Multitasking a must.

“Never has so much been written about a speech that hasn’t been given,” said Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu of his address to US Congress scheduled for today. True: it’s been on the front pages for weeks. Some argue that Netanyahu is out to destroy Obama’s yet undisclosed nuclear deal with Iran with a powerful appeal to Congress. Other claim Obama wants Netanyahu out of office so badly that he cannot tolerate the Israeli’s effort to speak directly to US lawmakers and, allegedly, to torpedo Obama’s supposedly all-solving non-proliferation plan. You would think a leader of a friendly nation would always be welcome at the Congressional podium so this situation is clearly out of the ordinary.

The US has to deal with at least three crises at once: Iran, ISIS, Ukraine. Some lobbyists and foreign policy experts are arguing for prioritizing one or another crisis; voices in support of Ukraine’s priority are getting drowned out. Obviously, Israel is a close and congenial ally, and the US owes a debt to the Kurds. But Ukraine is not peripheral to US interests either: some politicians may have forgotten the world before 1991, but the Kremlin has not, and Russia is a nuclear power with neo-Soviet ambitions. Suddenly, the 1994 Budapest memorandum, which made the US and the UK, along with Russia, the guarantors of Ukraine’s security in exchange for its abandonment of nuclear weapons, has become notionally relevant but practically useless, going the way of the Franco- and Anglo-Polish agreements of 1939.

I’m not even talking of Russian propaganda, more corrosive than anything coming out of Iran or China. I can understand punditry like this, “One thing at a time: give Ukraine to Putin for the meantime and focus on Iran, and Iran alone.” I just cannot agree with it.


  1. My knowledge of the Middle East is by no means as deep as some, but here are a few scattered thoughts:

    In World War Two, Britain and the USA had to cope with Germany and Japan simultaneously. This is small beer in comparison. The Middle East has been an intractable problem for as long as I can remember and Western leaders have had to deal with it alongside other major crises.

    Western time and effort invested in solving the problems of the Middle East have not been richly rewarded. To put it mildly.

    A hypothetical threat from Iran with a few home-made nuclear weapons is vastly outweighed by the real and current threat from Russia with hundreds of nukes. Plus, Russia has actually invaded its neighbours.

    Iran is currently bogged down in Syria and Iraq, why would it take on Israel at the same time? The Iranian nuclear programme is as much about the threat from its Sunni rival Saudi Arabia (which almost certainly has nukes) as Israel.

    Israeli intelligence officers such as Yuval Diskin have attacked Netanyahu for vastly exaggerating the Iranian threat. I don’t trust Bibi’s judgement much either FWIW.

    Putin’s violation of the Budapest Memorandum has made the cause of nuclear disarmament look ridiculous. He can certainly take part of the blame if a deal with Iran fails.

    • Agreed, and with the ayatollah-in-chief dying, attacking Israel might not be on top of to-do lists in Tehran. But if I lived in Israel, I’d probably want the no. 1 ally to focus on Iran, not Ukraine. Cheap oil may tempt Iran into some novel nastiness.

      Ukraine needs better lobbyists and a more convincing message. Russia’s mantra about Ukraine being a fake state ruled by nationalists is still selling well. Recall Elie Wiesel and Alan Dershowitz sitting together during Netanyahu’s speech. Dersh is actually a fraught choice for an advocate with his involvement in the underage sex case and support for torture but he’s also an impressive overachiever, a role model, a militant sage of sorts. Ukraine won’t win supporters of this caliber unless it presents itself in terms of values Americans can empathize with. A more freedom-loving, decent, humane version of Russia or more generally, of a post-Soviet state, rather than another case of ethnic nationalism in Eastern Europe. Ukraine is a real state not because of its history or its nationalist myths but because it’s resisting Russia and not surrendering as the Kremlin hoped when it started this mess.

      • Maybe they should just show them footage of Kiselyov threatening to turn the USA into radioactive ash then point out the size of Russia’s actual -rather than hypothetical – nuclear arsenal.

        Ukraine is worth bothering with because we know that Eastern Bloc countries can shake off the Soviet past. Look at the Baltics, for instance, which include “unhistorical” Latvia and Estonia.* Still not perfect, but they’ve come a very long way over the past 25 years. Putin also knows this, which is why he is trying to destroy Ukraine.

        On the other hand, it’s unlikely the Middle East will improve any time soon. There it’s just a question of crisis management as countries veer between secular dictatorship and violent Islamist theocracy.

        *(As far as I remember, the concept of “unhistorical” nations is Marxist in origin).

        • Your opponents will probably say that precisely because Putin has nukes and rockets, he should be given what he wants, in contrast to Tehran.

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