From our partners at The Agonist
Last week, after it appeared that the warmongering from Israel had died down, an article appeared in Foreign Policy by David Rothkopf, its editor. It was widely tweeted, and some reporters I respect seemed to be taking it seriously. I found that hard to do after this statement, about halfway through the article:
Indeed, according to a source close to the discussions, the action that participants currently see as most likely is a joint U.S.-Israeli surgical strike targeting Iranian enrichment facilities.
I would have thought that, after the discussions by military experts saying that no way could anything that would have any effect on Iran be called a “surgical strike,” someone like Rothkopf would have had better sense than to use that phrase, and the rest of the commentariat would have had better sense than to take him seriously.
Shortly after that phrase came this:
One advocate asserts it would have a “transformative outcome: saving Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, reanimating the peace process, securing the Gulf, sending an unequivocal message to Russia and China, and assuring American ascendancy in the region for a decade to come.”
This is in full contradiction to most of the conclusions presented while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was proclaiming his readiness to attack during the month or so earlier. Here’s one example.
It does have a familiar ring, doesn’t it? Something about America having to slap some nation against the wall every so often, and then the world will respect us?
But Rothkopf has his connections, and presumably that was where his credibility came from, never mind how improbable that the Obama administration would fully adopt a neoconservative line on America’s greatness.
What seemed strange to me was that such a weak argument would show up under a respected byline after all the shouting seemed to be over, for the latest go-round at least.
Yesterday Philip Weiss came out with an explanation of how the article might have been written: Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren may have planted the piece with Rothkopf. According to Weiss,
the piece sparked a major confrontation between Oren and Baruch Bina, Israel’s number two man in Washington, with Bina arguing that it was inappropriate of the ambassador to feed such a line to Rothkopf, because it could only damage U.S.-Israeli relations.
Whereupon Bina is reassigned to Copenhagen, a very minor diplomatic post for Israel.
And here’s the weird kicker: one of the reasons Netanyahu got rid of Bina is not because he’s not trusted in Washington but because he is: the White House likes working with Bina more than Oren. The same holds true for Ehud Barak. The White House likes working with the former Labor leader more than Netanyahu.
Weiss says the story is all over Washington.
Now I can’t claim to know what “everyone” in Washington is talking about. I can only look at how these two stories make sense. The Rothkopf piece never made sense in terms of any sort of military plan, but it was larded with neocon jargon and thinking.
In the Weiss piece, a diplomat who is rapidly assigned from a high-level position to a low-level one has displeased his bosses. And it’s been clear that Netanyahu likes people, like Michael Oren, who are willing to push his “bomb Iran” agenda. So the story is plausible.
But I’ve got a question that Weiss doesn’t address: Why did Rothkopf publish something like this, that doesn’t make sense on its face, particularly after the intense discussion of these issues over the past month or so?
I’ve gotten a couple of responses to that question as I’ve mulled it over with friends.
1) The neocons/Likud are trying to save Netanyahu’s face and keep the issue open for future repetition of the “bomb Iran” hysteria. This is not improbable. I would class it as stupid, but we’ve seen a fair amount of stupid in the last month’s discussion, much of it coming from high places. This appears to have been Bina’s objection.
2) Rothkopf is trying to support Romney’s candidacy or to lay the groundwork for Romney to support an Israeli/US strike on Iran if he becomes president. The Rothkopf article indeed begins with Romney’s foreign policy speech at VMI; it both criticizes that speech and offers counters to the criticisms. Although the article is couched to sound supportive of the Obama administration, it presses toward Netanyahu’s position that the US should threaten Iran more explicitly.
The two are not mutually exclusive, of course.