Thursday, October 30, 2008

Was Bush wrong about everything? A response.

Mr. Tobin,

As an unapologetic critic of Bush Administration policy in the Middle East, and particularly as it impacts Israel, I thank you for your effort to present the facts as even-handed as possible. Having lived in Israel for several years, beginning in 1960, and with a daughter and many friends living there, I know that my opinion is, among Israelis, the minority view. And doubly so in the eyes of Americans living in Israel.

I agree with your analysis in general, and with many details. I long considered the decision to invade Iraq irrational because ideological or emotion-based, strategically naïve. Were the administration aware, how could they fail to take into account that Iraq served as counter to Iranian ambitions. It is my understanding that not just the CIA (see the Tennant memoir), but Israeli and Saudi intelligence all warned that Iran rather than Iraq was the greater regional threat. You write that Iran would have pursued nuclear arms with or without the Iraqi enemy, and you may be correct. But even were that the case, an Iran distracted by what she perceived a significant enemy to the west would still be distracted, less of a threat to the wider region, to the oil producers, to the oil shipping lanes. Syria, for instance, with her own long border with Iraq, might well have been more cautious in her adventures since 2003, more restrained in her enthusiasm to serve her Iranian sponsor's hegemonic ambitions.

Iran has grown immeasurably in stature as a result of the invasion, and not just regarding her nuclear program. Thanks to the presence of the US invader Iran, like al-Quaida, has had an enemy against whom to hone her skills and confidence. Iran became sponsor, supplier and trainer of the Iraqi insurgents fighting the US military. Her enhanced stature in confronting US forces serves to embolden and encourage her confrontation with “western imperialism” region-wide, including her support for Hezbollah and Hamas. And what message does her success in challenging the US and Israel send to the Sunni oil producers across the Gulf?

Where once there existed a Sunni Iraq threatening Shiite Iran today, thanks to Bush, Iran shares he long border with the new Iraqi “democracy” led by a far weaker co-religionist Shiite-ruled regime.

And the threat to the Sunni oil producers, oil production and transport continues. Earlier this week Iran’s naval commander announced in a news conference the presence of a new base at the very mouth of the Straits of Hormuz, that relatively narrow shipping passage out of the Persian Gulf. And then, as if in concert, shortly after the news conference President Bush announced that the United States is opening an interest section in Teheran! Is the administration asleep at the wheel, or is Bush repaying the Islamic Republic for some undisclosed quid pro quo; perhaps pay-back for reigning in the Sadrist insurgency which allowed Bush to claim the Surge a “success”?

And a final note on this disaster of a presidency: a recent international opinion poll surveyed, among other countries, the Sunni oil producers and Israel as to how they viewed Bush. The Saudis and all other Arab states rated him in the single digits; Israel rated him very positively. At the very least, in Arab eyes this was a clear vote of no-confidence not only for Bush, but of their confidence in the credibility of the US to protect them against the Iranian threat. Ironically this may turn our to be the exception to the harm Bush has done Israel over the past eight years, for who but Israel can the Gulf states turn to should the situation with Iran deteriorate?

Regarding early and continuing Bush support for Abbas, I couldn't agree with you more. The architect of compromise with Israel at Oslo, having succeeded Arafat, was in a position to close the deal with Israel but chose instead compromise with Hamas. Clearly hoping to avoid open civil war, seeking to engage the Islamists in the electoral process, Abbas set the stage instead for Fateh’s Bush-sponsored electoral loss, the division of the Territories between the Islamists and the "secularists," and the continuing threat of civil war!

And a final word on what you describe as the "apocalyptic" Iranian nuclear threat. Quite true that Israel has received and can expect little backing from Europe or the US in confronting Iran. But ironically the main threat is likely not so much to Israel as to those who would hang Israel out to dry. To date and for the foreseeable future the "nuclear threat" likely involves a relatively primitive device and a delivery system to match. Should Iran actually achieve nuclear capability, the device would likely be most useful for suitcase rather than missile delivery. In other words Iran’s near-time nuclear device would be more suited as a weapon for terrorists than for state military use. And since Israel is as far ahead of the west in the area of counter-terrorism as it is ahead of Iran in weapons and delivery systems, the real threat of an Iranian bomb is precisely those countries preferring trade over sanctions, denial over confrontation, the United States and the European Union!

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