With a speech full of ill-intentioned references to Nazi Germany and World War II, Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress earlier this week. Meanwhile, President Obama outplayed Netanyahu by having a telephone conference with the representatives of the other five major powers (Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) negotiating a peaceful resolution with Iran.
Netanyahu has a long history of betting against and of trying to undermine the Obama administration. Netanyahu was widely seen as being overinvolved in the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign, against a sitting president. Now, facing his own re-election Netanyahu comes to the U.S. to challenge Obama’s policy and to cast doubt on the peace process. His speech to Congress delivers one message: there is no other choice but war. Bibi is playing a bad hand. He is trying to convince the American public to once again take the road to war. By doing so he is fueling the old-tired myth that Israel controls the U.S. government.
But this is worse than mere appearances and the conspiracy theorists who slame Netanyahu’s speech. Netanyahu made a similar claim before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in September 2002 previous to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He said:
It’s not a question of whether Iraq’s regime should be taken out but when should it be taken out; it’s not a question of whether you’d like to see a regime change in Iran but how to achieve it.
We know that Iraq was not producing new WMDs and the quagmire that followed the invasion. Worse, the invasion destabilized the region and brought Al Qaeda to Iraq. The invasion and the failed policies afterwards are also responsible for the emergence of ISIS as a dominant player in the region. So why should we listen to Netanyahu and the old Hawks who created this mess in the first place?
Our TV war mongers will say that there is no chance that negotiations with Iran will work. This is kind of ironic. Months before we invaded Iraq, officials from the Bush administration were arguing that a regime change would lead to the spread of democracy in the whole region. Collin Powell himself insisted that the people of the region were under tyrants and that the streets of Iraq were pro-America, pro-freedom and pro-democracy.
Then we adopted the same narrative with regard to Iran after the infamous George W, Bush’s Axis of Evil reference. The streets of Iran want us, and they need regime-change was the sound bite. Isn’t it ironic? We are now back to square one. Iraq did not represent a threat to the region in 2003, much less to the U.S., but we were led to believe so. Now, six major powers are at the brink of finding a negotiated resolution to Iran’s nuclear issue but Netanyahu and the American Hawks who invited him want you to believe that diplomacy will never work.
It is obvious that the GOP and Netanyahu are calculating their political gains if they succeeded in derailing the talks with Iran. The party that once tried to arrest the economy to make Obama a one-termer would risk war to clip Obama’s wings.
This is what Netanyahu told Congress this week:
But Iran’s regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazi regime was merely a Jewish problem. The 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis were but a fraction of the 60 million people killed in World War II. So, too, Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world.
It is perplexing that Netanyahu compares Iran to the Nazis when his speech boils down to this: Don’t trust Iran. Don’t trust Iranians because they are Muslims, Don’t trust them because they are Persians (though a good chunk of Americans believe them to be Arabs). He would like you to believe that Iran is not run by people like you and I but by monsters and blood-thirsty barbarians.
He also did his best to demonize Iran’s government and to put it in equal footing with ISIS.
We must always remember — I’ll say it one more time — the greatest dangers facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war. We can’t let that happen.
Not only is Iran about the best partner that the U.S. has in the fight against ISIS, but the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program are working—or at the very least they should be given a chance to work. The path offered by Netanyahu and cheered by the GOP and many spineless Democrats leads to a war that does not need to happen. But Netanyahu and the GOP will try anything but diplomacy to secure peace and that leaves war as their only real option.
This is not a blind defense of Iran but a call to give negotiations a chance to succeed.
After Netanyahu’s speech, Ann Curry interviewed Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zari. He insists that Iran is not planning to build nuclear weapons, that they don’t have them and don’t plan to ever have them. Zarif makes debunks Netanyahu’s narrative by stating that since 1992 the Israeli Prime Minister has been warning that it is a matter of years if not months for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. But the most convincing point is that Zarif says explicitly that he does not want to be trusted and that he does not trust anyone. He calls for “verification.” Or, a “yeah, let’s do the deal and come and see for yourselves.” And I’m fine with that, I don’t trust them either (or anyone by that matter) so let’s “verify” each other.
Zarif makes the point that Israel has nuclear weapons of his own. Israel neither denies nor confirms having nuclear weapons but the international community takes it as fact that the Israelis do have them. When confronted with that fact, conservatives tend to argue that Israel is a rational country with rational leaders who will never use their nukes. They are kinda “like us.” However, somehow the Iranians lack the capacity to be rational and act accordingly. And this argument takes us back to race-ethnicity and religion. That is all there is to it. Persians and Arabs, and Muslims, according to these explanations, can’t act like civilized men.
A good diplomat, or anyone interested in finding a negotiated solution, would find common ground with their opponent as opposed to demonizing them. Demonizing the other is what G.W. Bush did, and look what we got: a mess in Iraq and a destabilized region; still dealing with Iran (and for a decade we lost a partner against Al Qaeda); and North Korea as it was, or worse, before the speech.
Bravado and cowboy diplomacy do nothing to solve our problems. Netanyahu and his U.S. allies (mainly the GOP) do not want a negotiated solution. They want war because it serves their immediate needs. Netanyahu gains a bit more than the GOP though; he may very well get re-elected, an immediate win. But he also gets to weaken Iran using the U.S. military. Netanyahu is trying to play the U.S. into keeping Israel’s unchallenged military supremacy in the area. He doesn’t fear a nuclear Iran. Instead, he fears Israel not being able to do as it pleases in the region.
Last year, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khameini tweeted this:
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 8, 2014
Bear in mind that the tweet was sent during the 50-day “war” between Israel and Gaza. Netanyahu made reference to it during his speech, and Curry confronted Zarif with it, as she should. Just like Zarif explained, Khameini is talking about Netanyahu’s government and not about the Israelis or the Jewish people. Ironically, Netanyahu is asking for the very same thing Khameini proposed: he is asking the U.S. to eliminate the Iranian regime.
Ironically, it is the party known for its nativist base that brings a foreign leader to undermine the President of the United States and make the case for another war. They must love war, really hate Obama, or both.
Regime change is needed indeed: in Israel and in Congress so we can give peace a chance.
Harry Franqui-Rivera is a historian, a blogger and a researcher at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY. He has a forthcoming book, “Fighting for the Nation” on the Puerto Rican experience in the Spanish and U.S. military. He has recently published in online magazines on the topic of Puerto Ricans in the Korean War and the Diaspora. You can follow him @hfranqui.