Can Obama Prevail against a Romney-Netanyahu Ticket? – Robertson

John Robertson writes in a guest column for Informed Comment


Paul Pillar and Leslie Gelb – both of them well-respected and largely mainstream commentators on US foreign policy – have recently published essays cautioning us all – and Mr. Obama especially – to step back, breathe deeply, ask tough questions, and get sound answers before launching a military strike against Iran.  And as Gelb’s piece (excerpted below) cogently notes, the silly season of presidential campaigning is going to elicit (indeed, already has elicited) a lot of tough-guy, red-blooded American bellicosity from GOP candidates eager to bash Obama and score nationally televised debate points in mega-auditoriums crammed full of lustily cheering Republican worthies:

    It doesn’t take a genius to see what lies ahead in our nation’s election year. Most Republican presidential candidates are saying that Iran will never get close to nukes if they’re in the White House. The candidates are outdoing one another in outrageous commitments to sound tough. Recently, Mitt Romney put it like this: “If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon … If you’d like me as the next president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” And though we all know how careful Obama is, the dynamics of campaigns are bound to push him toward incaution to fend off charges of “weakness.” This is what happens to presidents in most elections.

One might be a bit reassured in all of this by the recent claims by Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak that Israel at this point has no intention of attacking Iran, and by recent indications that Obama’s people (including Sec of Defense Leon Panetta as well as the US intelligence establishment) have been pushing back (especially against Israel), hard, against the push to attack Iran.

But let’s also not forget that Mr. Netanyahu would like nothing better than to see Obama evicted – as ingloriously as possible – from the White House, and knows that when it comes to Israel’s interests, Congress has his back.  It also stands to reason that, assuming that he becomes the GOP candidate, Mitt Romney – as Leslie Gelb notes – will continue to paint Obama as a temporizing coward unwilling to take on the Iranian leadership. (He will, of course, label the ever more stringent US-inspired sanctions against Iran as too weak a response.)

Moreover, Romney, whose social-conservative bona fides have been hammered by his GOP opponents,  will be desperate to find an issue that will energize social and religious conservatives to line up behind him and flock to the polls come November.  The obvious issue? Iran, and the “existential threat”/”second Holocaust” its nuclear program poses for Israel.  Hyping that issue would rally to the side of this Mormon former governor of a northern liberal state (where he was also the architect of a predecessor of the reviled and despised “Obama-care”) millions of Israel-firsters  –   and especially, millions of  white Christian-evangelical, largely southern conservatives who love Israel, have little faith in Barack Hussein Obama’s love for Israel (and, to a significant degree, cannot get their heads around the fact that a black First Family is occupying the White House).

And the “existential threat” issue is, of course,  a dirge that Netanyahu has been wailing on the international stage for years, and that, Bibi knows, is a card that he – as well as AIPAC and other denizens of the Israel lobby – can play very effectively if he wants to influence the American electorate. . . . which he surely would love to do in 2012.  Bibi wants Barack out of the Oval Office.  Watch for him to reach out to Mitt, with both arms.

At that point, Obama may be hard pressed to resist the political expediency of a response that will entail ramping up the US military presence in the Persian Gulf, and the implied, but increasingly overt, threat to Iran.

At which point, Leslie Gelb, Paul Pillar, and millions of the rest of us will have to hope and pray that the Iranian leadership will step back, breathe deeply, ask tough questions, and get sound answers before lashing out with military action against the US, or Israel. 


John Robertson is professor of ancient Near East and Modern Middle East at Central Michigan University and maintains the Chippshots blog

27 Responses

  1. RE: “Watch for [Netanyahu] to reach out to Mitt, with both arms.”

    Indeed. But such a close embrace could backfire for both Netanyahu and Romney. The GOP “base” to whom such a maneuver would appeal comprises not more than a third of the active U.S. electorate. If independents and other swing voters are turned off by such loud support from a controversial Mideast government, Romney could lose voters to the more cautious Obama. Considering that Obama still leads Romney in national polls, Romney himself should move toward the center on foreign policy. But Romney probably won’t.

  2. Mitt and Netanyahu, here we go again with two men who use a pious religious backdrop to persuade an unsuspecting public their motives are pure and sanctioned by God. All the while plotting to bomb a country and kill innocent civilians whose only crime is they are not America or Israel’s friend.

