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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Joe Lieberman's declaration of war on Iran

(updated below)

In his Washington Post Op-Ed today, the Great Warrior Joe Lieberman predictably endorsed sending more troops to Iraq, in the process dutifully spouting (as always) every Bush/neoconservative talking point. But Lieberman had a much larger fish to fry with this Op-Ed, as he all but declared war on Iran, identifying them as the equivalent of Al Qaeda, as the Real Enemy we are fighting:

While we are naturally focused on Iraq, a larger war is emerging. On one side are extremists and terrorists led and sponsored by Iran, on the other moderates and democrats supported by the United States. Iraq is the most deadly battlefield on which that conflict is being fought. How we end the struggle there will affect not only the region but the worldwide war against the extremists who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001.

Everything that is happening in Iraq is the fault of Iran and Al Qaeda:

This bloodshed, moreover, is not the inevitable product of ancient hatreds. It is the predictable consequence of a failure to ensure basic security and, equally important, of a conscious strategy by al-Qaeda and Iran, which have systematically aimed to undermine Iraq's fragile political center.

Our Real Enemies on the "battlefield" in Iraq are Iran and Al Qaeda:

On this point, let there be no doubt: If Iraq descends into full-scale civil war, it will be a tremendous battlefield victory for al-Qaeda and Iran. Iraq is the central front in the global and regional war against Islamic extremism.

The real danger if we "lose" in Iraq -- if (perish the thought) -- is that it will enable Iran to commit still more terrorist attacks (like all the ones they've been sponsoring in order to kill Americans, such as 9/11):

Radical Islamist terrorist groups, both Sunni and Shiite, would reap victories simultaneously symbolic and tangible, as Iraq became a safe haven in which to train and strengthen their foot soldiers and Iran's terrorist agents.

One might question why someone who is one of the most vocal advocates of the Iraq Disaster would seek to expand the war to include Iran, a country much larger and more formidable on every level than Iraq. After all, things aren't going that well in Iraq, and it might seem to a simplistic and Chamberlain-like appeasing coward that the absolutely most insane idea ever is to try to expand "our war" to include Iran. So what would motivate Lieberman to do this?

Initially, it must be emphasized that whatever his reason is, it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the sentiments expressed by Israel's newest cabinet minister, Avigdor Lieberman (whose duties include strategic affairs and Iran) when he visited the U.S. earlier this month and gave an interview to The New York Times:

Our first task is to convince Western countries to adopt a tough approach to the Iranian problem,” which he called “the biggest threat facing the Jewish people since the Second World War.” [Minister] Lieberman insisted that negotiations with Iran were worthless: “The dialogue with Iran will be a 100-percent failure, just like it was with North Korea.”

Joe Lieberman's desire for the U.S. to view itself as being at war with Iran also has nothing whatsoever to do with this:

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday compared Iran's nuclear ambitions and threats against Israel with the policies of Nazi Germany and criticized world leaders who maintain relations with Iran's president. . . .

Israel has identified Iran as the greatest threat to the Jewish state. Israel's concerns have heightened since the election of Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who frequently calls for the destruction of Israel and has questioned whether the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews took place.

"We hear echoes of those very voices that started to spread across the world in the 1930s," Olmert said in his speech at the Yad Vashem memorial.

Back in late 2001 and early 2002, U.S.-Iranian relations were at their best state, by far, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The two countries were cooperating extensively in Afghanistan. New diplomatic channels had been created. Iran was eager to make one concession after the next in order to achieve rapprochement with the U.S. And foreign policy experts including Colin Powell were hailing the prospects for a new cooperative relationship with the Iranians.

In November, 2001, Powell shook hands with the Iranian foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, at the U.N. headquarters in New York City. PBS’ Frontline described that event as “a simple yet historic gesture that seemed the most tantalizing hint of rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran since the Islamic revolution and the hostage crisis in 1979.”

But also in January, 2002, the Israelis intercepted a ship filled with mostly defensive (though some offensive) arms destined for the Palestinian Authority, which they claimed came from Iran. And the Israelis began a full-scale campaign to prevent Iran-U.S. rapproachement.

By the end of that month, David Frum wrote George Bush's State of the Union speech declaring Iran to be a charter member of the "Axis of Evil," and relations between the two countries have been quite hostile ever since. Even after that occurred, the Iranians continued to make extraordinary overtures to better relations, but they were all unceremoniously rejected by the Bush administration.

