They call them flame wars, a fairly new term. That’s when two big guns in the world of political commentary get into a nasty back-and-forth online. One of them posts something at one of the major sites, and the other, at a competing site, usually with the opposite political slant, says what the first guy said is a load of crap – and offers proof, with links to this and that, showing what an uninformed dolt the first guy is. And the first guy does the same, with an array of links to studies and statements and historical events and whatnot, sneering back at the other guy. And these can go on for days. It’s part Socratic dialog, to arrive at something like the verifiable truth, and part schoolyard taunts and insults. But it’s usually about something of importance. At the moment there’s a bit of a flame war over the issue of tax credits – the deductions one gets for each child. Rick Santorum said he wants to triple the personal deduction for children and eliminate the marriage tax penalty – and some cheered and others scoffed:
What does any of this have to do with economic freedom? If paying people to have children makes them more free, why don’t the childless deserve equal freedom? Because freedom is the freedom to do God’s will and God wants us to have big families? The “pro-family” elements of Mr Santorum’s plan are transparent attempts at social engineering through fiscal policy.
Others jumped in to argue that children are wonderful – hard to dispute perhaps – and that having lots more children around is great for the economy – and cited studies to the effect – while others cited studies that showed all those kids are mostly economic deadweight – and so on and so forth. But it is an interesting question. Do we want to continue to spend billions of dollars we don’t have, and maybe spend many billions more, to subsidize, and thus encourage, large families? Is that good policy? They’ll just grow up and want jobs, and those are getting scarcer each year. And is family size the government’s business anyway? And does the personal deduction for children really influence family planning at all? That seems unlikely. But the back-and-forth continues. And we are talking about billions of dollars we don’t have.
But the only ones following that particular flame war are policy wonks. The discussion is hypothetical. It’s unlikely Rick Santorum will get anywhere near the White House, and if he did, changing the tax code is hard. Congress can’t even pass a budget, and the fight over taxes will be a nasty fight over whether to continue to spend almost a trillion dollars over these next ten years on making sure the very wealthy pay as little in taxes as possible. The personal deduction for children is a nit. And no politician would dare do anything that would make him seem… against children. No one wants to be Scrooge, before the three ghosts arrive.
What’s not a nit is another all-out war in the Middle East, one that would quickly escalate worldwide. That’s worth a flame war, and Glenn Greenwald is in one with NBC right now – over Iran of course. NBC (and MSNBC) pays General Barry McCaffrey (retired) big bucks to be their in-house military expert, and he’s been on air saying we will be in an all-out war with Iran within ninety days, for sure – as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow and all that. And Greenwald is angry. He cites the Pulitzer Prize articles on how guys like McCaffrey are, in essence, agents of the Pentagon, and also paid by defense contractors to get the desired Pentagon and defense contractors message – which may not ever be the administration’s message – circulating in all public discourse. It’s an end-run around the civilian leadership that is supposed to tell the military what to do. And these guys want to destroy Iran, as Iran will surely have the bomb soon.
But Greenwald cites source after source saying there is no Iranian Bomb, and unlikely to be one soon, if ever. And Obama is being very careful about all this. Greenwald sees McCaffrey as participant in a Pentagon power grab to undermine the president, and the presidency. And he calls out NBC for not doing their homework, for not seeing what is really going on here. And of course NBC says they stand by their editorial integrity – McCaffrey is offering impartial and well-informed observations, as far as they know. Greenwald sneers at them. They sneer back. But earlier he had lit into CNN’s Erin Burnett for saying everyone knows Iran will have the bomb soon, if we don’t stop them right now. Everyone doesn’t know that, even if she is a fetching young thing. And he’s long been suspicious of Israel locking up key votes in Congress for their own ends, not for our good at all. But our unthinking media bugs him the most.
And now it’s General Barry McCaffrey, a notorious shill, and not just for the Pentagon. New York Times reporter David Barstow described McCaffrey’s role as a television pundit in that Pulitzer Prize winning series in 2008:
On NBC and in other public forums, General McCaffrey has consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that are in line with his corporate interests. But those interests are not described to NBC’s viewers. He is held out as a dispassionate expert, not someone who helps companies win contracts related to the wars he discusses on television.