    The media is especially sickening in it’s lapdog approach to promoting the war with Iran. We all know FOX is foaming for war, but it is depressing to see MSNBC’s own Judith Miller (Andrea Mitchell) along with CBS’s David Martin and Scott Pelley also leading the charge, without providing a spokesperson, like Prof. Cole, who could make a good case for not going to war.

  3. Ronen Bergmann, who has access to Israeli leaders, published a piece in the Sunday NYT yesterday which predicted an Israeli attack. I don’t know if it just bluff designed to get even tougher sanctions, but it looked to me like official notice of intention to attack.

    That this could roil the election is an understatement, and I am sure we will see shameless Netanyahu blackmail employed.

  4. The joker is Ron Paul, who the MSM as a neo-con tool is very bust trying very hard to suppress. Dr. Paul will continue to denounce the proxy wards (and other anti-American items) all the way to the Republican Convention and possible to a third party candidacy. Ron Paul already has the ears of many Americans because he talks straight American sense.

    • Ron Paul’s history and racism and generally crankery discredit every position he takes. If I found that he was on the same side as me on a issue, I certainly wouldn’t advertise that fact.

    • Word is, Ron Paul says he will not go independent.

      If he ran, the GOP would face an electoral debacle of such a scale that it might complete the realignment of America in the direction it appeared to be headed in November 2008. Meaning a multicultural, multiethnic society reflecting the radically different ideas non-whites have about the role of government and business. Recall that Ron Paul got in trouble because his newsletter ran articles, under his name, claiming that pro-capitalist “sensible” blacks were being suppressed by the socialistic welfare black majority. So Paul, or whomever he trusted to use his byline, thinks most blacks are crazy pinkos. Which they are, compared to him. Maybe he’d rather live with the war machine than give it up and let the tax money go permanently to people he thinks are lazy and crazy.

      Or, he will be well paid by his fellow capitalists to sit it out.

      But I hope he runs.

  5. One hopes that the spate of successful US special forces operations doesn’t create a false sense of omnipotence in the Oval Office or a reliance on military options as somehow predictable and decisive.

    • Especially since the success of those missions simply proves that Big War doesn’t work anymore. Big War meaning, conquest, control of territory, occupation of populations, transformation of their political systems. Too expensive, too many variables, too much nationalism to overcome. Iran would have to be a Big War.

  6. Before one gets too lathered up about the “cheering hordes” the egg on the Republicans at the debates, one needs to remember that these are very, very small numbers of people, a few hundred of the most radicalized supporters of not one but all of the candidates. That’s a few hundred out of more than three hundred million American people. Bloggers are fond os saying that “Republicans are cheering when Santorum says…” something crazy, but that exaggerates the case. Reality is that a few hundred radical supporters of the party were chering when he said that, and there may well have been millions of Republicans who were horrified by it.

    Campaign rhetoric is just that, it it rhetoric, designed to obtain cheers at rallys. Without judging how Obama is actually governing, compare his campaign rhetoric of “the urgency of now” and “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” with what he actually did once he was actually in the office.

    • Question is, are we looking at a political party, or a political movement? Movements can’t deal with their problems by moving to the center, but to the extreme, because movements die in the center, while parties thrive there.

  7. I know enough to take Romney completely down and expose a great deal, but people will not think this is the case.

    Sometimes people are foolish.

  8. Fact checking the Likud Orkestra….. here’s an Ira Chernus take on the NYT shilling for a forced march on Teheran

    NYT Hypes Israeli Attack on Iran
    by Ira Chernus
    Common Dreams
    January 30, 2012
    link to

    It’s an impressive piece of art: the cover of this week’s New York Times Magazine. “ISRAEL VS. IRAN,” spelled out in charred black lettering, with flame and smoke still rising from “IRAN,” as if the great war were already over. Below those large lurid letters is the little subtitle: “When Will It Erupt?” — not “if,” but “when,” as if it were inevitable. Though the article itself is titled “Will Israel Attack Iran?”, author Ronen Bergman, military analyst for Israel’s largest newspaper, leaves no doubt of his answer: “Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012.”

    Bergman does cite some compelling arguments against an Israeli strike from former heads of Mossad (Israel’s CIA). And he makes it clear that no attack can prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons if it wants them. Everyone agrees on that. The argument is only about whether an attack would delay the Iranian program by a few years or just a few months.

