One might be forgiven if the words, "yeah, right," drift unbidden across the field of awareness.
No subtle reflection is needed to understand that the Obama administration has nailed its flag to the two state solution. No deep thinking is required to come to the conclusion that the current government of Israel (GOI) under PM Benyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu is not enamored of the two state approach for a variety of reasons, not all of them unjustified.
Today as Bibi and the One talked, the problem of an Arab-Israeli peace shared top billing with the challenge presented by Iran. Unless a person lives somewhere deep in the State of Denial, there can be no disagreeing with the basic proposition that Iran is hot after acquiring the "Mahdi Bomb. There can be little debate over the collateral point that the quest will continue full speed ahead regardless of who wins the presidential election in Iran next month.
In one of the most unedifying "debates" in recent political history, the chattering class of the US has divided over domestic political lines regarding both vexing problems. The ancient American maxim holding that "politics stops at the high tide line" so often invoked during the Cold War is well and truly dead, a moldering corpse of bygone years.
The "progressives" hold Israel directly responsible for both the on-going violence in the Mideast and the push by Tehran for a nuclear capability. These "progressives" are convinced that if Israel would only withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, allow a Palestinian "right of return" and dismantle its nuclear arsenal and means of production, peace would prevail forever more.
The "reactionaries" most of whom are, no surprise here, Republicans of the neocon version take an antipodal view. In their estimate Israel bears little, if any, responsibility for the irredentist posture of the Palestinian Authority, let alone the more extreme pose adopted by Hamas. Israel is not responsible for the cynical and callous way in which the assorted Arab regimes manipulate and exploit the Palestinian grievances for their own purposes. And, the "reactionaries" contend, there is no way in which Israel and its nuclear arsenal is to blame for the ambitions of Iran.
Both sides have some measure of historical truth in their contentions. Or, to put it bluntly, both the Israelis and the Arabs have periodically shredded their own better interests in the pursuit of goals which were too expansive and too lacking in realism. But, when it comes to assigning liability for the morass in the Mideast, the least subjective view of the historical record must place the greater fault with the assorted Arab actors.
In the narrower issue of culpability for the Iranian nuclear ambitions, the historical record clearly absolves the GOI of responsibility. Both the late (un)lamented Shah and his ayatollah successors embraced the nuclear option for subjective reasons of Iranian national interest.
Whether Shah or Ayatollah, the goal has been the same: acquiring undisputed regional hegemonic status and achieving Great Power potency. The GOI was in no way the impetus for these twin, interlocking ambitions.
(The same cannot be said of the US. During the Nixon and Ford administrations, the US followed the policy developed by National Security Advisor and SecState Henry Kissinger, which sought to develop regional surrogates for American power. Iran became our surrogate in the Persian Gulf area. Thus we supported nuclear development programs in the country--for peaceful purposes only, of course.)
Benyamin Netanyahu today made reference to the best, most realistic linkage between the problems of Mideast peace and the Iranian "Mahdi Bomb." In essence, he acknowledged the effects of the often ignored Law of Unintended Consequences.
Bibi averred that in his fifty-nine years of breathing he has never seen Israeli and Arab so united in fear of a common threat. The threat is, of course, the "Mahdi Bomb." Beyond the shadow of the bomb lies the spectre of Iran as the regional hegemonic power. That thought is sufficient to make the oil sheiks quiver in their air-conditioned tents.
Without a nuclear capacity Iran has the conventional military capacity to dominate the Gulf states. The combination of conventional power and demonstrated will and capacity to foster groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas is more than sufficient to provide Tehran with the ability to be the primary actor in the region. Only the continued engagement of the US with the affairs of the Mideast offsets the paralysing potential of Iran on the councils of the Arab states.
