No, no! This is not about the mob holding up American politics and running off with their their demand. No, it has the makings of something much more sinister than that, something that has the makings of reaching into all of our pockets, making the warmongers rich beyond their wildest dreams while putting the American economy at risk and family budgets in the trash can.
Ever since the early 1980s Israeli leaders have been warning the world, and the United States in particular, about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Time and again successive Israeli leaders have traveled to Washington to raise the issue of the rising danger of Iran and the need for a regime change in Tehran with the incumbent U.S. president. However, none have been as adamant as Prime Minister Netanyahu in his insistence and perseverance about the need for a military solution to the Iran problem.
Rebuffed by the hawkish President George W. Bush and feeling even less loved by the more moderate President Obama, Mr. Netanyahu has been doggedly beating the drums of war at home, seeing to it that it is loudly broadcast across the world. However, a number of Iran analysts have dismissed the talk war originating in Israel as a tactical ploy by Mr. Netanyahu to force the U.S. and its European partners to ratchet up sanctions on the Iranian regime.
A closer examination of Mr. Netanyahu’s record and his philosophical approach to the problems of Middle East leads us to conclude that the talk of war is more than rhetoric and, indeed, indicative of his intent.
Most mainstream Israeli analysts, as well as their U.S. counterparts, agree that a bombing of the Iranian nuclear facilities will have three significant consequences.
First, it will drive the disenchanted Iranian population into the arms of a brutal regime they now despise. Second, it will make the Iranian policy makers more determined to weaponize their nuclear program, if they have already made such a determination. Third, the ensuing oil market disruptions could devastate the world’s equity markets and be another blow to the fragile U.S. economic recovery. Evidence from the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, and the well-documented nationalist attitude of the Iranians, leaves no doubt regarding the first consequence.
The second is also supported by many analysts on the ground that although enrichment facilities can be bombed the know-how cannot. The argument is further reinforced by the observation that a humiliated regime, with no place to flee to, will become more determined to stay in power and to acquire the bomb as an insurance policy against future attacks.
It is these consequences that most analysts point to, when argue that Israelis are simply bluffing. However, this overlooks the fact that Mr. Netanyahu and his right-wing allies in both Israel and the U.S. have a need for the continued reference to a deadly adversary. As long as the world remains convinced that Israel faces an existential threat from Iran, the resolution of the Palestinian problem will not become a top priority. Meanwhile, bulldozers will continue to destroy Palestinian homes and cranes remain busy constructing Israeli homes in their places, further changing creating new “facts on the ground.” On the other hand, a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue will force the Israeli government to solve the Palestinian problem sooner, depriving it of this valuable option. From Mr. Netanyahu’s perspective, the bogeyman’s presence is an indispensable part of his tool kit to postpone solving the solution of an “invented” people.
For their part, Iranian policy makers have figured out the nature of the problems they face. The millions of Iranian citizens who poured onto the streets of Tehran in the aftermath of fraudulent 2009 provided the country’s leadership the unambiguous signal that their days would be numbered unless they find a way to unite the citizenry. Realizing that an accommodation with the U.S. and its allies will only buy them a short-lived reprieve, they rejected Obama’s offer of engagement and ratcheted their bellicose rhetoric. That was a gift eagerly awaited for in Tel Aviv.
In essence, Tehran and Tel Aviv have come to an agreement for a path to the future; a bloody war intended to strengthen their own positions.
For Netanyahu, an added dividend of conflict with Iran would be that a prolonged oil price spike would almost certainly have adverse economic consequences, significantly reducing Obama’s reelection chances. In an election year, it could be very difficult for Obama to stand up to Tel Aviv. Israel has powerful allies in this country who are willing to put its interests ahead of those of the United States, and its leaders would not be averse to present the U.S. with a fait accompli during an election campaign. President Obama might be dragged into war that neither he nor the country needs nor wants.
Purim is a perfectly positioned to be celebrated as the first officially recognized American Jewish holiday. This year it is observed the evening of March 7.
