Giuliani's proposal for endless Middle East wars on behalf of Israel

In a rational world, Giuliani's call for Israel to join NATO would provoke major controversy rather than deafening silence.

Published September 21, 2007 9:14AM (EDT)

In London this week, Rudy Giuliani proposed what is probably the single most extremist policy of any major presidential candidate, certainly this year and perhaps in many years:

Rudy Giuliani talked tough on Iran yesterday, proposing to expand NATO to include Israel and warning that if Iran's leaders go ahead with their goal to be a nuclear power "we will prevent it, or we will set them back five or 10 years." . . . .

While Giuliani did not explicitly address the implications for Iran of adding Israel to NATO in his speech, his aides later highlighted a 2006 Heritage Foundation paper by Nile Gardiner, a former Thatcher aide who was announced as a new Giuliani adviser yesterday.

That step would "leave the mullahs with no illusions about the West's determination to respond to Iran's strategic threat to the region," Gardiner wrote. "Any nuclear or conventional attack on Israel, be it direct or through proxies such as Hezbollah or other terrorist groups, would be met by a cataclysmic response from the West."

Adding Israel to NATO has been opposed by France and some other European nations in the past, largely because it would entangle the alliance in the Middle East.

Like most countries, Israel deems all of its wars to be defensive wars in response to threats. So Rudy Giuliani, as President, would in essence deem any war in which Israel is involved to be, by definition, a war on the U.S., and would use American resources and lives to become involved in any such war and fight on behalf of Israel. Shouldn't the fact that the leading GOP candidate for President believes such a thing be the source of a bit more discussion? Other than John Edwards' views regarding haircuts, is there any major presidential candidate who has espoused a view anywhere near this radical or controversial?

Israel has been involved, and will continue to be involved, in an endless series of wars with its neighbors over matters having nothing to do with U.S. interests. As Matt Yglesias noted, Guiliani's policy would, among many other things, "commit[] the United States to the armed defense of the borders of a country that lacks internationally recognized borders." A Giuliani presidency would mean that we would be almost immediately deemed to be at war with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. It is hard to imagine a more certain and rapid guarantee of endless American wars in the Middle East than this.

In a rational world, Giuliani's proposal would be a major controversy, and the other presidential candidates -- Republican and Democrat alike -- would be loudly pointing to this extremist view to harm the Giuliani campaign. After all, if Americans are asked: "Do you think the U.S. should fight in any wars that Israel fights?" or "do you believe the U.S. should consider any attack on Israel to be an attack on the U.S.?", is there really any doubt what the views of most Americans would be? Giuliani's desire to commit the U.S. military to fighting in any Israeli wars is obviously a fringe position -- the type that normally harms presidential candidates greatly.

During the Israel-Hezbollah war last summer -- even with virtually no significant political figures criticizing the Bush administration for involving itself so blatantly in supporting Israel's war effort -- the vast majority of Americans wanted the U.S. to stay out of that war. A Washington Post poll found that a plurality (46%) blamed "both sides equally" (Israel and Hezbollah) for the war; a plurality (48%) believed that Israel's claimed "bombing [of] rocket launchers and other Hezbollah targets located in civilian areas" was "not justified"; and a solid majority (54-38%) said Israel "should do more to try to avoid civilian casualties in Lebanon."

More importantly, while large majorities favored the deployment of U.N. peacekeeping forces to Lebanon, a large majority (59-38%) opposed having U.S. troops involved in that force. More significantly still was this finding from an August, 2006 CBS News/New York Times poll:

"Do you think the U.S. has a responsibility to try to resolve the conflict between Israel and other countries in the Middle East, or is that not the U.S.' business?"

Has responsibility - 39%

Not the U.S.' business - 56%

Not sure - 5%

That large majority is opposed merely to America's efforts to broker a resolution, let alone to an American commitment, as Giuliani proposes, to fight in every war that Israel fights with its neighbors. A USA Today/Gallup Poll taken at the same time found:

In the current conflict, do you think the United States should take Israel's side, take the side of Hezbollah, or not take either side?

Israel's - 31%

Hezbollah's - 0%

Neither - 65%

As always, it is worth underscoring how lopsided American public opinion is on these questions even though there is virtually no significant American politician who was or is willing to criticize Israel's actions in Lebanon, and equally few who were willing to argue that U.S. support for Israel is excessive. With Americans now even more overwhelmingly against ongoing U.S. occupation in Iraq than they were back then, these numbers are almost certainly even more imbalanced against increased U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

Plainly, the last thing most Americans want is for the U.S. to expand its involvement in Middle East wars, particularly when doing so is on behalf of the interests not of the U.S., but of another country. Yet here is Giuliani advocating that we do exactly that -- embrace an obviously radical strategy opposed by the overwhelming majority of Americans, likely vehemently opposed -- and the silence is deafening.

