CounterPunch, July 31, 2009
By Alexander Cockburn
Time bombs tossed seemingly casually in the past month by his vice president and his secretary of state disclose president Obama, in the dawn of his first term, already the target of carefully meditated onslaughts by senior members of his own cabinet.
At the superficial level Obama is presiding over an undisciplined administration; on a more realistic and sinister construction, he is facing mutiny, publicly conducted by two people who only a year ago were claiming that their qualifications to be in the Oval Office were far superior to those of the junior senator from Illinois .
The great danger to Obama posed by Biden’s and Clinton’s “time bombs” (a precisely correct description if we call them political, not diplomatic time bombs) is not international confusion and ridicule over what precisely are the US government’s policies, but a direct onslaught on his presidency by a domestic Israeli lobby that is so out of control that it renders ridiculous Obama’s puny attempt to stop settlements–or to curb Israeli aggression in any other way.
Take Joe Biden. Three weeks ago he gave Israel the green light to bomb Iran, only to be swiftly corrected by his boss. At the time it seemed yet another,somewhat comical mile marker in a lifetime of gaffes, perpetrated in the cause of self-promotion and personal political advantage.
But Biden’s subsequent activities invite a darker construction. In the immediate aftermath of Obama’s Moscow visit, the air still soft with honeyed words about a new era of trust and cooperation, Biden headed for Ukraine and Georgia, harshly ridiculing Russia as an economic basket case with no future. In Tbilisi he told the Georgian parliament that the U.S. would continue helping Georgia “to modernize” its military and that Washington “fully supports” Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO and would help Tbilisi meet the alliance’s standards. This elicited a furious reaction from Moscow, pledging sanctions against any power rearming Georgia.
Georgia could play a vital, enabling role, in the event that Israel decides to attack Iran’s nuclear complex. The flight path from Israel to Iran is diplomatically and geographically challenging. On the other hand, Georgia is perfectly situated as the take-off point for any such raid. Israel has been heavily involved in supplying and training Georgia’s armed forces. President Saakashvili has boasted that his Defense Minister, Davit Kezerashvili and also Temur Yakobashvili , the minister responsible for negotiations over South Ossetia, lived in Israel before moving to Georgia, adding “Both war and peace are in the hands of Israeli Jews.”
On the heels of Biden’s shameless pandering in Tbilisi, Secretary of State Clinton took herself off to Thailand for an international confab with Asian leaders and let drop to a tv chat show that “a nuclear Iran could be contained by a U.S. ‘defense umbrella,’” actually a nuclear defense umbrella for Israel and for Egypt and Saudi Arabia too.
The Israel lobby has been promoting the idea of a US “nuclear umbrella” for some years, with one of its leading exponents being Dennis Ross, now in charge of Middle Eastern policy at Obama’s National Security Council. In her campaign last year Clinton flourished the notion as an example of the sort of policy initiative that set her apart from that novice in foreign affairs, Barack Obama.
From any rational point of view the “nuclear umbrella” is an awful idea, redolent with all the gimcrack theology of the high cold war era, about “first strike”, “second strike”, “stable deterrence” ,“controlled escalation” and “mutual assured destruction”, used to sell US escalations in nuclear arms production, from Kennedy and the late Robert McNamara(“the Missile Gap”) to Reagan (“Star Wars”).
Indeed, as one Pentagon veteran remarked to me earlier this week, “the Administration’s whole nuclear stance is turning into a cheesy rerun of the Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction, all based on a horrible exaggeration of one or two Iranian nuclear bombs that the Persians may be too incompetent to build and most certainly are too incompetent to deliver.”
The Biden and Clinton “foreign” policy is: 1) to recreate the same old Cold War (with a new appendage, the US versus Iran nuclear confrontation) for the same old reasons: to pump up domestic defense spending; and 2) to continue sixty years of supporting Israeli imperialism for the same reasons that every president from Harry to Dubya (perhaps barring Ike) did so: to corner Israel lobby money and votes. Regarding the latter, Obama did the same by grabbing the Chicago-based Crown and Pritzker family money very early in his campaign and by making Rahm Emanuel his very first appointment (the two are hardly unrelated).
So right from the start Obama was already an Israel lobby fellow traveler. The Mitchell appointment and the toothless blather about settlements were simply cosmetic, bones tossed to the increasing proportion of the American electorate that’s grossed out by the ethnic cleansing of the Arabs from the Holy Land. Obama does have a coherent strategy: keep the defense money flowing and increasing, but without making so much noise as the older generation did about ancient Cold War enemies (e.g. Russia and Cuba). The F-22 — to date, the one and only presidential issue on which he’s shown any toughness at all — is in no sense a departure from keeping the money flowing, since he is indeed increasing the defense budget, in part by using the F-22 cancellation to push spending on the even worse F-35 and to hide his acquiescence to all the other pork in the Congressional defense budget.
The window for any new president to impose a decisive change in foreign policy comes in the first three months, before opposition has time to solidify. Obama squandered that opportunity, stocking his foreign policy team with tarnished players such as Ross. As the calculated indiscretions of Biden and Clinton suggest, not to mention the arrogance of Netanyahu and his political associates, the window of opportunity has closed.
Would it have been that hard to signal a change in course? Not really. Obama could have excited the world by renouncing the Bush administration’s assertion, in the “National Defense Strategy of the United States” of 2002 — preserved in its essence in ensuing years — of the right and intention of the United States to preëmptively attack any country “at the time, place, and in the manner of our choosing.” As William Polk, the State Department’s middle east advisor in the Kennedy era, wrote last year: “As long as this remains a valid statement of American policy, the Iranian government would be foolish not to seek a nuclear weapon.”
But Obama, surrounded with Clinton-era veterans of NATO expansionism and, as his Accra speech indicated, hobbled with an impeccably conventional view of how the world works, is rapidly being overwhelmed by the press of events. He’s bailed out the banks. He’s transferred war from Iraq to Afghanistan. The big lobbies know they have him on the run.
Hence Biden and Clinton’s mutinies, conducted on behalf of the Israel lobby and designed to seize administration policy as Obama’s popularity weakens. When the results of the latest Rasmussen presidential poll were published, showing Obama’s declining numbers, there were news reports of cheering in Tel Aviv. And remember two useful guiding principles: first, it is impossible to overestimate the vanity of politicians, particularly of Joe Biden. Maybe he secretly entertains some mad notion of challenging Obama in 2012, propelled by Israel Lobby money withheld from Obama. Maybe Bill is reminding HRC that he reached the White House in 1992 partly because the Israel lobby turned against George Bush Sr. Second principle: there is no such thing as foreign policy, neither in democratic governments nor in dictatorships. As Thalheimer’s Law* decrees. All policy is domestic.