December 19th, 2012

Night Is Dark, Water Is Wet, Fire Is Hot, Ice Is Cold, and Andrew Sullivan Obsesses About the Greater Israel/Jewish Lobby

I guess that no one should be surprised that Andrew Sullivan—in response to people opposing the idea of Chuck Hagel serving as secretary of defense—takes his now-traditional tack of blaming the “Greater Israel” and/or “Jewish” lobby for having the temerity to voice their objections. But if Sullivan were to calm down for a moment and think the situation through—I know that this asks a lot—he might find himself skeptical about the idea of nominating Hagel as well. Consider:

  • Sullivan celebrates sanctions on Iran as working, favorably linking to a post during the campaign that states that sanctions compelled Iran to change its behavior and “demolish[ed]” a Romney talking point contending that the Obama administration’s engaged in “foreign policy missteps.” Sullivan has also praised sanctions on Iran by claiming that “[b]y tightening sanctions while keeping an open hand, Obama avoids the appearance of America being the bully, and prevents cooptation of national pride by the regime.” Sanctions on Iran were further hailed by Sullivan as evidence of a “pragmatic, realist government. And it’s a relief to see it at work again in America’s corridors of power.” All of which makes one wonder why it is that Sullivan might favor the appointment of Chuck Hagel, who blocked sanctions on Iran in 2008 while in the Senate, who denounced sanctions on both Iran and Libya back in 2001 and who voted against renewing them that year. Why would Sullivan favor the appointment of a secretary of defense who might cause the regime in Iran to think that if they just hold out for a while longer, said secretary of defense might have the time to successfully lobby for the unilateral removal of the sanctions? Why would Sullivan want to have a secretary of defense who undercuts the president Sullivan so ardently idolizes?
  • Speaking of undercutting Barack Obama, at all times when dealing with Iran, the Obama administration has made clear that the use of force would remain an option on the table. But on that issue, Hagel has been, at best, “ambiguous”. And at other times, he really hasn’t been so ambiguous:

… I think talking about going to war with Iran in fairly specific terms should be carefully reviewed.  And that’s pretty dangerous talk.  It’s easy to get a nation into war; not so easy to get a nation out of war, as we are finding out.  I’m not sure that the American people are ready to go into a third war. 

Second, if you subscribe to what Barbara has laid out – at least, what our taskforce has found – in particular, the internal dynamics that are occurring in Iran, then why in the world would you, as Barbara has noted, want to get in the way of that? 

We do have some rather significant evidence that sanctions are working.  And they’re working because we – our government, our policies; imperfect, flawed problems; every policy has those.  But nonetheless, it has accomplished something even bigger than sanctions.  And that is they have brought a consensus together of most countries – the European Union, the Chinese are involved, Russians are involved.  We have a rather significant consensus on this issue up to a point.  And I think all you need to do is reflect on the United Nations’ vote on this as a pretty good indicator. 

Now, that alone won’t change the dynamics.  But as Barbara – (audio break) – if you subscribe to what our taskforce has come up with, then aren’t we wiser to let this play out?  Aren’t we – (audio break) – wiser, rather to get ourselves into another very difficult predicament because – (audio break) – we do also know that wars have – (audio break) – most of the time and especially – (audio break) – where we live in a day they have unintended consequences.  They have uncontrollable consequences.  We live in an interconnected global – (audio break) – and I think, again, we should factor that in. 

Last point I would make: as to the question of, well, but aren’t we just allowing the Iranians to buy time?  Maybe.  We have to recognize that the real world is about risks.  You calibrate your decisions and your policymaking based on that risk analysis. 

Is it riskier to go to war right now or is it riskier to pursue the policies that we are pursuing?  Policymakers have to decide that.  They have to sort their way through that and then they come to a decision.  It’s my analysis – and answering your question, Shuja – that it is far riskier to talk of war and to go to war.


Well, I would add this:  I’m not so sure it is necessary to continue to say all options are on the table.  I believe that the leadership in Iran, regardless of the five power centers that you’re referring to – whether it’s the ayatollah or the president or the Republican Guard, the commissions – have some pretty clear understanding of the reality of this issue and where we are. 

I think the point that your question really brings out – which is a very good one.  If you were going to threaten on any kind of consistent basis, whether it’s from leadership or the Congress or the administration or anyone who generally speaks for this country in anyway, than you better be prepared to follow through with that. 

Now, Stuart noted putting 100,000 troops in Iran – I mean, just as a number as far as if to play this thing out.  The fact is, I would guess that we would all – I would be the one to start the questioning – would ask where you’re going to get 100,000 troops.  (Laughter.)  So your point is a very good one, I think. 

I don’t think there’s anybody in Iran that does not question the seriousness of America, our allies or Israel on this for all the reasons we made very clear.  And I do think there does become a time when you start to minimize the legitimacy of a threat.  When you threaten people or you threaten sovereign nations, you better be very careful and you better understand, again, consequences because you may be required to employ that threat and activate that threat in some way. 

So I don’t mind people always, as we have laid out, and I think every president and every administration, anybody of any consequence who’s talked about this can say – does say.  But I think it’s implied that the military threat is always there.  Stu made an important point about, there are a lot of ways to come at this. 

But once you begin a military operation – I mean, you ask any sergeant – and it’s the sergeants and the guys at the bottom, not the policymakers that have to fight the war – (audio break) – there the ones who have to do all the dying and all the fighting – (audio break) – sacrifices, not the policymakers. 

But my point is, once you start that, you’d better be prepared to find 100,000 troops because it may take that or, eventually, where you’re going – my earlier point:  You don’t know.  And you can’t just – (audio break) – concept of, well, we’re going to do this but it’ll be marginalized, it’ll be a limited warfare.  I don’t think any nation can ever go into that way.  So that would be what I would just add to the rest of the other conversations. 

So, on two key issues—issues which will heavily occupy the time of the next secretary of defense—Hagel differs starkly from the president. Now, when it comes to the question of war with Iran, I am against the idea at this time: I think that we have more diplomatic options in our quiver and that we are not at the point where we are left with no option but armed conflict. And when it comes to Hagel’s possible nomination, I am willing to keep an open mind, but it seems to me that given Hagel’s many deviations from Obama administration policy, fans of the president—including Sullivan, who praises to the skies just about everything Barack Obama says, does, thinks, emotes, or casually contemplates—ought to be dead-set against having Hagel at the Pentagon.

But no. Sullivan supports both the president and the potential secretary of defense who has spoken out against many of the president’s policies when it comes to the important issue of what to do about Iran. And instead of casting a wary eye on Hagel, he lunges into attack mode against the “Greater Israel” and/or “Jewish” lobby.

Leon Wieseltier had an explanation for this behavior. And while it may cause Andrew Sullivan fits of apoplectic rage to read this, Wieseltier’s explanation looks better and better with the passage of time.


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