    Nevertheless, his article stacks the deck in favor of supposedly persuasive reasons for Israel to act. It’s almost a hymn of praise to what one Jewish Israeli scholar has called Iranophobia, an irrational fear promoted by the Jewish state because “Israel needs an existential threat.” Why? To sustain the myth that shapes its national identity: the myth of Israel’s insecurity.

    That myth comes out clearly in Bergman’s conclusion: Israel will attack Iran because of a “peculiar Israeli mixture of fear — rooted in the sense that Israel is dependent on the tacit support of other nations to survive — and tenacity, the fierce conviction, right or wrong, that only the Israelis can ultimately defend themselves.”

    Fear of what? Defend against whom? It doesn’t really matter. Israeli political life has always been built on the premise that Israel’s very existence is threatened by some new Hitler bent on destroying the Jewish people. How can Israel prove that Jews can defend themselves if there’s no anti-semitic “evildoer” to fight against?

    So here is Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, talking to Bergman about Iran’s “desire to destroy Israel.” Proof? Who needs it? It’s taken for granted.

    In fact, in accurate translations of anti-Israel diatribes from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there’s no mention of destroying or even harming Jews, nor any threat of war. There’s only a clear call for a one-state solution: replacing a distinctly Jewish state, which privileges its Jewish citizens and imposes military occupation on Palestinians, with a single political entity from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

    Guess who else called for exactly the same resolution to the conflict: the most renowned Jewish thinker of the 20th century, Martin Buber. Plenty of Israeli Jews keep Buber’s vision alive today, offering cogent (though debatable) arguments that a one-state solution would be in the best interests of Jews as well as Palestinians.

    Yet Ronen Bergman and the editors of the New York Times Magazine see no need for their readers to encounter these facts.

    Nor do they see any need to mention the most important fact of all, the one most flagrantly missing from Bergman’s long article: No matter what Iran’s leaders might desire, it’s beyond belief that they would ever launch a single nuke against Israel. They know full well that it would be national suicide. Israel has at least 100 nukes, and 200 or more by many estimates, all ready to be used in a counterattack.

    Which makes it hard not to laugh when Bergman reports Ehud Barak’s other arguments for attacking Iran. Even if Iran doesn’t intend to kill all the Jews, “the moment Iran goes nuclear, other countries in the region will feel compelled to do the same.” That’s the foolish “stop a Middle East nuclear arms race” argument we hear so often coming out of Washington, too — as if Israel had not already started the Middle East nuclear arms race decades ago.

    And how can a supposedly serious journalist like Bergman solemnly repeat the latest popular argument of the Iranophobes: A nuclear-armed Iran (in Barak’s words) “offers an entirely different kind of protection to its proxies,” Hezbollah and Hamas. That “would definitely restrict our range of operations” in any war against those so-called “proxies.”

    As if Iran would even consider committing national suicide to serve the interests of any Lebanese or Palestinian factions.

    Yet the myth of “poor little Israel, surrounded by fanatic enemies bent on destroying it” is so pervasive here in the U.S., most readers might easily take this Iranophobic article at face value, forgetting the absurd premises underlying all arguments that Israel “must” attack Iran.

    What American readers think is key here. Most Israelis do believe that (as Bergman puts it) Israel needs “the support of other nations to survive.” It’s a crucial piece of their myth of insecurity. And the only nation that really supports them any more is the U.S. So Israel won’t attack Iran without a green light from Washington.

    Bergman glibly asserts that there’s some “unspoken understanding that America should agree, at least tacitly, to Israeli military actions.” For years, though, a torrent of reports from Washington have all agreed that both the White House and the Pentagon, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, would refuse to support an Israeli attack on Iran. The consequences for the U.S. are too drastic to even consider it. Why should that change now?

    Bergman’s article ignores the obvious answer, the most crucial missing piece in his picture: Barack Obama wants to get re-elected nine months from now. Despite what the headlines tell us, he doesn’t really have to worry about pleasing hawkish Jewish opinion. Most American Jews want him to work harder for peaceful settlements in the Middle East.

    What Obama does have to worry about is Republicans using words like these (which Bergman tucks into his article as if he were paid by the GOP): “The Obama administration has abandoned any aggressive strategy that would ensure the prevention of a nuclear Iran and is merely playing a game of words to appease them.” Only a dyed-in-the-wool Iranophobe would believe the charge that Obama is an “appeaser,” but we are already hearing it from his would-be opponents.

