President Obama went to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting earlier this month in Washington and announced his unequivocal commitment to keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
The Republican candidates for president followed him there and were even more effusive in their promises, pledging to stop Iran and support Israel.
He had received the commitment he needed from the leadership of the United States relative to action that Israel might have to take against Iran to stop its march toward developing nuclear weapons. His only issue, which he fully understands, is that these commitments might only be good through the November presidential election.
An axiom can be found in these performances by our leaders and it is fairly simple: If Israel is threatened, Israel’s foreign policy becomes America’s foreign policy in a time of presidential elections.
The question is: Are our national interests so overlapped that this is good for America?
We have just been through two major military conflicts in that part of the world. Our forces have been on the ground at extraordinary cost for more than 10 years. The success has been considerable, with the primary success being that the United States has not been attacked again as we were on Sept. 11, 2001.
But we have also spent massively, both in the harm to our soldiers and in the cost of these wars and our aid. We have achieved only marginal success at building lasting, democratic governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We have learned a lesson we should have known. It is that nation-building along the lines of Western democratic values is not something you can do easily, if at all, in a region dominated by Islam. Islam, as it is interpreted by many leaders in that region, demands theocracy, not democracy, as the acceptable form of governance. They assert that church and state must be merged, not separated, under Islam.
Merging religion and state in that manner presents an inherent incompatibility with the rights that most Western democracies see as being at the core of individual freedom in their governments.
It is not in the United States’s interest to join in or pursue military action in the Middle East if it once again involves the costs in both blood and dollars of nation-building. Future military action there must be based on the premise that our goal is to destroy a designated threat and not rebuild a nation.
The Netanyahu government knows it can now proceed with military action and that the American political leadership and therefore our military capability will be there to support it. As a result of this being a presidential election year, he is the dog and we are the tail.
We will just have to hope that if Israel does decide it must strike Iran to protect itself that it will do so in a manner that does not leave us in a position where we feel compelled to stay behind and rebuild a nation. This is a cost we cannot afford and should not have to bear again.
Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Foreign Operations. He also is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.