There’s the president we hire to make decisions and run things, as we asked (or he doesn’t get another term) – and there’s the military and the corporations. They can change things. Who you voted for may not matter all that much.
And then there’s Israel:
Israeli officials say they won’t warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, according to one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions. The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and Capitol Hill.
No kidding. And Andrew Sullivan sees it this way:
What it amounts to is a formal declaration that, if the US attempts at any point to differ seriously with Israel’s far right, the alliance is over. That’s after the most serious sanctions ever imposed on Iran, a covert war, and greater isolation for the Tehran regime both at home and abroad than at any point since 1979.
Sullivan does cite this analysis from the New York Times, that Sullivan says “minimizes the potentially catastrophic global consequences of an Israeli-initiated war against another Muslim nation.” Oh it wouldn’t be all that bad, but Sullivan says even what the Times’ folks say is the minimum, is frightening:
Administration, military and intelligence officials say Iran would most likely choose anonymous, indirect attacks against nations it views as supporting Israeli policy, in the hope of offering Tehran at least public deniability. Iran also might try to block, even temporarily, the Strait of Hormuz to further unsettle oil markets. An increase in car bombs set off against civilian targets in world capitals would also be possible. And Iran would almost certainly smuggle high-powered explosives across its border into Afghanistan, where they could be planted along roadways and set off by surrogate forces to kill and maim American and NATO troops – much as it did in Iraq during the peak of violence there.
So they won’t blow up Cleveland. That’s nice, but Sullivan adds this:
So Israel would, without warning, put US troops and Western civilians at direct risk of terrorist assaults, and would likely tip Pakistan into even more outright hostility to any cooperation with the West, and rally the Iranian opposition to its foul regime. It would destroy the global coalition against Iran, increase even further its own global isolation, and only set back Iranian nuclear development for a few years – and make it, or a Third World War based on religion, inevitable. My own fear is that global recruitment for Jihad would boom as well – reversing all the gains of the last three years. The war would also galvanize Islamist parties in the new Arab democracies, giving Israel more ammunition in blocking any rapprochement between the US and the Muslim world. And following this essential blackmail, the Israeli government would doubtless rally much of the US Congress, the entire GOP, its media outlets (like Fox, and the Washington Post), and a key part of the Democratic fundraising machinery to side entirely with Israel against the US president.
Netanyahu is fighting Obama for the right to be the de facto American president:
I don’t think you can understand the Republican strategy for this election without factoring in a key GOP player, Benjamin Netanyahu. He already has core members of the US Congress siding openly with him against the US president and the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman – like McCain, Lieberman and Butters. Netanyahu’s war would be designed to rile up not only his own neo-fascist base, but also encourage American evangelical voters to turn out against Obama, the “anti-Christ”, while other Greater Israel fanatics, like Sheldon Adelson, keep bankrolling as many Greater Israel GOP nominees as they can. A global war which polarizes America and the world is exactly what Netanyahu wants. And it is exactly what the GOP needs to cut through Obama’s foreign policy advantage in this election. Because it is only through war, crisis and polarization that extremists can mobilize the emotions that keep them in power. They need war to win.
So here’s his prediction:
Netanyahu, in league and concert with Romney, Santorum and Gingrich, will make his move to get rid of Obama soon. And he will be more lethal to this president than any of his domestic foes.
So, do you want to elect Benjamin Netanyahu president? For now he’ll be satisfied if Obama is his bitch:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to publicly harden his line against Iran during a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on March 5, according to a senior Israeli official.
Israel wants Obama to make further-reaching declarations than the vague assertion that “all options are on the table,” the official said. In particular, Netanyahu wants Obama to state unequivocally that the United States is preparing for a military operation in the event that Iran crosses certain “red lines,” said the official; Israel feels this will increase pressure on Iran by making clear that there exists a real U.S. threat.