    Obama also has to worry about fantasies like the one Bergman offers (apparently in all seriousness) of Iranian operatives smuggling nukes into Texas. Republicans will happily spread that story, too.

    All of this could be laughed off as absurdity if the American conversation about Israel were based on reality. Israel, the Middle East’s only nuclear power now and for the foreseeable future, is perfectly safe from Iranian attack. Indeed, Israel is safe from any attack, as the strength of its (largely U.S.-funded) military and the history of its war success proves.

    But as long as the myth of Israel’s insecurity pervades American political life, an incumbent desperate to get re-elected just might feel forced to let the Israelis attack Iran. The only thing that would stand in the way is a better informed American electorate. Apparently that’s not what the New York Times Magazine sees as its mission.

  9. I think the Gingrich/Adelson combo is even worse. On foreign affairs alone I’d have to take (gag) Obama but he is a disaster in all other areas and no bright star in foreign affairs.

    • The “external threat” has always been the tool of the Jewish ruling class to control the Jewish peasants and gentiles. Israel Shahak, in his book “Jewish History, Jewish Religion”, describes plenty of evidence how the Jewish ruling class cultivated the Jewish haters to justify their control over the lower classes.
      Throughout history many Jews managed to get out of the oppression. More recently many Jews branched out by creating
      the Reform movement to which most American Jews belong, (at least silently because the hierarchy is very punitive to dissidents.)

  10. This writeup is assuming, beyond the controlling of the campaign propaganda, President Obama is helpless in resolving the issue. President has chosen to publicized the idiotic charge that Iran is planning to kill Saudi Ambassador, just this Sunday his his secretary of defense, Lean Panetta, was on TV talking about “Iran could have nuclear weapons in a year”. Yes they could, who couldn’t? but are they working on them? Even before all of this, when Iran agreed with Turkey and Brazil mediation on Obama’s plan, Obama administration nagged on its offer to resolve the issue.

    President Obama is pursuing a regime change policy under the cover of nuclear issue. In that he is not much different than republican candidates.

  11. I think the answer to the question is yes, Obama can and will ‘resist’. He has no intention of condoning an Israeli attack against Iran. Iran and Israel are not big issues to the general population. The toughness of the Obama sanctions cover him nicely from Republican attack on this issue, and many FP people believe the sanctions are fending off any Netanyahu action.

    In analyzing world events, it’s just as important to not overestimate your opposition as it is to underestimate them. Johnson and Bush used overestimation of Vietnam and Iraq to sell those respective wars. Obama isn’t that stupid, despite his caving on settlements.

  12. You write that Obama might “be hard pressed to resist the political expediency of a response that will entail ramping up the US military presence in the Persian Gulf, and the implied, but increasingly overt, threat to Iran”

    And then you hope that Iran “will step back”.

    Instead, why not ask Obama to start telling the truth to the electorate? Then Iran can move forward to work out a living arrangement, and the beginnings of democracy can be restored.

    The President still refuses to acknowledge Israel has nuclear weapons, nuclear armed subs, is following an aggressive policy of enlargement, etc.

    If the President would begin to tell the truth, then the electorate would support him in greater numbers. Its this hiding from the facts which has undermined American democracy.

  13. And the “existential threat” issue is, of course, a dirge that Netanyahu has been wailing on the international stage for years, and that, Bibi knows, is a card that he – as well as AIPAC and other denizens of the Israel lobby – can play very effectively if he wants to influence the American electorate. . . .

    I don’t think this is true, not anymore. I don’t think that issue can flip a Presidential election.

    That message appeals to two significant groups of voters – right-wing, mainly evangelical, Christians and a segment of American Jews. The former are certain to vote against Obama anyway. Among American Jews, there is a small conservative contingent, who are also certain to vote against Obama, a larger liberal contingent that is certain to vote for him, and a third group that tends to lean Democratic but is hawkish on foreign policy, especially in regard to Israel and terrorism.

    This last group could well have their vote changed from pro- to anti-Obama by such a political campaign, but how important are they? They are only a significant number in a few states, and almost all of them are very safe, blue states. Florida is really the only state that stands much of a chance of being swung by such an appeal, given its relatively large Jewish population and its history of close margins in Presidential elections.

