Editor’s Notes: As America votes

By David Horovitz October 31, 2008

America, in Iraq, fought the wrong war, or at the very least fought it in the wrong way. As things stand, neither victor on November 4 will easily be able to persuade his countryfolk that it may soon be necessary to fight the right one

As America chooses its new leader on Tuesday, I’m worried – for Israel, and for the US and the rest of the free world.

Because much of America – seven Islamist terror-free domestic years after 9/11 – has long since stopped regarding Muslim extremism as a real, on-your-doorstep, life-ending danger.

And because for much of America, the Iraq war, however relatively beneficial the surge, was a terrible, era-changing mistake that has recalibrated the nation’s attitude to the notion of self-defense. An ill-conceived act of unconscionable hubris, misdirected and fatal more than 4,000 soldiers’ lives over. A mistake that ruined America’s economy, its reputation, its global relations.

This America is certain, through to its scarred soul, that it shouldn’t have fought the Iraq war. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Distant Saddam was not its problem. Even after 9/11 – especially after 9/11 – Saddam was not its problem.

And it doesn’t want to know right now whether the war it shouldn’t have fought was also the wrong war – in other words, that it should have held its fire for a war it might truly need to wage.

Much of today’s America has arrived at the place Western Europe has been occupying for some time. However potentially devilish the dangers may be down the road, unless the killers are here, now, bombing homes and buses and offices and stores, it doesn’t want to fight any wars. No wars, for no causes that are not America’s direct business.

However understandable, this is ostrich thinking. It is the kind of head-in-the-sand mindset that, seven decades ago, was central to the delay that cost all those millions of Holocaust lives.

But if Iran’s genocidal regime is capable of implementing its inhumane ambitions, there will be no slow gathering of pace, no Nazi-style gradual refinement of the mass-killing process. The threat, rather, is of simple pressure applied to a nuclear trigger and vast, immediate consequences. There would be no room for the belated realization of the imperative to act that enabled the costly defeat of the Nazis. The damage would already have been done.

THIS IS not a Zionist’s entreaty to American voters to choose John McCain – the candidate who has used the more trenchant rhetoric about his determination to ensure Iran is unable to achieve its nuclear weapons ambitions; the candidate who has internalized man’s capacity to do harm more personally than his opponent, blessedly, has needed to thus far. No, not even though we fear, in the abiding absence of sufficient international economic pressure on Teheran, that we may indeed soon face the stark choice McCain presented between military intervention and the only thing worse: a failure to apply military intervention that enables Iran to go nuclear.

For we on the front line of the new war between life and the death cult of Islamic extremism listened to dramatic rhetoric for years from McCain’s Republican predecessor, and saw it persuade our leaders that George W. Bush would take care of Iran one way or another. We came to recognize that this conviction was empty. And in today’s America, bent on avoiding another war at almost all cost, we wonder how much more credible McCain is than Bush has been, how much more latitude for action he would really be able to muster.

Nor, however, is it a plea to endorse Barack Obama’s recipe for tough diplomacy – designed to impress upon the Iranians that they had better abort their nuclear weapons program or risk more ‘serious action,’ with the military option on the table.

The Obama approach may well yield a greater international readiness to economically pressurize Teheran into changing course. And Obama has issued tough statements as he’s neared the White House – in July telling The Jerusalem Post he would do ‘everything in my power as president to prevent Iran attaining nuclear weapons,’ and this month declaring, still more forcefully, that he’d do ‘everything that’s required to prevent it.’

If that leaves us hopeful but not persuaded that Teheran will be deterred, that’s because the Iranians must surely doubt his willingness to approve an ‘or else’ that would truly devastate them.

How much terrifying weight, after all, can any threat carry when it emanates from an America to which Obama has promised change rather than continued military meddling in confusing foreign parts; an America grappling with economic meltdown; an America shellshocked from the Iraq war; an America insisting that it must not embark on further military adventure, especially when success is anything but guaranteed.

And so, here in Israel, we are reexamining whether, if all else fails, our air force would be capable of achieving in Iran what it could not get done in south Lebanon…

THIS IS not a column offering partisan advice, then. But, as America goes to vote, it is an Israeli expression of the most profound concern, and a plea for a reality check and the recognition of some inconvenient truths. Because America, in Iraq, did fight the wrong war, or at the very least fought it in the wrong way. And, as things stand, neither victor on November 4 will easily be able to persuade his countryfolk that it may soon be necessary to fight the right one.

I am concerned, as an Israeli, that the pressure to let us serve as the test case – and by that I mean to let Iran go nuclear and hope that nothing too terrible happens to us – may be hard to resist for the new president. He will be inheriting a shaken free world superpower – a had-it-so-good society reeling from financial instability at home and from its ongoing overseas encounters with forces insistently determined to both kill and be killed in the name of a religious perversion.

It will be so much more convenient for Washington to hesitate, however briefly, when our unbreakable, unshakable alliance is most acutely examined. It will be tempting, too, to listen to European whispers that we have brought our face-off with the Islamists upon ourselves, and exacerbated their wider grievances, by failing to find reconciliation with our Palestinian neighbors.

Convenient, but misguided – and not only as regards Israel’s safety.

No one can know whether Iran’s spiritual leader will press the button if his nuclear technicians manage to assemble a rule-the-region bombing apparatus for him, or whether the basic care for his own people’s lives, that we define as pragmatism, will triumph. Nor can we know if his finger will halt only to transfer the silkily murderous technology to non-state players who need have no concerns about second-strike consequence.

What we do know is that even in the least bad of the worst-case scenarios – in which Iran attains a nuclear capability but neither uses it nor delegates its use – Israel, which has triumphed improbably over decades of regional hostility, will be in unprecedented trouble.

Every moderate friend of Israel in this region will be weakened, every extremist emboldened. Every investor in Israel will give pause; every Israeli with overseas options will consider them.

SO YES, with our principal ally traumatized, I worry for my country.

But I worry for America and the rest of the free world, too. For there is no clean air in this coal mine.

As its leadership reminds the global audience at every opportunity, Iran’s ambitions are not confined to our little patch of land on the edge of the Mediterranean. It is bent on remaking the global order – on punishing the great powers that have so abused their authority and so displeased the higher forces. Even if falling oil prices are starting to hurt and poor President Ahmadinejad is suffering the strains of overwork, such lofty goals are not easily abandoned.

The free world, if it wishes to maintain its democracies, its liberties, its choices, therefore, will have to assert itself sooner or later. The only short question is whether Iran is stopped before it can demonstrate that it means what it so viciously says, or afterwards.

A short question, but one that should be weighing heavily on Americans as they choose their new leader on Tuesday.

A short question, but one that, if it is to be well answered, will require the new president to remake his country’s battered, bloodied and mistrustful mindset.

A short question, but potentially for Israel, where the diminished Jewish nation has regrouped and flourished after the Holocaust, an existential one.

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