In a fascinating coincidence, President Barack Obama's visit to Israel comes on the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. While Obama opposed the invasion, which ended up costing America trillions of dollars and thousands of lives, and vastly more Iraqis, in creating one of the greatest geopolitical debacles in history, his host, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, was one of the greatest champions of the Iraq War.
Just as Netanyahu calls for war with Iran now, he called for war with Iraq 10 years ago. A war that led, ironically, to the strategic empowerment of Iran.
Though March 20th marks the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and Obama's week is dominated by his trip to the Middle East, Iraq is not on his schedule. Instead, it's mostly Israel, with side trips to the Palestinians and to longtime Arab friend Jordan.
Testifying before the U.S. Congress in September 2002, then former Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu made the most extravagant claims about the Saddam Hussein regime having a globally-threatening program of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. He was wildly wrong.
Will Obama show up relatively unannounced in Baghdad, now ruled by an increasingly pro-Iranian regime? It's an intriguing thought. Though I'm not sure what he would do there, other than remind everyone that we're gone.
So, too, is the natural check on Iranian aggressiveness in the region that Saddam Hussein provided. Removing Saddam empowered Iran.
Netanyahu, who has been warning of an impending Iranian nuke for the past 20 years, finally cobbled together what looks like an unwieldy coalition government in his own country more than seven weeks after the national elections there. With a new term, of uncertain duration, under way, he finally has Obama in Israel.
According to Israeli reports, he'll press Obama, as he has in the past, for commitments to strike against Iran once it achieves nuclear weapons capability, which is not the same as having a nuclear weapon. Iran has increased its production of enriched uranium of late, but has also plowed much of it into nuclear reactor fuel.
Obama now sounds unlikely to go along with Netanyahu on his decades-long quest -- though the situation is still very murky -- and Netanyahu seems unlikely as always to move on Obama's counter-priority, the Palestinian peace process. Which, at the moment, leaves Syria. Will the U.S. go into the arms-providing business for Syrian rebels? Perhaps more to the point, will it agree to strikes against Syrian targets if chemical weapons or rocketry appears to be on the verge of being moved?
Those are interesting questions, but other countries such as France and Britain may take the lead role, if there is to be a lead role, again as they did in Libya. It's the question of Iran that still looms largest.
Iran presents a fascinating challenge which deserves its own analysis. Cries of alarm about its nuclear intentions should not be dismissed simply because they have been most prominently raised by the folks who were so wildly wrong about Iraq.
But this is the anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, so let's review what Obama's host in Israel had to say then. It's quite illuminating.
Thanks to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, incidentally, for publishing these lengthy quotes from Netanahu's fervent statement to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on September 12, 2002.
Netanyahu spoke then, as he does now, with absolute certainty.
"There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking and is working and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons - no question whatsoever. And there is no question that once he acquires it, history shifts immediately."
"There's no question that [Saddam] has not given upon on his nuclear program, not whatsoever. There is also no question that he was not satisfied with the arsenal of chemical and biological weapons that he had and was trying to perfect them constantly. So I think, frankly, it is not serious to assume that this man, who 20 years ago was very close to producing an atomic bomb, spent the last 20 years sitting on his hands. He has not. And every indication we have is that he is pursuing, pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. If anyone makes an opposite assumption or cannot draw the lines connecting the dots, that is simply not an objective assessment of what has happened. Saddam is hell-bent on achieving atomic bombs, atomic capabilities, as soon as he can."
"Today the United States must destroy the same regime because a nuclear-armed Saddam will place the security of our entire world at risk. And make no mistake about it -- if and once Saddam has nuclear weapons, the terror networks will have nuclear weapons."
"Two decades ago, it was possible to thwart Saddam's nuclear ambitions by bombing a single installation. But today, nothing less than dismantling his regime will do, because Saddam's nuclear program has fundamentally changed in those two decades. He no longer needs one large reactor to produce the deadly material necessary for atomic bombs. He can produce it in centrifuges the size of washing machines that can be hidden throughout the country. And I want to remind you that Iraq is a very big country. It is not the size of Monte Carlo. It is a big country. And I believe that even free and unfettered inspections will not uncover these portable manufacturing sites of death."
Just six months after Netanyahu's clarion call to invade Iraq because of Saddam's purported weapons of mass destruction, the Bush/Cheney Administration did just that. Of course, there was no WMD. U.S. and allied forces searched high and low, throughout the country, but no evidence of the nuclear weapons program that Netanyahu so vividly claimed -- or of chemical or biological weapons development -- ever emerged.
That was then.
In an exclusive interview last week with Israeli television, President Barack Obama said Iran is at least a year away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon, an estimate at odds with that of his host, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.
Obama arrived in Israel with a new poll showing he's not well liked there. The poll for the Israeli daily Maariv has 38% saying Obama has revealed hostility to Israel, 33% believe he is supportive of Israel, and 14% saying he is indifferent to the Jewish state.
Ironically, quite a few of those who think Obama isn't for Israel would have died without the Iron Dome missile defense he pushed, as we just saw a few months ago during the rocket attacks of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The Israelis, not incidentally, have a big PR effort on for the Obama visit, which is expected to fetch 500 journalists to the show, half of them traveling on the Obama cavalcade.
The Israeli government has come up with the theme and slogan of "Unbreakable Alliance" for the Obama visit, and are further branding it with an intriguing new logo.
Actually, it's a decidedly cheeky logo which morphs the American and Israeli flags.
As you can see, the combined new flag of the two countries is dominated by the Israeli flag, with its blue and white Star of David motif dominant and just a few of our red stripes, which stand for valor and sacrifice, left in the bargain.
I have a feeling that Obama sees the flag rather differently.
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