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Why Are Democrats Giving Bush a Green Light On Iran?

Given our long standing bipartisan policy of supporting Israel and providing assurances (and sophisticated arms) for Israel’s security, there was nothing surprising when leaders of both parties trooped before AIPAC to say the things that US politicians usually say on those points. But this year’s speeches by McCain, Clinton and Obama were more troubling than usual.

We’ve come to expect speeches to AIPAC to be less than balanced towards the Palestinians, but it was not helpful to have the candidates say all the things Israel expects to hear (and saying more than they can defend — h/t Yglesias), while neglecting most of the things the Palestinians also need to hear. It’s bad enough that American politicians have a disappointing habit of identifying the most militant resistance among Palestinians as "terrorism" while having a different frame when describing the most militant resistance/reactions by Israelis. While we rightly condemn Palestinians for launching rockets onto Israeli towns, I don’t know why it’s necessary to ignore that Palestinians see themselves as living under a demeaning occupation on the West Bank and a crushing siege in Gaza. It’s not as though what happened here isn’t universally understood as a mutual tragedy:

Mortar shells fired from Gaza killed a 52-year-old Israeli worker on Thursday, and two hours later, an Israeli missile aimed at the source apparently killed a 4-year-old girl playing in her yard.

It was even more "unhelpful" to have our politicians repeating the same kinds of characterizations of, and threats to, Iran that we’ve heard for the past seven years from the Bush Administration. To be sure, Obama’s speech continued his usual emphasis on determined diplomacy, but he added this:

We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran. I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, everything.

On this main point, if there is some nuance, some significant substantive difference between the posturing of Obama and Clinton, on the one hand, and Bush/McCain on the other, I didn’t see it.

Even more troubling, if the Bush Administration is planning to attack Iran, claiming it’s necessary to carry out their promise not to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, it doesn’t appear the Democrats said anything to AIPAC that could be interpreted as demanding the Administration stop. If everyone says, "we won’t allow Iran to do this," while adding "we won’t rule out military force to make sure they don’t," then there’s no reason to expect George Bush and Dick Cheney to interpret these statements as anything other than a green light to do as they please. The only thing to decide is the timing.

When/if this Administration attacks Iran, it simply won’t be credible for Democrats to say, "gee, we thought Bush should have pursued diplomacy more than he did." Clinton said that about Iraq, and that’s probably why she lost the nomination. The usual rationale, that by providing a united political front against Iran, we strengthen the Administration’s diplomatic hand, thus encouraging more compliant behavior from Iran, might make sense with any Administration other than the Bush/Cheney regime, whose judgment cannot be trusted. We heard that reasoning before too, on the Lieberman/Kyl resolution regarding Iran, and Obama rejected that argument then. The point then, as now, is not whether we trust Obama to act wisely once he is President, but whether we trust Bush/Cheney to act wisely in the next six months, given what others say today.

Last week Scott McClellan confessed that the Bush Administration trumped up a propaganda case to go to war with Iraq. This week the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report confirming those misrepresentations in spades. The "truth about the war" is the Administration duped Congress and the public and were probably duped themselves by those more than wiling to exploit the Administration’s ideological fantasies. And last month, the New York Times revealed the Pentagon conducted a systematic campaign to use retired military officers to propagandize the media about the Iraq war’s justification and progress.

Given this history, Democratic leaders have no excuse not to challenge the Administration’s belligerent statements, its dangerous world view and its propensity for unilateral military actions — and to do so before Bush/Cheney lead us into yet another military blunder. The AIPAC conference was an opportunity to challenge Bush’s Iran fantasies and the insane march to war, but everyone ducked, including our new Democratic nominee.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley