattled Shia communities that Iranians defend are chock full of religious zealots.
Now that the Bush-Obama wars – and the Saudis’ wars against Bahrain and Yemen and against Shia forces in Iraq and Syria — have broken the Middle East as thoroughly as they have, and now that Sunni terror groups such as Al Qaeda and its offshoots, and the Islamic State, pose the threat that they do, even the craziest Shiite fanatics are starting to look almost good.
And despite its role in maintaining America’s control of the world’s oil supplies, American planners are starting to have second and third thoughts about the value and reliability of the U.S.-Saudi alliance.
Along with their kissing cousins, the humanitarian interveners, neoconservatives still control American foreign policy; and neocon perceptions of Saudi Arabia depend, to a large extent, on what Israeli governments would have them think.
When Saudi Arabia was considered Israel’s mortal enemy, that semi-feudal monstrosity of a state attracted neocon enmity. Now that a de facto Salafi-Zionist allowance has come into being, the neocons, along with oil company executives, have become the Saudis most steadfast admirers.
But the American public is no longer following their lead. As Israel loses favor, Saudi Arabia does too – more rapidly and more thoroughly. With the 2016 election looming, even politicians are beginning to notice. Anti-Saudi feeling is one reason why support for the deal with Iran runs high.
This, like the rise of the BDS movement, is indeed reason for Netanyahu and like-minded ethnocrats to worry. But, in this case too, they can take comfort in the fact that the axe has not fallen – yet.
As much after Vienna as before, two bedrock principles of American and Western diplomacy remain in place: the determination to keep Israel’s nuclear weapons out of public consciousness; and the principle that Iran is the consummate bad guy that can never, ever, under any circumstances, be trusted to act responsibly — and that must therefore never be permitted to have nuclear weapons of its own.
It would plainly be better all around, and better for the United States, if Israel would lose its nuclear weapons; in other words, if the entire region were to become nuclear-free. And, if there must be a regional hegemon, it would be better too if it were Iran, not Saudi Arabia. Iran is more of a theocracy, but it is significantly less retrograde and less inclined to start wars.
How much longer, then, before these facts register in policy circles in the United States and throughout the West?
There was a time when American and Israeli interests generally coincided. That was in the Cold War era, when America’s major concern was keeping secular nationalists down and Soviet influence out. Those days are long gone.
Therefore the Israel lobby now has very little to work with beyond itself. And even if it putters on for a while, as it probably will given how obtuse American politicians are, the days when it can count on getting its way are coming to an end.
Netanyahu has hastened that day. No wonder, therefore, that even if he does not yet have reason to despair for the regime he leads, he has every reason to despair of himself.
This was the real meaning of that petulant, self-righteous rant on NPR early one morning last week.
Israel now is down, but far from out. However times are changing. Before long, Netanyahu may really have something to complain about.
And historians may look back on the humiliation he has just undergone, and see it as the beginning of the end of ethnocratic rule in Israel-Palestine; and perhaps therefore of a new, more peaceful – non-nuclear — Middle East.
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).