Netanyahu’s Long History of Being Wrong

JJ GoldbergJJ 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.

Benjamin NetanyahuWhat’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.

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Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

7 thoughts on “Netanyahu’s Long History of Being Wrong

  1. I read lots of right-wing punditeers, back when JP was pope, saying liberals were going after the Church’s sex-abuse record because the Church had such marvelous eternal standards (basically, against all forms of non-married, non-procreative sex), and liberals just Can’t Stand Eternal Truths. It didn’t hurt that JP was a loyal critic of communism.

    Now that the new pope has relaxed the anti-sex stuff a bit, and made extremely pointed critiques of capitalism, those punditeers aren’t quite so eager to defend the Church anymore. They’ve moved on. They have the good sense (arrived at in strategy planning, no doubt, their singularity on message is always remarkable) not to attack the new pope’s statements directly, since Hispanic Catholics are a big deal. (Nobody knows how Hispanic Catholics will vote in the future, or if they’ll be a solid voting bloc at all, but right now you certainly don’t want to score “I hate liberals” points by dissing the pope.)

    They just aren’t clothing themselves in “we’re not all fundamentalist evangelicals! We’re also Catholics” garb quite the way they were a few years back. Now, they wear yarmulkes.

    I can imagine how, if the main threat to their primacy came, in the future, from a Christian movement uniting liberal white and black churches against racial injustice, they’d highlight the self-denial of Islam and crow about how Muslim immigrants are so much more successful than lazy ghetto Negroes. Bringing it all back home to Malcolm X, who would then be neutered the way they’ve neutered MLK. (“Sure, you can point to conservatives who said rotten things about Muslims, but that was so long ago, and you’re distorting what most conservatives stood for.”)

    Not that I believe such a thing will happen. But I could readily imagine it happening!

    Christ, no liberal pretends that Margaret Sanger’s views on eugenics are defensible today. We acknowledge her importance in supporting free speech and reproductive rights, a towering figure well ahead of her time. Who was also dead damn wrong on some quite important stuff.

    The best historical analyses of, say, Reagan, how his personal drive and uninformed raw intelligence made such a huge cultural impact, come from . . . liberal historians! They’re much kinder than the right-wing hagiographies, in which Reagan’s myth grows ever-larger (like that of the Founders.)

    Oh, well, Americans are, as they say, a Forward-Looking-People.

    • Being an atheist who thinks that his consciousness will not continue after he shuffles off this mortal coil, I still think a lot about how I will be remembered. In particular, I’m interested in my blind spots. There are two that most bother me. The first is my consumption of meat and being generally okay with the slavery of animals. This is not so much a blind spot, as something that I think future generations will look down on. The second really is a blind spot, because I can’t fully describe it: my belief in myself as an individual. I don’t think this is really true. I think that I decide things, but I’m pretty sure that I don’t. I’m just this machine that does what it is programmed to do. As a result, my resentment of other people for being evil and stupid seems misplaced. I don’t think any of us have free will, but I don’t know how one creates a society based on that. The best I’ve come up with is one that is more forgiving and practices greater mercy. Because I know only too well that it is nothing but fate that makes me the way I am.

      Just the same, even while I see pedophiles as unfortunate people who still must be kept away from children, just as grizzly bears must be kept away from all people, I think that people like Benjamin Netanyahu need to be limited so that they don’t harm others. There has got to be a way to organize a society that doesn’t allow the wrong kind of people to get political and other forms power. If society progresses on for a couple of hundred years, this is one of the big issues that we will face. People will look back and think, “Why did they ever think it was a good idea to have the most aggressive people rule the world? Why did they think it was okay to allow some people to have more money than they could ever spend while others were starving? Why did they lock up people for having brain chemistry that made them enjoy less common drugs?” These questions will seem obvious then but they are not even thought about by most people today.

      I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but on the sidebar, there is a list of the ten most recent comments. That makes it easier to see if anyone has replied to your comments. It can take me a while to get to them — especially if I’ve been out of town, as I was this week.

      • I have noticed the sidebar. It’s great! I should check it more often, though, especially to respond to comments by other people and be friendly.

        I worry not so much about how I’ll be remembered (little, and if at all by people who have bigger problems to worry about than my death) as making good use of my remaining time. I know I’m not. We should all be Mother Jones out there, risking assassination by coal company owners to organize strikers. I’m not doing that. And, honestly, I can’t, it’s not within my skill set. What is within my skill set that I could be doing more of? It’s a real bastard to try and figure out.