Netanyahu is of course recruiting US senators to push back against their own president and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Martin Dempsey, who would rather not have the enflamed masses of the Middle East blowing up all our guys in one day, then moving worldwide with that):
Netanyahu and his advisers briefed a group of senators and senior congressmen during the past two weeks on the Iranian issue, and asked them to pressure Obama on the matter. Last week, Netanyahu met a group of five senior senators over lunch, headed by Sen. John McCain, who ran four years ago against Obama for president. Netanyahu reportedly told the senators he was not interfering in U.S. politics and expected U.S. officials not to interfere in Israeli politics either.
That’s nice but he got McCain to say this:
There should be no daylight between America and Israel in our assessment of the [Iranian] threat. Unfortunately there clearly is some.
McCain is with Netanyahu, not his own president. Mission accomplished. And Sullivan comments:
First we get McCain et al on Israeli soil backing the Israeli prime minister against the US president and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Then we get the report that Israel is preparing to strike alone. Now we hear via Haaretz that Netanyahu is demanding that Obama threaten a US military strike if Iran does not back down on its secluded nuclear research, rather than repeat the “all options are on the table” diplo-speak.
But of course Netanyahu is covering his own ass:
A new poll of Israeli public opinion found surprisingly low levels of support for a military strike against Iran – and especially if Israel has to go it alone. Just 19 percent of Israelis believe that Israel should strike Iran’s nuclear facilities if it must do so without American support. A significantly higher number – 42 percent – support a military strike if Israel has American support. Thirty-four percent do not support a military strike at all.
Netanyahu can’t go it alone. He’d get tossed out of office. We have to do his dirty work for him. And we will, it seems – General Barry McCaffrey (retired) saying we will be in an all-out war with Iran within ninety days, for sure – as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. Who cares what Obama thinks?
So Israelis are deeply conflicted on this – something you won’t find reported every day on the op-ed page of the Washington Post. That’s why Netanyahu desperately needs US-cover for an attack; and is furious he cannot simply push them around as he was once wont to do. Nonetheless, he has a united Republican front in Romney, Santorum and Gingrich, funded by Greater Israel fanatics like Sheldon Adelson, and in desperate need of a way to ignite the Christianist base. He will have a chunk of Democrats as well – and next week’s AIPAC conference to beat the drums for war. He also has the potential to send oil to $7 a gallon by Election Day – and tip Europe and the world into both a new terror crisis and a deeper, longer recession. All of this is leverage to get Obama to do something of enormous risk to the Middle East, the West and the wider world, and launch a war that America, rather than Israel, would have to own.
That’s the card Netanyahu will come to Washington to play against the president next week. It’s not a weak one. But it’s a brittle one, given Israeli public opinion, the huge potential costs and minimal security benefits.
You can see why Greenwald is upset by one more shill on his television. Obama is the president, and more than half the American people made that so – and it may not matter now.
But there’s the reality, as one reader here pointed out:
US intelligence agencies still say that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. The president often implies that they do have such a program without actually saying so; many other people simply go with the falsehood, whether willfully or from ignorance.
Despite everything, even the Israelis say that Iran isn’t working on a bomb; only that they’re building the capacity to develop one if they so choose. And despite some very weaselly words on the subject, even the recent IAEA report that often gets cited as proof of a nuclear weapons program doesn’t say they’re working on nuclear weapons.
And of course the Iranians insist that they are not only not working on nuclear weapons, but that to do so would be heretical. Everyone ignores them but the country’s religious leaders do seem to take their religion seriously, and there is not the slightest bit of evidence that any of them are suicidal individually or on behalf of their country.
To recap: the US intelligence agencies say Iran isn’t working on nuclear weapons. The Israeli intelligence agencies say that Iran isn’t working on nuclear weapons. The IAEA says (reluctantly, in obscure language) that Iran isn’t working on nuclear weapons. And the Iranians say that Iran isn’t working on nuclear weapons.
And yet here we are, talking about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.
But that’s worth a flame war, if it can hold off the real war for just a bit longer.