JJ Goldberg provided a little history for us regarding the brilliant statesmanship of Netanyahu, How Bibi and Bush Made a Mess of the Middle East. At the time of 9/11, Ariel Sharon was prime minister of Israel. And when the Bush administration started talking war with Iraq, Sharon’s administration was shocked. They advised against it. They correctly predicted three things: it would cause sectarian warfare; it would keep the US stuck in the country for a decade; and it would empower Iran, which they rightly considered a far greater threat. But that wasn’t what the Bush administration wanted to hear.
But there was someone in Israel who was telling Bush what he wanted to hear: the once and future prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s kind of like the John McCain of Israel: there is no problem that cannot be solved with a war. He is a great example of how if you are powerful and — in this country anyway — conservative, being wrong never matters. He was shockingly wrong about the Iraq War. Here is video of him testifying before Congress about the “enormous positive reverberations on the region” that it would have. And maybe his idea of enormous positive reverberations is the rise of the Islamic States. But for most people, this has been a bad thing.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that Netanyahu and all of the neocons are disinterested in the health and safety of the United States, Israel, and the world. They just want to go to war. They don’t believe in diplomacy. As Robert Parry noted recently, “The neocons are so confident in their skills at manipulating the U.S. decision-making process that some have gone so far as to suggest Americans should side with al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria or the even more brutal Islamic State, because those groups love killing Shiites and thus are considered the most effective fighters against Iran’s allies.” There is no long-term thinking in any of this. We hate Iraq, destroy it. If that gives the Islamic State power, destroy it. It we decide that Iran is the real threat, back the Islamic State (we can destroy it later). The idea that Obama was playing 11-dimensional chess was always fatuous. But this “bomb Iran” crowd is playing one-dimensional chess.
What’s really interesting about Goldberg’s narrative of the long process that led us to the current Iran nuclear deal is how the American and Israeli governments switched in 2009. The US went from only halfheartedly trying to make a deal with Iran to being very interested in it. Meanwhile, Israel went from the much more open-minded leadership of Ehud Olmert to that of Benjamin Netanyahu (so mean he once shot a man just for snoring). As Daniel Larison wrote recently, there is a generalized rejection among conservatives in the very idea of diplomacy.
Indeed, this is what Fred Kaplan concluded in an article at Slate, The Deal of a Lifetime. He was blunt, “Anyone who denounces this framework is not a serious person or is pursuing a parochial agenda.” But we knew this; after the framework came out and it looked better than we could have hoped, Netanyahu claimed that the deal must include Iran recognizing Israel’s right to exist. In other words, no deal would be good enough. If he got that totally irrelevant concession, he would then require that all Iran convert to Judaism — or something similarly silly and outrageous.
According to conservatives in the United States, we should listen to Netanyahu. But just like Netanyahu’s complains about the Iraq deal, our own conservatives only look to him because he is telling them what they want to hear. If he suddenly deciding that the deal was good for Israel, conservatives would abandon him with claims like, “I don’t see why we are looking to the leaders of other countries to decide what American foreign policy should be.” And if they did that, they’d be making the most sense they’ve made in a long time.