The Republican candidate reminds me of a breakfast many years ago with former Secretary of State Dean Rusk. I was trying to devise a melding or hierarchy of interests, philosophies and values that could be a reliable guide to how the United States should act or react in relations with other nations.
Rusk was a kind man, a gentleman with roots in north Georgia; courteously, without condescension, he said, “I can certainly understand your desire to construct a lens to make the world more understandable.” He then went on to explain that when the world comes at you with hostile intent or a decision has to be made with dozens of consequences and values in conflict with one another, there’s no ready-made kit that tells policy makers what to do.
At such times, with a bedrock sense of national values, a decision has to be made, often the least bad outcome of a series of bad consequences. Rusk had been in office during the Vietnam War, knowing that we had chosen the wrong horse, Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic puppet premier of a Buddhist people, but he and President Johnson didn’t know how to get off without signaling weakness in the struggle against communism.
Only in hindsight could policy makers see that the war wasn’t about communism, it was a struggle for national liberation and consolidation.
Romney’s wishful dreams of clarity are understandable, but the unconscionable butting into the campaign by a foreign leader, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reminds me more of the anti-government rants of George Wallace.
Bibi virtually ordered the American president to draw “a red line” that would trigger military action to prevent Iran from making a nuclear bomb.
An answer came from within the Knesset (Parliament) from a former Defense Minister, Lt. Gen. Shaud Mofaz, who personally challenged Netanyahu, “Mr. Prime Minister, you want a crude, rude, unprecedented, reckless, risky intervention in the U.S. elections. Tell us whom you serve and for what?”
The conservative Israeli leader’s affinity for the right wing, currently the dominant wing of the Republican Party, is well known. His antsy frustration evidently got the better of him and he spoke out more as a right-wing GOP candidate than the leader of a foreign government.
Netanyahu’s home has been waging what his critics call a “megalomaniacal” campaign, which is seen as preparation for a unilateral strike, a campaign not well received by leading military and intelligence figures or by the public. A poll in Israel this month showed that 61 percent of Israeli Jews oppose a unilateral strike.
The most outspoken opponent, according to an article by David Remnick in The New Yorker, is Yuval Diskin, who headed Shin Bet (the Israeli FBI) from 2005 to 2011 and who said, “I have no trust in the current Israeli leadership.”
He is not alone. Other military and intelligence leaders opposing a unilateral strike include the Army Chief of Staff, the commander in chief of the Air Force, the heads of the two main intelligence agencies, the Mossad (Israel’s CIA) and Shin Bet, President Shimon Peres and members of Netanyahu’s cabinet, including the intelligence minister.
His frustration got the better of him and he jumped into our presidential campaign.
On 60 Minutes last Sunday, the consequences of an Iranian strike were sized up by an old, tough soldier and veteran of the spy business, Meier Dagan, director of Mossad from 2002 to 2011. He had been a protégé of former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, not known to have a dovish bone in his body.
Dagan had been Mossad director when the Syrian nuclear facility was bombed. He doesn’t talk about that, but he did give reporter Reminick his analysis of what a unilateral strike would achieve. In a word, war; the Iranian Air Force would fill the sky over Israel and Hezbollah rockets would rain down on Israeli cities.
Where that would all end, nobody knows.
This is Dagan’s analysis: “An Israeli bombing would lead to a regional war and solve the internal problems of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It would galvanize Iranian society behind the leadership and create unity around the nuclear issue. And it would justify Iran in rebuilding its nuclear project and saying, ‘Look, see, we were attacked by the Zionist enemy and we clearly need to have it.’ A bombing would be considered an act of war, and there would be an unpredictable counterattack against us. And the Iranians can call on their proxy, Hezbollah, which, with its rockets, can hit practically any target in Israel.”
Do we want to follow Bibi into another Middle Eastern war? Does he have “a final solution” in mind?
The path to decisions seems abundantly clear on the campaign trail, guided by the governing ideologies and loyalties. Israel has no fiercer supporter than the GOP right wing. But as Dean Rusk taught me at breakfast long ago, and an Israeli spy master says: There are no easy answers to questions of war and peace.
H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.