Fortuitously positioned as a harbinger of spring, Purim joins Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day to form a triumvirate of formidable fun. As a wheel in this tri-cycle of minor American festivities, deeply rooted in the mythic past, everyone can feel Jewish on Purim. Just as everyone feels Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and Creolish at the Mardi Gras, now finally, a holiday when everyone can feel Jewish. (These liminal spring festivals are all off-shoots of the ancient Bacchanalian orgies fueled by wine and whimsy.) This national observance of Purim is especially suited to the American-Jewish experience. Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther, is the inspiration for Purim. The events of the Scroll take place entirely in the Diaspora. There, too, the Jews seem to be deeply involved in the political life in the capitol of the Persian Empire. They certainly are acculturated enough that a nice Jewish girl named Hadassah (Myrtle) can marry the King. They use their lobbying power, in the form of Queen Esther, to overcome a threat of annihilation. Haman’s conspiracy is foiled and Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, the power behind her throne, is elevated to a status of respect and authority. Along with her counterparts, Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day, Purim obliges that we perform all activities in a state of gadlut mohin(expanded consciousness). This state can thankfully be induced in a variety of marvelous ways: singing, dancing, eating and drinking. The common denominator of all of these paths is being imbued with the spirit (or spirits) of your choice. But while Purim celebration is fueled by all manner of spirits, it is not a time for beer-guzzling. It is, rather, a time to indulge in great slivovitz (plum brandy), a long-treasured bottle of Napoleon brandy or B&B, lemon-marinated vodka, or a splendid single-malt scotch (room temperature, never on the rocks). At our annual Purim seudah (festive meal served on Purim afternoon) our host has accustomed us to frozen pineapple-coconut daiquiris of unknown octane. It’s so thick we eat it with a spoon.
By the third chapter of the megillah — it is read first on the evening of Purim and then a second time on Purim day — we not only can not distinguish (ad shelo yadah) between cursing Haman (arur haman) and blessing Mordecai (barukh mordekhai). As libations continue to be imbibed even Uncle Irv is beginning to look cute in the “Sweet Charity” chemise and high-heel number he’s wearing. Maybe it’s the fishnet stockings?
On Purim we flip reality on its head. Like a reversible parka Purim pulls us inside out. Creating the yang to the yin of Torah, providing the raucous background to the saga of the Jews, Purim revels in revelation of the hidden. On this holiday of masquerades and role reversals we reveal the deeper sides of ourselves, and we are permitted to conceal what is normally exposed. The Scroll of Esther is a parody of the intrigue in the Royal Persian court. It is this art of parody that underlies much of the Jewish humor tradition down to our day. It is the Purim parody embodies in the Purim shpiel (play) that provided the source of the theatrical in Jewish life. The rabbis saw the Greco-Roman theater of their days s a place of lewdness, licentiousness and idolatry thus Purim wedged itself into the tradition to provide rudimentary opportunities for Jewish performance. Purim provides the background for the emergence of the stand-up comedian, the badkhan, a grammenmeister, a rhyme master, who regaled the inebriated congregations throughout Jewish Eastern Europe for centuries, is a direct antecedent to the Sid Caesar “Show of Shows,” Mel Brooks’ parodies of classic films, and “Saturday Night Live.” The badkhanim regularly appeared at weddings and long before Adam Sandler’s “Wedding Singer” provided entertainment for the week-long nuptial celebrations. These badkhanim were parts of larger groups of Purim shpielers, who went from village to village, vagabond street artists. When Abraham Goldfaden, the founder of Yiddish theater at the end of the 19th century, sought actors for his performances, he found them in the associations of Purim shpielers and badkhonim that existed in many major cities of Eastern Europe. Simply put, Purim kept Jewish humor alive in the most devastating of circumstances of the Jewish Diaspora. The custom of Masquerade is also another feature of the Purim celebration that fits into the American ethos. Unlike Halloween and its associations with ghoulishness, the revelries of Purim are couched into the unbridled reversal of authority when others dress like the king, who is really is the king. This “dangerous” aspect of Purim is its most delicious feature. We are what we wear and when we are hidden beneath our masks we are free to exhibit what is usually hidden. The choice of costume on Purim is revelatory of one’s true nature. While that is probably no etymological connection of the words revels and revelations, it is the Purim spirit that provides that touch of insight that is only ascertained in a state of intoxication. Finally, Purim is a shoo-in candidate for its adoption as an American Jewish holiday, because of the Purim story’s profound secularity. God is never mentioned in the Scroll of Esther. Only later will the rabbinical commentaries attempt to discover the Divine precisely in its absence from the story. One rabbinic wag, perhaps imbued by many jiggers of slivovitz, said that after the Messiah will come and all of the holidays will be eliminated the only one that will remain is Purim. So let us encourage introducing Purim to our neighbors of all backgrounds. Let everyone don their masks and enter into this potent Jewish ritual. I can’t wait for the PBS Purim shpiel programs, the Homentasch Bakeoffs on the Food Network, the Project Runway Purim costume competitions, the NPR annual megillah reading by Morgan Freeman and the annual Purim parades sponsored by our nation’s leading distilleries. Two other customs that will resonate will all America are the giving the gifts of pastry and fruits to our neighbors (the opposite of the Halloween trick or treat) and the mandatory gifts to the poor, preferably in cash, so all in our community will be able to start the month-long preparations for Passover and the return to order from disorder, as Jews everywhere sit down for the Seder ritual. At Passover we celebrate the birth of a people a nation, a collective liberation. At Purim we celebrate the liberation of the individual spirit.