Of course, none of Giuliani's extremism on this issue should be surprising, given that his senior foreign policy advisor is Norman Podhoretz, whose life has been devoted to trying to induce the U.S. to wage war against any country hostile to Israel. Podhoretz was one of the signatories on the 2002 PNAC letter to President Bush which declared that "No one should doubt that the United States and Israel share a common enemy" and -- listing Iraq, Iran and Syria, among others -- argued that "Israel is fighting the same war." Podhoretz currently "prays" that the U.S. bomb Iran.

This idea of Israel joining NATO is even a fringe idea in Israel, where it has been pushed primarily by Israeli super-hawk, Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, consistent with his own self-described mission: "Our first task is to convince Western countries to adopt a tough approach to the Iranian problem." And by "tough approach," he does not mean diplomacy: "The dialogue with Iran will be a 100-percent failure, just like it was with North Korea."

In some sense, one can welcome Giuliani's explicit advocacy that we view all of Israel's enemies as, by definition, enemies of the U.S. Virtually all of the swirling war dances towards Iran are rooted in this belief, but advocates of war with Iran are too dishonest to acknowledge it openly. In his Washington Post column this morning, for instance, Charles Krauthammer -- long an advocate of war with Iran -- listed the four specific crimes that allegedly demonstrate that Iran is our Enemy ("our" meaning the United States):

(1) Hamas launching rockets into Israeli towns and villages across the border from the Gaza Strip. Its intention is to invite an Israeli reaction, preferably a bloody and telegenic ground assault.

(2) Hezbollah heavily rearmed with Iranian rockets transshipped through Syria and preparing for the next round of fighting with Israel. The third Lebanon war, now inevitable, awaits only Tehran's order.

(3) Syria, Iran's only Arab client state, building up forces across the Golan Heights frontier with Israel. And on Wednesday, yet another anti-Syrian member of Lebanon's parliament was killed in a massive car bombing.

(4) The al-Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard training and equipping Shiite extremist militias in the use of the deadliest IEDs and rocketry against American and Iraqi troops. Iran is similarly helping the Taliban attack NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Of the four crimes in the Bill of Particulars against Iran, only one has anything even ostensibly to do with the U.S., and that is composed of highly dubious claims (arming the Taliban) and ones which hardly demonstrate its Evil (they are interfering in a neighboring country of theirs which we invaded and are occupying with 160,000 soldiers). As Krauthammer's column illuminates, for those salivating for an American war with Iran, the case is grounded overwhelmingly in the Giuliani View -- that the U.S. should use its resources and lives to wage war against any country hostile to Israel.

Why do Giuliani and Krauthammer and friends feel so free to advocate a plainly fringe position of Endless War on behalf of Israel? Usually, political advocates, and particularly presidential candidates, avoid such positions like the plague. Here, it is because no political figure can possibly oppose this view, at least not explicitly. Is it even possible to imagine a presidential candidate objecting to the view that the U.S. should consider Israel's enemies to be enemies of the U.S., even though vast majorities of Americans share that objection?

As is true for Iraq, it is so striking how little public opinion matters when it comes to formulating American policy. What accounts for the complete unwillingess of any presidential candidate to seize on Giuliani's extremist and fringe position? The neoconservative New York Sun -- not Mearsheimer and Walt in their important, richly documented and now NYT-Best-Selling new book, but The New York Sun -- provided an answer recently:

It [an AIPAC dinner] is also an important illustration of just how much stock all of the presidential candidates, Democrats and Republicans alike, will put in the pro-Israel community, particularly for campaign dollars. . . . .

A Democratic political consultant who worked on President Clinton's re-election campaign, Hank Sheinkopf, noted that the Aipac dinner always draws a parade of politicians.

"New York is the ATM for American politicians. Large amounts of money come from the Jewish community," he said. "If you're running for president and you want dollars from that group, you need to show that you're interested in the issue that matters most to them."

And, of course, mentioning any of this subjects one to a cascade of predictable and transparently exploitive though still nasty accusations of anti-semitism, and what presidential candidate would possibly want that? And thus Rudy Giuliani can propose a policy that is incomparably dangerous and intensely unpopular, yet know that his doing so will result in no political price being paid.

Now that we are occupying two Middle Eastern countries, with a broken military, and are threatening imminent war with at least another one, isn't it long past time to have the discussion about the extent to which the U.S. is willing to wage war on behalf of Israel's interests? Do Americans really think that Iranian hostility towards Israel or its support for "terrorists groups" that are hostile to Israel are grounds for declaring Iran to be our Enemy or waging war against them? If so, then let proponents of war with Iran make that case expressly. And for the rest of the presidential campaign, shouldn't Giuliani's desire to involve the U.S. military in every war Israel fights be a rather central feature in discussions of his potential presidency?

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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