I will tell you having visited Israel just a month and a half ago, their general attitude is, ‘We will not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon.’ My job as president would be to try to make sure we are tightening the screws diplomatically on Iran, that we mobilize the world community to go after Iran’s nuclear program in a serious way. … We have to do it before Israel feels its back is against the wall.
— Barack Obama, August 25, 2008
The candidate of “change,” having just selected the ultimate Washington insider as his running mate, again makes clear how thoroughly he embraces the Lobby and the foreign policy establishment.
He might have said:
Well, as I understand it, the National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007, which represents the consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies including the CIA, stated with a high degree of confidence that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. Some Bush administration officials, especially those around Vice President Cheney, act as though they know that there is one and it threatens the whole world. But they’ve pulled that act before, haven’t they?–scaring us all about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction which, it turned out, didn’t exist.
I visited Israel a month and a half ago, and I know there are some people there who see Iran as their main enemy. They’d like the U.S. to bomb Iran. But I frankly question their judgment. My foreign policy will be based upon my administration’s assessment of America’s interests, which do not include antagonizing more Muslim nations or reinforcing the perception that the U.S. gives Israel everything it wants, even as it ceaselessly expands illegal settlements on the occupied West Bank and— lets’s speak frankly—treats Palestinians as blacks in South Africa were treated under apartheid.
I’d like to remind you that in the summer of 2003 the Iranian government through the Swiss ambassador to Tehran proposed talks with the U.S. The Iranians were willing to exchange support for the Arab League proposal for a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, withdrawal of military support for Hamas and Hizbollah, and resolution of U.S. concerns about its nuclear program in exchange for normalized diplomatic and trade relations with the U.S. Although Secretary of State Colin Powell was interested in the offer, Vice President Cheney rejected it out of hand. The initiative was not even reported in the press at the time.
We need to revisit that moment. We need to engage the Iranians. We need to question the neocon propaganda machine which, having circulated so much disinformation about Iraq is now doing the same about Iran. We need to call these guys out on their fear-mongering, their wild references to World War III and a ‘nuclear holocaust.’ Some say we need to ‘tighten the screws’ diplomatically. But we really need to question the premises behind the sanctions we’ve enacted to date. There hasn’t been any debate in this country about how to relate to Iran. It hasn’t been possible, politically, to say: ‘Maybe Iran is not a threat to U.S. security.’ It hasn’t been popular to point out the obvious: Iran supports the al-Maliki government in Iraq, just as we do, and the Karzai government in Afghanistan, just as we do.
Rational analysts point out that even if the entire U.S. intelligence community is wrong, and Iran is poised to acquire nuclear weapons soon, it wouldn’t use them against Israel. Iran is a long ways from Israel, has no territorial issues with Israel, no national interest in attacking Israel. Reports of anti-Semitism in Iran appear exaggerated, for political reasons. (Iran’s Jewish community is the largest outside of Israel in the Middle East and has representation in the Iranian parliament.) Israel unlike Iran is a nuclear power. Unlike Iran it hasn’t signed the Nonproliferation Treaty and refuses IAEA inspections. It has about 200 nuclear weapons that could respond to an Iranian attack with apocalyptic ferocity.
Frankly I think the Israeli leaders are hypocritical in saying that they ‘can’t allow’ Iran to get a nuclear weapon. Whoever allowed them to get theirs? They may feel that their backs are against the wall, but how do you suppose the Iranians feel, when the Bush administration has been saying for years it reserves the right to attack them, even using nukes?
Advocates of a ‘preemptive’ attack on Iran charge that Iranians are somehow suicidal, irrational, willing to suffer millions of deaths of their countrymen in order to annihilate Israel. But this is an irrational and indeed racist characterization of the Iranian people.
My job as president will be to make a clean break with the Bush administration’s foreign policy based on lies and fear-mongering. I would do our Israeli friends no favor if I capitulated to the propaganda and paranoia and continued this disastrous neocon strategy of regime change throughout the Middle East. I stand for change in foreign policy, change in how we think about foreign relations. I stand for mutual respect and dialogue, not the arrogance of the Bush White House summed up in Cheney’s statement, ‘we don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat it.’
We have to humbly understand that many people around this world think the United States is evil–for going to war and killing hundreds of thousands for no good reason. We need to understand that Iranians and Russians a whole lot of other folks think their backs are up against the wall because of reckless, provocative U.S. actions. As the candidate of change, I repudiate the strategy of aggression and culture of lies that have undermined American democracy. I ask you to vote for me as the candidate of peace.
Of course he can’t do that. Because in this “democracy” his hands are tied. No powerful news editor in the mainstream media, employed by General Electric, Time-Warner, Murdoch, Verizon or Disney would treat such a statement as anything other than an expression of wild-eyed leftwing extremism (if not anti-Semitism). Real debate is not possible outside the catacombs of the internet. It’s an iron law of the system: any candidate of change, having acquired an enthusiastic mass base through the raising of false hopes, has to at some point become the standard-bearer of the status quo. The candidate flushed with victory cynically expects serious supporters to stay on board the program—even as the program looses all but symbolic and rhetorical content.
The ultimate message: Voting for me is the best you can do. Forget any immediate withdrawal from Iraq, which I see as a strategic blunder, but not a war crime. Forget any rapprochement with Iran, or rethinking of Middle East policy, because I, like my vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, am intimidated by the Israel Lobby. Settle for a Bush Lite administration—no surprises, nothing radical, more troops to the real war in Afghanistan and maybe Pakistan.
This is a country of 300 million people, many of us really paying attention to events. We’re presented with a choice. One presidential candidate who’s unable to answer a question about how many homes he owns; states publicly that Iran is supporting al-Qaeda; and surrounds himself with neocon advisors who want a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq, want to bomb Iran, and want to provoke conflict with Russia. Another candidate (there being two, under our system) who boasts that he opposed the Iraq War but hedges on the issue of withdrawal, talks hawkish on Afghanistan, threatens to assault Pakistan, wants to “further isolate Russia,” and keeps an Iran attack “on the table” because he thinks Israel’s back is against the wall.
In fact it’s we, the American people, who have our backs against the wall. The screws are tightening on us—we who get screwed every four years, routinely. The candidate of “change” and the candidate of “country” stand together in pledging allegiance to a conception of reality the Israel Lobby endlessly promotes although it clashes at every turn with the actual world. Candidates cannot say what needs to be said.
There is something fundamentally wrong here. We are in one of those “times of universal deceit” in which, as George Orwell put it, “telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” You just can’t do it if you’re running for election, urging the masses to observe the voting rite, demanding they cast their ballots as a statement of compliance and acceptance, while offering us such meager choice. If the goal were democracy, we could do so much better. There’s no way Obama’s going to be accused of being revolutionary, no way the Congress is going to investigate and punish the liars whose hands are covered in blood, no way the mainstream press is going to acknowledge near term what for so many of us are obvious truths. It falls to others to tell the truth and act against the universal deceit.