THE BLOG

Obama, Israel and Iran -- "Give Peace a Chance"

03/06/2012 05:09 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2012

An article last weekend in The Daily Beast reported that Monday's summit in Washington between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu will "decide whether an attack will be launched -- or at least that's how most Israelis feel," according to Knesset member Isaac Herzog. The article refers to the White House meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama. This meeting occurred after President Obama addressed the 13,000 members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) the largest organization that lobbies in support of Israel.

Sometimes there are headlines, seemingly disconnected with one another, that might be called a "confluence of events": The potential preemptive military strike against Iran, along with the recent disclosure by members of the 9/11 Commission about alleged ties between agencies of the government of Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 terrorists, and the intervention of the our Justice Department in support of Saudi Arabian efforts to dismiss a civil suit brought by families people killed in the terrorist attacks of 2001.

On reflection, maybe they are not as disconnected as they initially appear.

During his Sunday speech to AIPAC, the president made clear that his policy toward Iran is not one of "containment" but one based on preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in the first instance. He stressed the importance of giving diplomacy and sanctions a chance to achieve his preferred policy of "prevention." Quoting former President Teddy Roosevelt, he reminded his audience that the U.S. was "speaking softly, but carrying a big stick." He repeated unequivocally his policy that all options are "on the table," including the bombing of Iran. (The full text of President Obama's speech to AIPAC is here.)

In all of the attention focused on Obama's AIPAC speech and his White House meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, less discussion has occurred in the media about the effect of Israel's efforts to get assurances from the United States that we will "cover Israel's back" in the event that it launched a preemptive strike against Iran.

Neither Prime Minster Netanyahu nor Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been elected by the American people to determine United States foreign or military policy against Iran. Against the background of our recent military involvement in wars in Iraq and Afganistan, it is unlikely that a majority of the American people will support the deployment of United States blood and treasure in a war initiated by Israel against Iran. In our upcoming presidential elections, it is anybody guess whether important sections of President Obama's reelection base would support another war in the Middle East.

A public debt of $15 trillion (an estimated 105% of GDP), 17 million unemployed, millions of home foreclosed or "under water," income inequality and underfunded public education are likely to have a higher domestic priority than support of Israel's military attack against Iran. Especially under circumstances where it appears that Obama is saying, like John Lennon's popular anti-war song: "All we are asking is give peace a chance."

At his White House news conference following his meetings with Netanyahu, the president restated his belief: "(W)e have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically. That's not just my view, that's the view of our top intelligence officials; it's the view of top Israeli intelligence officials."

On talk of war on the campaign trail by Republican presidential candidates, he said:

"Those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They're not commander-in-chief and when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war I'm reminded of the costs involved in war. I'm reminded of the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle."

Domestic support for U.S. military intervention with Israel may be even more compromised or publicly challenged in light of the growing perception (right or wrong) in the U.S. and internationally that the Netanyahu government continues to authorize Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands and continues to "stonewall" a negotiated "two-state solution" with the Palestinian Liberation Authority.

Additionally -- and this may be the most strategic, domestic reelection danger -- if a dominant perception develops among African Americans, one of President Obama's most important voting constituencies, that Israel and AIPAC are trying to "jam" him politically, to limit or constrain his foreign policy leadership options to Israel, there is a serious risk of the unintended consequence of severely, if not irrevocably, damaging the historic working coalition between the Jewish and African American communities. This would be tragic in such an important election year.

This is not intended to suggest that President Obama, as an African-American, should be immune to or be subjected to "double standard" when criticized by the white political leaders. Anyone who has read one or more of my blogs over the past year will quickly learn that I have been critical of the "black press" and African-American journalists for not holding President Obama more accountable for decisions he has made contrary to one or more of his campaign promises. Criticism is about accountability, even if one personally admires and otherwise has great respect and affection for President Obama, the First Lady and their two lovely daughters.

The HBO movie Game Change, about the 2008 presidential election, is scheduled for release this weekend. Obama's decisions on Israel and Iran may be the game changer in the 2012 presidential election.

Every person, male and female, except for certain exempt religious categories, is required to serve in the Israel Defense Forces for a period of two years. Maybe we in the United States would have a better appreciation of the mindset and concern of Israel about a nuclear Iran, aside from proximate geography, if a mandatory two-year selective service (the draft) were reinstated for every 18-year-old in our country, with no exemption for children of members of Congress.

All we are saying is "give peace a chance."