It's happening again.
The same forces -- with a few new additions and minus a few smart defectors -- who pushed the United States into a needless and deadly war with Iraq are now organizing for the next war.
This time the target is Iran, which, just like Iraq, is said to be on the verge of creating weapons of mass destruction.
Also, just like Iraq, its president is a supposed madman determined to destroy Israel.
In fact, in the case of Iraq, that president, Saddam Hussein, not only threatened to "incinerate half of Israel," he actually launched 39 SCUD missiles against Israel during the 1991 Gulf war.
That war finished off Saddam as a power.
But that was not good enough for Vice President Dick Cheney and his war profiteering buddies. Ten years later, with Cheney in the vice presidency and 9/11 as the pretense, the Cheney crowd led America into a war to depose Saddam. The goal: to turn Iraq into an American protectorate in order to make tens of billions of dollars for themselves and their corporate allies. So far, 4,400 Americans, 318 allied forces, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died to advance that agenda.
But Cheney also enlisted a gang of war cheerleaders who had no interest in making money off the conflict. Those were the neocons who pushed for war out of the belief that eliminating Saddam Hussein would be good for Israel.
The Cheney gang consisted of people like Doug Feith, Joe Lieberman, John Bolton, Frank Gaffney, Richard Perle, Charles Krauthammer, Scooter Libby, Bill Kristol, Elliot Abrams and their various allies in government and media. The Israel lobby is also a member of that gang -- although it operated with nothing like the vigor that it now dedicates to the anti-Iran effort. (The pressure exerted by the lobby is a big part of the reason so many Democrats supported a war they knew was wrong.)
Of course, Iraq did not have WMDs and the Bush administration almost surely knew it. (If Iraq had them, we would no more have attacked Iraq than we now attack North Korea. In fact, the evidence that a country does not have WMDs is our willingness to consider bombing it.)
But, no matter, the gang of war profiteers and neocon ideologues were hell bent on war anyway. The supposed WMDs were just a pretense.
This would all be for the history books (and the grieving widows, parents, grandparents, children, partners, sisters and brothers of the fallen Americans) if the same scenario was not being played out today.
Earlier in May, Turkey and Brazil -- after months of intense negotiations -- persuaded the Iranian regime to accept a deal that would have vastly reduced its ability to produce a nuclear weapon. The Turkish-Brazilian deal was almost identical to the one President Obama and our allies pushed the Iranians to accept back in October.
Only this time, it wasn't good enough. The Obama administration ignored the Turkish-Brazilian breakthrough, saying its goal was crippling sanctions and that it was close to achieving them. Of course, few believe sanctions will have any significant effect other than to punish ordinary Iranians, people who are suffering quite enough under a monstrous regime.
But the administration seems to have been sold a bill of goods that leaves the U.S. with only two choices: sanctions or war. The diplomatic option seems to be off the table, pushed off by pressure from various warhawks, neocons, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies in Congress. (Obama originally favored open-ended diplomacy with no deadline; Netanyahu somehow convinced him that a deadline on diplomacy made sense. It doesn't.)
Even some of the more progressive voices are falling for this false choice largely because the lobby -- although clearly struggling as J Street moves into clear ascendancy among young and middle-aged Jews -- still manages to intimidate.
The other day, an Op-Ed appeared in the Jewish newspaper, Forward, by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Reform Jewish movement in America and a progressive, that read like something out of 2002.
Yoffie's piece is a cris de couer, urging all Jews to support a hard line on Iran. "Now is the time," he writes, "to pressure our government to move more emphatically to counter the Iranian threat.
Yoffie's piece is significant on two counts. The first is that he does not push the ridiculous line that a nuclear Iran would happily commit suicide in order to destroy Israel. The rabbi clearly knows enough about international relations and human behavior to understand that there are limits to what nations will do to make a political point and that national suicide is not one of them.
No, his description of the threat to Israel is both more subtle and more honest.
He writes, "Even if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons and never use them, the danger to Israel would still be intolerable. Israel cannot live in the shadow of a nuclear Iran. In the minds of its own citizens and of the world community, Israel would cease to be a safe place to live."
There is truth in that. The thought of a nuclear Iran so close to Israel is upsetting. But then so was the Cold War. And so is the fact that North Korea, Pakistan, India, and Russia all have nuclear weapons -- not to mention all those missing nukes which could end up, God forbid, in the hands of terrorists. And such is life these days in New York City, Washington, London and -- especially -- Seoul, where, just under the surface, is the fear that a catastrophe could happen at any time.
It also should be noted that for most of the world, the idea that Israel has 200-plus nuclear weapons and, unlike Iran, has not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty is itself deeply troubling. In fact, much of the world believes that Israel is so vehement about Iranian nukes because it wants to remain the only nuclear power in the Middle East, leaving it free to do what it wants, whenever it wants to. It enjoys its hegemony. That is what Yoffie is hinting at.
Nonetheless, I agree with him that the world, and not just Israel, would be better off if Iran never develops nuclear weapons.
But my idea of how to prevent a nuclear Iran is rather different than the rabbi's.
Here is Yoffie: "There is no conceivable solution to the threat of a nuclear Iran that will not require American leadership. All of the options -- whether economic sanctions or military action -- are impossible without American support."
Funny, Yoffie refers to "all" of the options when he only names two -- sanctions or war. It is as if he intended to include the one option that makes sense, diplomacy, and changed his mind at the last minute. The "all" is a remnant of a thought he would not permit himself, either because he honestly opposes diplomacy or because he doesn't want to cross AIPAC.
Yoffie's alternatives are no alternatives at all. Sanctions won't work (except to punish ordinary Iranians and enrich those who defy the sanctions) and "military action" will produce nothing except more dead -- including Americans -- and, quite possibly, a regional war. War would also eliminate any chance that Israel will ever have peace with the Muslim world and would destroy America's standing in a critical region.
What is Yoffie thinking when he rules out diplomacy but rules in a third Middle East war? Is the preemptive slaughter of innocents really a legitimate option for civilized people in 2010? Well, it isn't for me or for the Reform Jews who look to Yoffie for leadership. (Jews are mostly doves and Reform Jews, to their credit, are the most dovish of all.)
It is war, not diplomacy, that belongs off the table. I'm sure Rabbi Yoffie knows that. That is what he should have written.