No one knows if President Obama intends to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, give Israel the go-ahead to do it, continue to rely on sanctions, or turn to comprehensive negotiations to resolve the escalating conflict.
The decision to go to war is the most difficult one a president can make because no one can foresee a war's outcome. Even if it is Israel that attacks rather than the United States, the consequences for us are likely to be the same. That is because the entire world knows that the United States and Israel are linked by means of strategic cooperation agreements which prevent Israel from acting without, at least, tacit U.S. approval. If Israel is "in," so are we.
It is safe to assume that Obama wants to avoid war. Having just come out of the disastrous Iraq experience which cost 4,500 American lives and severely damaged our interests in the Middle East (and beyond), the president wants to keep his options open. If he can prevent war (i.e., Americans dying and other vital U.S. interests being attacked), he will.
But while the president needs his options open, the United States Congress, under intense pressure from pro-war lobbyists, is determined to shut them down.
That is the meaning of the legislation introduced this month by senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran; and urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear weapons-capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.
The senators' intent was made clear by Lieberman: "All options must be on the table when it comes to Iran -- except for one, and that is containment." He added that "the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be 'contained' like the threat of the Soviet Union" -- or China, or North Korea, or Pakistan.
The senators are telling the president that if Iran goes nuclear, he must go to war.
Imagine if President Kennedy had been told by the Congress back in 1962 that if the Soviet Union placed missiles in Cuba, he would have no choice but to go to war. If it had, I wouldn't be here writing this column today and you wouldn't be reading it.
Presidents need latitude to make decisions affecting matters of national security (another name for matters of life and death) and, until now, all presidents have been afforded it, as provided for in the United States Constitution. But, in the case of Iran, the rules are changing.
Here is more evidence.
On Sunday, General Martin Dempsey, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told interviewer Fareed Zakaria that he does not think the U.S. should rush to war. He was speaking after a visit to Israel and long consultations with its leaders.
Dempsey said that it was not "prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran... A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn't achieve their [Israel's] long-term objectives." He also said that he did not believe that the Iranian regime was insane but was rather a "rational actor" not prone to national suicide
General Dempsey's remarks outraged Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose office put out a statement saying that Dempsey, and other U.S. officials who questioned the rationale for war, were "serving Iran's interests."
Had another foreign leader implied that the head of the joint chiefs was some kind of Iranian agent, he would have been smacked down. But that is not how it works with Netanyahu.
It turns out that Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were in Israel at the time Netanyahu attacked Dempsey. Rather than defend the American general as these uber-nationalists would do in any other similar situation, they joined the Israeli government in bashing the general -- and war hero. (The old adage about government officials not criticizing U.S. policies when in a foreign country has not applied to Israel for years).
Check out this Jerusalem Post story on McCain's reaction which the Post correctly characterized as "siding with Jerusalem in the debate" over how to deal with Iran. As for Graham, he said, "I admire General Dempsey." But, he added, "People are giving Israel a lot of advice here lately from America. I just want to tell our Israeli friends that my advice to you is never lose control of your destiny. Never allow a situation to develop that would destroy the Jewish state."
In other words, American advice to think long and hard about the consequences of war with Iran is tantamount to allowing "a situation to develop that would destroy the Jewish state."
The most appalling aspect of the senators' remarks is that their zeal to please Netanyahu and his backers in America has overridden their constitutional responsibility to put the security of the United States above all other considerations. An Israeli decision to attack Iran affects Americans, including their constituents in uniform and, perhaps, just walking down the streets of New York, Washington, or anywhere else here at home.
As noble as their professed concern for Israel is, America is supposed to come first for United States senators. McCain and Graham ought to be ashamed for standing in a foreign country and blatantly putting the interests of that government before their own. Rest assured, they aren't. They are thinking about the next election and that is what always comes first.