While "progressives" might argue that the US will continue to involve itself in the Mideast and Gulf regions because of our ongoing need for the oil under the sand, it is equally if not more plausible to contend that the major imperative behind US engagement in these areas is the lack of a comprehensive Mideast peace settlement coupled with the long-standing American commitment to the existence of Israel. In the event of a genuine peace, would the US have critical national and strategic interests at stake sufficient to continue a significant presence in a very unpleasant part of the world?
Yes. If Iran attains a nuclear capacity. Atoms, not oil, give the reason for the US to stay in the icky Mideast game of nations.
The matter of atoms, atoms sitting, ready to fission in a "Mahdi Bomb," provides the single strongest reason for two developments to occur in the short term.
The first development rests implicitly in Bibi's observation. An Iranian nuclear threat would exist on the existential level not only as regards Israel. It would do the same for the Sunni Arab states of the Gulf and Mideast.
This reality, unpleasant as it may be for the sheiks to contemplate, provides a very strong impetus for them to get behind a genuine regional peace accord. With their own thrones at stake, rulers from Saudi Arabia to Jordan and on to Egypt have a very fine reason to find peace with Israel on terms which are acceptable to the GOI. To be acceptable to GOI means the peace agreement will not meet the irredentist demands of assorted Palestinian figures. (The Geek can't bring himself to call the panjandrums of Hamas or even the "moderate" Palestinian Authority "leaders" considering their blatant disregard for the best interests of the people living under their sway.)
The second development would be the continued involvement by the US in regional matters. In the (not unlikely) event that a continuation of the talks-and-sanctions approach does not deter Tehran from gaining the "Mahdi Bomb," the US will have no choice but to continue a heavy presence in the region. The American capacity to retaliate is the best "good office" the US can provide when--not if--Iran reaches the nuclear goal.
The practice of putting American troops and facilities in harm's way as a trip wire has a long and to date quite successful record in guaranteeing nuclear good behavior by hostile governments in Europe and Asia alike. The presence of Americans on the trace in Europe and the Z in South Korea has not been directed solely against the putative "bad guys" on the other side of the line.
All too often overlooked in the numerous commentaries on American Cold War strategy in both Europe and Asia has been the reassurance role of American troops. Their presence guaranteed stasis along the great divides in both continents. The Kremlin and the Warsaw Pact states knew that no resurgent Germany would turn itself loose as long as the GIs were there. Even the North Koreans occasionally understood that the South would not be marching north as long as the Americans were on the Z.
The US can (and has on some few past occasions) play an identical role in the Mideast. The US can and should be a guarantor of stasis. The threat of the "Mahdi Bomb" gives an additional force to this role.
This suggests that the Mideast peace settlement must be given priority over the Iranian nuclear program. The challenge is to convince the several Arab states that their best interests are to be served by the peace settlement. This means they must back down from the maximum two state solution. The Palestinian "right of return" must be abandoned. So must any demand that Israel return to its pre-1967 borders. Irredentist figures must be removed from play--whatever that takes.
The US must commit itself to a long duration role as the final guarantor of stasis in the region. This implies that the US must again take up the unpleasant task of manning the trip-wire. It further implies that Iran must come to understand that if it continues with its quest for the "Mahdi Bomb" and succeeds, it will be held fully accountable for its actions and those of its proxies.
The ayatollahs must be made to understand that they are not immune to the same sort of consequences that have been faced in the past by the lads in the Kremlin or the Forbidden City. The US will not allow Iran or any other country to emerge as regional hegemon. Period.
The Israelis (and AIPAC) must come to understand that there are limits both to the territory of the state and its unilateral rights of self-defense. The W. Bush administration did not do a service either to Israel or the peace of the region by its stance during the 2006 invasion of Lebanon. To steal from an advertising campaign of a few years past: "Friends don't let friends invade their neighbors."
Finally, we must all appreciate the delightful irony of the current situation. The best hope for a genuine, lasting Mideast peace is Iran's nuclear crusade. The Law of Unintended Consequences has forced Iran into a role it most assuredly did not want--force for peace in the Mideast.