        Free will. That’s tricky. There’s some. The funny thing is how life circumstances constrict us. In that Giridharadas post, I qualify as “poor” by every category, and that restricts me quite a bit. I’m also white & male, which gives me opportunities others haven’t. Clearly, people who aren’t “poor” graduate to their own set of binders.

        It’s something Dr. Noam mentions all the time. Yes, we have a “free” press. But you’re not going to think what poor people think and get elevated to a place where you can say outrageous things. That’s part of the disease of the “American dream,” that you can “make it” and still be you. No. Your circumstances change who you are. Forster understood this, it’s why “Passage To India” is one of my favorite films. Dr. Aziz and Fielding and Miss Quested cannot be friends. They are all good-hearted, intelligent people. It’s simply not doable.

        Obviously we need a society where people have less vast economic differences from each other. But then one runs into the danger of groupthink. I’ve fawned here before about visiting Denmark and being jaw-droppingly amazed by how educated and erudite and egalitarian house painters and garage-door installers are there. It’s a marvelous thing. Throw in some right-wing anti-Muslim rabble-rousing, though, and suddenly a huge proportion of those charmingly egalitarian, relatively economically-equal people sign up. Just like our reasonably egalitarian union-strong 50s society signed up for anti-Commie paranoia.

        Rawls was morally 100% right. In practicality, though, he doesn’t provide much. (Moral decency is enough, I’m not knocking Rawls.) How do we get from here to there? We know the basics of what NOT to do (everything we’re currently doing, essentially.) And it’s most important to argue against the stupid things we’re doing now.

        Ultimately liberalism has run into a little bump (let’s hope it’s just a little bump) because we’ve floundered finding a way to appealingly express our end goals. The right-wing has an end goal; Slavery Is Freedom. They don’t put it that way, they claim that all right-thinking people want the same things, want to hate the same others, and any attempts by liberals to defuse these hatreds are an imposition on liberty. It’s logically a mess but it makes emotional sense. Freedom is the freedom to gratefully choose to say 2+2=5.

        Our goals are less well-defined by our side than by the Norquists and Rands and Friedmans who basically accuse us of standing for what they stand for. We actually admit that social constructs control thought, and we worry about how to maximize freedom and minimize coercion. By admitting that we know social constructs control thought (and I don’t see how we can’t admit this) we play into their script. They don’t want any thought control. They just want to eliminate deviant thought. Freedom!

        BTW, I don’t think eating animals is evil. Corporate animals farms are hugely evil, and environmentally disastrous to boot. Animals in the wild die horribly, so merciful killing is not cruel. It’s just how f-ed up our agriculture is right now that you have to spend through your teeth to get humanely-lived and humanely-killed animal meat.

        • The university students were some of Hitler’s biggest fans. Education is no guard against evil. That’s why I believe in democracy. Most libertarians are quite smart.

          The essence of conservative thought is that maximizing freedom is maximizing freedom for those who can. It is a dressed up way of saying that might makes right. Freedom really is a question of trade-offs, and they aren’t at all interested in that. They claim that they are just trying to maximize freedom when all they are really doing is maximizing the freedom of the most free. This is why libertarianism naturally leads to feudalism.

          I more or less agree with you about meat. But being poor, I can’t afford to buy the properly created meat. And there are real moral problems there.

          • Sorry for the rants. Holy smokes, That’s a lot of words to say something not that complicated. It happens!

            The meat thing is a moral problem, both in environmental terms and animal-cruelty terms with our factory farms. (A former friend called the factory farms “Cowschwitz,” and he is Jewish, so it’s OK. He got rich, though, so that’s the end of that.)

            But so much of our lives constitute moral problems. White privilege, being American in a drone-strike world, typing on computers assembled by serfs, the list is very long. (Good “Doctor Who” exchange, upon visiting a planet of slaves. Human: “We don’t have slaves on Earth.” Doctor: “Who makes your clothes?”)

            There’s a great Orwell essay titled “No, Not One.” (Referencing Romans 3:10.) We’re all sinners, seculars and believers alike. The difference is that believers lump their sins in a pile and assume Daddy God takes them away (granted, the most impassioned religious writers do not do this.) Thoughtful liberals can’t. (Although wealthy “social liberals” often do, through token things like buying free-range chicken.)

            It’s quite a mental hurdle to always feel one should be doing more. It’s better than not feeling it at all.

            A silly animation, with some nice dumb puns, called “Cows With Guns:”


  2. @JMF – I agree that we are all sinners. But in Christian theology, we are all sinners regardless of what we do. This is problematic. In that case, why be good? Just accept Jesus and do what you want. Original sin is kind of a marketing gimmick. You have to have to reason to rush your kids to the church for baptism. And no good person can keep away from the church. It’s all silly.

    Poor cows.

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