We’ve covered Benjamin Netanyahu’s horrendously ill judged speech before Congress a fair bit here at the Banter, discussing the political implications of the speech and ‘Bibi’s’ serial lies about the threat Iran poses to the Middle East and the rest of the world.
A more difficult task though, is to understand exactly what the hell Netanyahu is playing at. By all accounts, he is a phenomenally intelligent political operator and an expert at manipulating the Israeli and American public into facilitating his extreme right wing agenda. But what exactly is that agenda, and why does it coincide so closely with the GOP’s political ambitions both at home and abroad?
It’s a complicated question, and there isn’t necessarily a neat answer to it. However, long time Middle East observer Noam Chomsky has an analysis worth taking seriously. While Chomsky can be monotonously formulaic in his contrarian view of the world, his nuanced understanding of the politics of power should never be dismissed. Speaking with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, Chomsky had the following to say about Netanyahu and the Republicans goals:
For both president—Prime Minister Netanyahu and the hawks in Congress, mostly Republican, the primary goal is to undermine any potential negotiation that might settle whatever issue there is with Iran. They have a common interest in ensuring that there is no regional force that can serve as any kind of deterrent to Israeli and U.S. violence, the major violence in the region. And it is—if we believe U.S. intelligence—don’t see any reason not to—their analysis is that if Iran is developing nuclear weapons, which they don’t know, it would be part of their deterrent strategy. Now, their general strategic posture is one of deterrence. They have low military expenditures. According to U.S. intelligence, their strategic doctrine is to try to prevent an attack, up to the point where diplomacy can set in. I don’t think anyone with a grey cell functioning thinks that they would ever conceivably use a nuclear weapon, or even try to. The country would be obliterated in 15 seconds. But they might provide a deterrent of sorts. And the U.S. and Israel certainly don’t want to tolerate that. They are the forces that carry out regular violence and aggression in the region and don’t want any impediment to that.
When you look at Iran’s military capability compared to Israel’s, Netanyahu’s claim that it poses the gravest threat to world peace in modern times simply cannot be true. Iran’s military doesn’t stack up to Israel’s in the slightest, particularly given Israel possesses nuclear weapons (although won’t formally admit it) and Iran’s out of date technology. Netanyahu knows this well, yet still continues to fear monger. Why? Because he understands that a moderately capable Iran stops Israel behaving as it wants in the region. Israel cannot attack Iran unilaterally as the consequences in the Arab world would be too far reaching, so it needs US support and force to cut it off at the knees. Netanyahu doesn’t care whether increased sanctions and a refusal to negotiate causes further conflict – he just wants to retain the upper hand whatever the cost.
So what does the GOP want out of all of this? Again, Chomsky’s analysis is particularly astute:
For the Republicans in Congress, there’s another interest—namely, to undermine anything that Obama, you know, the Antichrist, might try to do. So that’s a separate issue there. The Republicans stopped being an ordinary parliamentary party some years ago. They were described, I think accurately, by Norman Ornstein, the very respected conservative political analyst, American Enterprise Institute; he said the party has become a radical insurgency which has abandoned any commitment to parliamentary democracy. And their goal for the last years has simply been to undermine anything that Obama might do, in an effort to regain power and serve their primary constituency, which is the very wealthy and the corporate sector. They try to conceal this with all sorts of other means. In doing so, they’ve had to—you can’t get votes that way, so they’ve had to mobilize sectors of the population which have always been there but were never mobilized into an organized political force: evangelical Christians, extreme nationalists, terrified people who have to carry guns into Starbucks because somebody might be after them, and so on and so forth. That’s a big force. And inspiring fear is not very difficult in the United States. It’s a long history, back to colonial times, of—as an extremely frightened society, which is an interesting story in itself. And mobilizing people in fear of them, whoever “them” happens to be, is an effective technique used over and over again. And right now, the Republicans have—their nonpolicy has succeeded in putting them back in a position of at least congressional power. So, the attack on—this is a personal attack on Obama, and intended that way, is simply part of that general effort.
The GOP knows that Obama has zero interest in hanging around in Middle East if he can possibly prevent it. The President has long advocated energy independence and has been trying to pull the US military out of the region for as long as he has been in office. Regardless of how sensible this might be, it must be wrong given it comes from Obama. Therefore the GOP has actively pursued every avenue possible to further engage the US in conflicts in the Middle East. The GOP also doesn’t care about Israel in the slightest – it just views it as a powerful tool in subjugating Arabs and ensuring the US is the major power in the region.
Netanyahu, who was schooled and partially raised in the US is not unaware of this. He is not so stupid to think that a bunch of old, white conservative men have an unyielding love for the Jewish state. But right now, the GOP’s interests serve Netanyahu’s needs, and vice versa.
Sadly, that spells disaster for everyone else.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.