The American public overwhelmingly opposes a unilateral military strike against Iran and, according to the New York Times, 59% say, “If Israel bombs Iran and ignites a war, the United States should not come to its ally’s defense.” The US government should not come to Israel’s defense if Tel Aviv starts a war against Teheran.
Among key findings of a survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs are these:
- 51% oppose the UN authorizing a strike on Iran, 70% oppose a unilateral U.S. strike on Iran, and 59% do not want to get involved in a potential Iran-Israel war; 45% favor the UN authorization of a strike;
- “In the hypothetical situation in which Israel were to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, Iran were to retaliate against Israel, and the two were to go to war, only 38 percent say the United States should bring its military forces into the war on the side of Israel. A majority (59%) says it should not.” (p. 30)
- 54% do support an attack by U.S. ground troops against terrorist training camps and facilities, down from 82% in 2002.
- To deal with the crisis in Syria, majorities of Americans support diplomatic and economic sanctions (63%) as well as a no-fly zone in Syria (58%).
Those numbers may be what is causing Benyamin Netanyahu, and his allies in AIPAC, to step up their campaign of implied political threats against the Obama administration for its relative caution over Iran’s nuclear program.
As conversations in Washington revealed last week, the Israelis and AIPAC have created a rising temperature of war fever on Capitol Hill. “AIPAC was just in town, and the pressure is going up like war is inevitable,” said one member of Congress who declined to speak on the record. It seems apparent that AIPAC deploys the ground troops for the lobbying campaign in coordination with Netanyahu’s attacks on the Obama administration over the television airwaves. On the near sidelines, Mitt Romney, his consultants Dan Senor and Eliot Cohen and funders like Sheldon Adelson, are pushing an even more aggressive policy than Obama’s. One political danger for Romney and AIPAC is the growing appearance that they are exploiting a presidential campaign to push the US into war.
During a George Stephanopoulos interview last week, Romney stumbled confusedly in describing his more aggressive stance. Romney said he would stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, the same position taken by Obama. What Romney apparently meant to say was that he would stop Iran from developing a nuclear capability, which is the Israeli position. As Romney said during his largely secret July visit to Israel, “Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability presents an intolerable threat to Israel.
One of Romney’s unnamed advisers said of the candidate’s stumble that “you’ve got to give him some slack,” raising an alarm that the brinksmanship could spiral out of control.
Meanwhile, the opinion survey indicates that the American people continue to be skeptical about being drawn into another Middle East conflict. Even within the foreign policy establishment, there are significant dissents against the US tilt, as exemplified in the dramatic cover title in the July/August Foreign Affairs magazine, “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb.” The recent Non-Aligned Summit of 120 countries was united behind Iran’s sovereign right to a nuclear program, a further measure of gap between American hawks and global political opinion.
The question is whether Obama will be able to hold out against the Israeli and AIPAC pressure in the volatile weeks ahead. Even if he can, the pressure for regime change against the “crazy people” in Iran (the term is Netanyahu’s) will grow among key elites in the US, Europe, and even among Sunni regimes like Saudi Arabia who fear a re-balancing of the Middle Eastern power balance.
“Off the table,” apparently, is any deep revision of American foreign policy, beginning with a recognition of the root cause of Iran’s rage, the 1954 US overthrow of the democratically elected nationalist government of Mohammad Mossedegh who planned to nationalize his country’s oil industry. The second step towards lowering the temperature would be if the US allowed the United Nations to recognize Palestinian statehood, which the US effectively vetoed last year.
Neither of these initiatives would bring an overnight change to the Middle East or quell the religious-nationalist anger on the streets.
But Iran will continue covertly seeking a nuclear weapons “capacity” as a deterrent against threats of sabotage, assassinations and “regime change” by the likes of the CIA or Mossad. And large sectors of Muslim opinion will remain hostile to the US until they have a stake in Palestinian statehood with the US as an “honest broker.”
Since these relatively rational alternatives are blocked by American politics, it becomes steadily more likely that a war will be launched against Iran at some future point. The Israelis claim an “existential need” to do away with the Iranian threat. Nothing could be worse than an Iran with a nuclear capacity, they claim. But there is one thing that would be worse: an Iran with a nuclear capacity after an Israeli or US attack. That scenario may lie ahead.