Sen. Lieberman's call for the war to include Iran has absolutely nothing to do with strategies such as those articulated by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in January, 2002, in a Report entitled Destabilizing Implications of Iranian-U.S. Rapproachment for Israeli and Global Security. That Report warned of what it called “multiple signs of this developing U.S.-Iranian relationship over the last three months." Insisting that "any Iranian-U.S. rapprochement" is "premature and potentially destabilizing," its core strategy was clearly described:

If Iran only posed a threat to Israel, while offering new diplomatic opportunities to the U.S. and its NATO allies, then it would be possible to anticipate a threat perception gap between Jerusalem and Washington.

However, Iran's continuing support for international terrorism through Hizbullah -- an organization with proven global reach from South America to Saudi Arabia -- and its declared interest in achieving a nuclear-strike capability demonstrates the severe hostility and broad geographic scope of involvement of the Iranian regime.

When Sen. Lieberman warns of Iran's "terrorist agents," what he means, of course, are Hezbollah and Hamas, groups that are dedicated to fighting against Israel, not the U.S. But the tactic of those who want to conflate Israel's enemies with American enemies -- and thereby draw the U.S. into fighting those who are hostile to Israel -- is to ignore any such distinctions and to pretend that supporting anti-Israeli groups is evidence of support for the people who flew those planes into American buildings on 9/11.

That is one of the principal deceitful tricks that was played with Saddam Hussein (the "support for terrorism" of which he was supposedly guilty was payments to the families of Palestinians carrying out attacks against Israel, not terrorist attacks against the U.S. -- a distinction which was never made, but instead, was purposely obscured). Here Sen. Lieberman is invoking the same deceitful little game to try to underhandedly suggest that Iran is an Ally of Al Qaeda and a Supporter of "the Terrorists," purposely blurring all distinctions in the hope of driving a deeper and more hostile wedge between the U.S. and Israel's worst enemy.

But we nonetheless must be very clear at all times that Sen. Lieberman's desire that the U.S. "recognize" that the war has already "expanded" to include Iran has nothing whatsoever to do with the strategy by right-wing Israelis to convince the U.S. that Iran poses a threat not only to Israel but to the U.S., so that the U.S. will act against Israel's most formidable and threatening enemy. Those two matters are completely unconnected -- when they converge, it is pure coincidence -- and to suggest otherwise is conclusive evidence of poisonous anti-semitism and bigotry of the worst sort.

In fact, anyone who would even raise the possibility of such a connection is engaging in the worst type of irresponsible debate, as the Leader himself instructed us earlier this year:

The American people know the difference between responsible and irresponsible debate when they see it. They know the difference between honest critics who question the way the war is being prosecuted and partisan critics who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people. And they know the difference between a loyal opposition that points out what is wrong, and defeatists who refuse to see that anything is right.

Clearly, Sen. Lieberman just happens to believe that it would be a really good idea for us to start a new war with Iran (or, more accurately, to "recognize" that we are already at war with Iran and start acting like Churchillian men and fight them). After all, everyone knows that Iran has invaded all sorts of countries, threatened to invade the U.S., poses a grave risk to our sovereignty, helped plan the 9/11 attacks, is best friends with Osama bin Laden, and is ruled by madmen way beyond the realm of reason and are even building concentration camps as we speak.

What rational, brave patriot wouldn't agree that the U.S. should wage war against Iran? The only possible reason to suggest that Sen. Lieberman, in his war dances against Iran, might be driven by considerations other than American interests could only be the by-product of an ugly, bigoted mind. Such people must be -- and most assuredly will be -- scorned with a venom reserved for few others. Just ask Jim Baker. Or Jimmy Carter. What Sen. Lieberman's Op-Ed painfully and conclusively demonstrates is that the people who brought us the war in Iraq are nowhere near done with their wretched work.

UPDATE: For the sake of clarity, and to avoid being misunderstood, I want to add one point here that really merits its own separate discussion. If I were an Israeli, I'd very likely perceive Iran as an enemy (and vice-versa). And as I've argued many times before, one can reasonably argue that the U.S. should have a policy of supporting its most important allies and/or other democracies, including Israel. The U.S. provides security guarantees for all sorts of countries. That's all fair game for open discussion.

But few things are more threatening to Israeli interests than deceitfully securing American policies based on pretext or by concealing the real agenda. People can be fooled only for so long, and people who feel deceived generally backlash against the deceivers. The argument is not that people like Joe Lieberman do too much to help Israel but that, though that might be their motive, they achieve the precise opposite result.

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