In one sense, it is gratifying to see an under-leveraged Benjamin Netanyahu return to Washington to plead the case for U.S. help in an Israeli attack on Iran. After twice flouting the president of the United States, once over the extension of the freeze on settlements in the occupied West Bank in November 2010, and again in May 2011 in rejecting as “indefensible” President Obama’s proposal for a solution along the 1967 lines with land swaps, Netanyahu has returned to a position of supplicant. Though the U.S. is unlikely to compel Iran to give up uranium enrichment, a virtual God-given right as considered in Iran, this does not mean that Iran would then be on a straight path to a nuclear weapon and its use against Israel. There is a good chance that the Iranian leadership would not be as crazy as to undertake such an action, and there is a good chance that the United States could detect preparations for such an attack and prevent it. In any event, the United States should stay out of the business of starting unprovoked wars. We have had one disastrous example in the recent past: the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Just as “he tried to kill mah Daddy” was among the lame pretexts cited for going to war then, so the sequestration of some 50 hostages thirty years ago in Tehran is the major offensive action that can be laid at Iran’s doorstep, but it is hardly an adequate pretext for launching an attack on that country now.
In his most direct attack to date on the Republicans vying for his job, President Barack Obama on Tuesday knocked his GOP challengers for their “casualness” in talking about the prospect of going to war with Iran, suggesting that their tough talk is devoid of any real substance.
During a White House press conference, Obama said there is still time for dealing diplomatically with Iran as the country signals it may be trying to develop a nuclear weapon. That is the view of U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials, he said, and as such, he said he plans to keep working with the international community to impose sanctions on Iran.
Then, without naming names, the president slammed Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, who have criticized him for being too passive on Iran by not endorsing military action.
“What’s said on the campaign trail, you know, those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not commander-in-chief,” Obama said. “When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war. I’m reminded of the decision that I have to make, in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.”
“This is not a game, and there’s nothing casual about it.”
Taking it a step further, Obama said Republicans who are “beating the drums of war” should have to explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be to going to war with Iran. “They should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be,” he said. “Everything else is just talk.”
When pressed for specifics on how to respond to Iran, the president suggested there is some irony in the fact that, for all their “bluster” and “big talk,” his Republican challengers end up repeating Obama’s policies from the past few years.
“It indicates to me that [their criticisms are] more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem,” he said.
Obama’s press conference coincidentally — or not so much — lands on the same day as Super Tuesday, which could decide once and for all who the Republican presidential nominee will be. The president declined to call out any of his challengers by name, but asked if he had any response to Romney’s characterization of him as “feckless,” Obama had a message for the GOP hopeful.
“Good luck tonight,” he said to laughs. “No, really.”
UPDATE: 3:30 p.m. — Asked at a Capitol Hill press conference about Obama’s suggestion that some of the comments that appeared to favor war were politically motivated, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the issue was the threat Iran poses.
“I’m a lot more concerned about nuclear proliferation in the Middle East,” McConnell said. “In what way would kicking the can down the road and allowing Iran to become the possessor of a nuclear weapon and the ability to deliver them — in what way does that make us a safer world?”
McConnell has proposed http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/05/mitch-mcconnell-iran-war_n_1322734.html having the Senate pass a resolution to used military force against Iran if Tehran starts enriching uranium to weapons grade. He said that was not necessarily a call to war.
“A resolution authorizing the use of force is not a mandate to use force, but clearly would indicate to the Iranians that we’re willing to go beyond sanctions that many of us are skeptical are likely to get the final result,” McConnell said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) countered minutes later by echoing the president and cautioning that lawmakers should leave the matter to Obama.
“I’m not going to be part of rushing forward on a declaration of war. These are things that have to be done very, very cautiously. We have problems around this world that are so significant,” Reid said. “Let’s just stop throwing the word ‘war’ around so casually.”
So raise and glass and say l’chaim to bringing Purim into the public square.