Responding to the Obama administration’s announcement of talks with Iran, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens engages in the sort of criticism that the Wall Street Journal would probably decry as “blaming America” were it coming from the left:
Events are fast pushing Israel toward a pre-emptive military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, probably by next spring. That strike could well fail. Or it could succeed at the price of oil at $300 a barrel, a Middle East war, and American servicemen caught in between. So why is the Obama administration doing everything it can to speed the war process along?
That’s a heck of an opening paragraph, one that both attempts to absolve Israel of responsibility — after all, Israel is only being “pushed by events” — and place the blame on the American president for not behaving as Israel would prefer. It’s a pretty neat trick to hand Obama responsibility for war which Stephens and his paper are pretty clearly in favor. (How killing huge numbers of Iranians in bombing raids and further inflaming the Middle East squares with Stephens’ past calls for making “common cause” with Iranian dissidents is unclear, but it is reminiscent of a certain now-discredited “freedom agenda.”)
Writing that “it is not in the U.S. interest that Israel be the instrument of Iran’s disarmament,” Stephens then demonstrates why:
For starters, its ability to do so is iffy: Israeli strategists are quietly putting it about that even a successful attack may have to be repeated a few years down the road as Iran reconstitutes its capacity. For another thing, Iran could respond to such a strike not only against Israel itself, but also U.S targets in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.
Having argued that Israel will do what it believes to be necessary regardless of how small the chance of success, and of the likely extraordinarily negative consequences both for the U.S. and for the region as a whole, Stephens then insists that “it is an abdication of a superpower’s responsibility to outsource matters of war and peace to another state.” Well, sure, if it were true. But superpowers aren’t required to precisely adopt the threat perspective of their smaller partners. It’s not “outsourcing” for the U.S. to differ with Israel’s analysis of the situation, nor is it an “abdication” for the U.S. to formulate policy according to that differing analysis, no matter how reckless the Netanyahu government may be.
Stephens disagrees with Obama on Iran and agrees with Netanyahu, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s just comically tendentious to suggest that it’s somehow irresponsible for the Obama administration not to follow the foreign policy of the Likud Party. President Obama believes that direct talks with Iran are an important tool for changing Iran’s behavior — a position that is shared by five former secretaries of state, as well as three-quarters of Americans. If Israel does choose to launch a preventive strike on Iran, it will bear the blame, but we’ll all share the consequences.