    Certainly, Florida isn’t chopped liver when it comes it Presidential politics, but it’s a vast overstatement to claim that Obama would be “hard pressed” by such a threat.

    • Ken, thanks for that link. The Asia Times article on how the Experienced Players are playing out the latest current most pressing scariest has-to-be-dealt-with Threat Scenario has all the elements of what is dead-end wrong with humans-with-guns-and-greed.

      I’m just a fantasy-chasing aspirationalist. But I’ll take that approach to my grandchildren’s future over the moral and intellectual bankruptcy so artfully displayed in the piece you link. “Our” dumbshit enormous clumsy military-political-industrial apparatus once again is selling “us” on the notion that belatedly, after some smartass general whups up on “our” huge, powerful, grotesquely complicated and inertial War Machine in some $250 million World’s Biggest War Games Ever, by simply doing what the early mammals did to the dinosaurs (eating their eggs and young) with simple tactics and techonology that is straight out of Sun Tzu, that “we” have to spend trillions more to “field,” after the whole profitable runup through the Procurement Process, More and Better Machines to Counter Those Threats that “our” Doctrine du Jour lets us perceive.

      Doesn’t anyone want to take a stab at getting off the Threat Perception and Klutzy Reaction Treadmill, and maybe figure out how to deal with our fellow humans on a different plane? Where there’s a fundamental reality that gets buried in the “success” of Conventional Thinking as proacticed and promoted by the Experienced Players and all the skulch that feeds off the world’s wealth that’s dumped into the Great Game of Be Afraid and Give Us Infinite Money To Make And Counter Infinite Threats? That place and way of thinking that recognizes that really, actually, there’s enough of everything that matters to go all the way around the table, if only we can keep the Pigs in Suits and Uniforms from eating everything off the plate except for one lone cookie that they have tricked the rest of us into focusing on and fighting over and forgetting that they’ve scarfed up all the rest?

      Yeah, I know, that’s all just a fantasy. Though is it just me, or does it seem like maybe people who have been suffering the worst of the kleptocratic militarized depredations are maybe saying “NO MAS!” or the Arabic equivalent, maybe “لا أكثر”?

  14. The idea that Iran doesn’t want to develop nuclear weaponry is laughable at best and dangerous at worst.

    “If Iran turns into a nuclear power, then no one dares to challenge it because they have to pay a heavy price.” -Ali Ardashir Larijani, current chairman of the Parliament of Iran

    “Any wrong step will emanate consequences that are beyond the imagination of anybody… do not test Iran.” -Ali Akbar Salehi, previous head of Iran Atomic Energy Organization

    I don’t even need to quote the crazy Ahmadinejad or Khomeini

    • Isn’t it fascinating how the clench-jawed, glowering Players on all sides do such a wonderful job of projection? And of mimesis, that amazing capacity to become what they think and hope their Enemy is? Because they just know that were they sitting in the Other’s chair, that’s just exactly what THEY would be thinking and doing? So they have to get there FIRST, with MORE?

      What’s the endpoint of the circle? Nuclear Winter, to counteract Global Warming?

  15. […] link to…robertson.html According to this, Obama might have to bomb Iran…. Imagine that: we could bomb a country in order to prevent the Commander-in-Chief's electoral opponent from appealing to religious conservatives. That is democracy in America. And we worry that voters in Egypt might choose badly. […]

  16. The most worrisome, yet unappreciated indicator the crazies in Israel may act EVEN FURTHER against their own best interests comes from Ehud Barak’s apparently relenting on the imminent existential Iranian threat (sic).

    Israel is, if nothing else, all about the sucker punch. The rationality is ALL, and I mean ALL against it in every way, but rationality is not what is driving the overall trend that is apparent.

    • Lest the rest of us forget, the principal sin in the Israeli theocratic dogma is to be taken for a “freier.” Need an explanation of what that wonderfully illustrative bit of non-approved Yiddish means?

      “Thou Shalt Not Be A Freier” — link to

      For an application in context, lookie here: link to

      A lot of the Experienced Players in Israel, it’s reported, refer to Us Americans as “Uncle Freier.” Not right to most of our faces, of course…

      Oh, and speaking of Freiers, want another little glimpse of what the Experienced Players do in the privacy of their own little compartments? See “In the service of the Jewish State,” again from Ha’Aretz — link to

      What’s the goal of the Game, again? Oh yeah…

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