How quickly we forget: Mideast regime change is a failing policy

Ah, how quickly we forget. For eight years we endured a foreign policy based on lies by our president and vice president. Lies that were supported by secretaries of defense and state. And lies advanced by our United Nations ambassador. Of course, I am talking about former president George W. Bush and his administration.

In a Feb. 19, 1998 open letter to President Bill Clinton signed by eventual Bush regime officials Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, R. James Woolsey, Elliott Abrams, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith and John Bolton, among others, the writers called for what amounted to an overthrow of Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein. As they put it: “Iraq today is ripe for a broad-based insurrection. We must exploit this opportunity.” They claimed that “vital American interests,” in effect, justified military and political action against Saddam and his regime and warned of unchecked weapons of mass destruction at this regime’s disposal. This letter was the opening salvo advocating for a change in Middle East foreign policy by several members of the neo-conservative Project for New American Century.

The American public in 1998 was not in the mood for putting their young in harm’s way for the sake of regime change in Iraq, and this neo-conservative policy was considered fringe thinking. But then came the election of Bush in 2000 and the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. The neo-conservatives salivated at the opportunity presented to them. Bring on the weapons-of-mass-destruction lies. Americans are ripe.

We shifted focus away from hunting down Osama Ben Laden, al-Qaida and other terrorists. Instead we invaded Iraq.Over 4,400 Americans died and, by some estimates, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis as well. In the end, the Middle East was greatly destabilized. Iran became stronger, Afghanistan a mess. There was now something for everyone to fear in Syria. Radical Islamist groups including al-Qaida, ISIS and others began to thrive. But most importantly, Israel was put in greater danger than before this neo-conservative policy of regime change.

President Barack Obama inherited a mess and has spent the better part of his two terms in office cleaning up the Bush fiasco. Obama’s approach has been one that favors diplomacy over putting Americans in harm’s way and spending trillions on military actions. And that is what the Iran nuclear negotiations were all about: a diplomatic approach as opposed to a proven ineffective military effort to deal with a nuclear threat in the Middle East. By many accounts the Iran nuclear deal is imperfect. But when a policy of diplomacy is per se rejected on philosophical and political grounds, as it has been by too many in the Jewish community, then no result that Obama could achieve would ever be acceptable to such ideological critics. To those critics, diplomacy has been rejected in favor of the neo-conservative Bush policy of military aggression. But the fact bears repeating: This policy has not only been proved a failure but has placed Israel in greater danger.

I operate with the clear understanding that Iran cannot be trusted, and Israel faces enemies who in no uncertain terms have called for the destruction of the Jewish state. But recognizing these realities and knowing the failure of the neo-conservative policies currently advocated by those critics of Obama, I support the president’s policy of diplomacy.

You see, I believe in the Zionist State of Israel. I believe that never again will we allow 6 million to die. But I also know that the past U.S. policy of regime change and military aggression has resulted in increased dangers to my beloved Israel. Unfortunately, many of Obama’s opponents both within and outside the Jewish community have used the Iran nuclear deal as a partisan political vehicle to advance other conservative interests, secular and otherwise. And in that process such critics have failed to honestly analyze what is really best for Israel or present a more effective strategy to contain Iran’s nuclear programs. Instead, these critics have simply recycled an old and failed strategy that has already made matters worse for Israel.

There are those within the Jewish community who have with vitriol criticized and even condemned their fellow Jews who dare to support Obama’s deal with Iran. The hateful attacks on New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a staunch supporter of Israel, are a case in point.

In our zeal to show support for Israel, regardless of who is prime minister, we have failed as a Jewish community to hold an honest and civil discussion on the nuclear deal with Iran in particular, and on what U.S. foreign policy is in the best interests of Israel. For this new year, we as Jews and as Zionists have some soul-searching to do.

Mark Pasach Cohen has just completed a novel on the Catskills and is a member of Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland.