After the assassination of the archduke in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, Austria got from Kaiser Wilhelm a "blank cheque" to punish Serbia. Germany would follow whatever course its ally chose to take. Austria chose war on Serbia. And World War I resulted.
On March 31, 1939, Britain gave a blank check to Poland in its dispute with Germany over Danzig, a town of 350,000 Germans. Should war come, Britain would fight on Poland's side.
Poland refused to negotiate, Adolf Hitler attacked, and Britain declared war. After six years, the British Empire collapsed. Germany was burnt to ashes. Poland entered the slave quarters of Joseph Stalin's empire.
Lesson: No great power should ever give to a small ally or client state a blank check to drag it into war.
This raises the question: Has President Bush given Israel a blank check?
A year ago, Israel attacked and smashed an alleged nuclear reactor site in Syria. In April, Israel held a five-day civil defense drill. In June, Israel sent 100 F-15s and F-16s, with refueling tankers, toward Greece in a simulated attack. The planes flew 1,450 kilometers, the distance to Iran's uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.
On June 6, Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz threatened, "If Iran continues its nuclear weapons program we will attack it."
Ehud Olmert returned from a June meeting with Bush to tell Israelis, "George Bush understands the severity of the Iranian threat and the need to vanquish it, and intends to act on the matter before the end of his term."
Is Israel bluffing, or in dead earnest?
For while Israel can do damage to Iran, she cannot defeat Iran without using nuclear weapons. But any attack Israel launched against Iran would require U.S. complicity, and any Israeli war with Iran would almost certainly require the United States to do most of the fighting to win or end it.
Thus, if George Bush does not want war with Iran, with two U.S. wars already, he must inform the Israelis in unequivocal terms that the United States opposes any Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran, and will not assist but denounce any such attack.
If Bush believes war with Iran is vital to U.S. security, he should make that case to Congress. To allow Israel to start a war we do not want would be an abdication of his duty as president.
Clearly, among the reasons Israel conducted its dress rehearsal for war was to maximize pressure on Iran to halt enriching uranium. Bush may well have welcomed the added pressure.
But as the Iranians have insisted, they are entitled, under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty they signed and Israel did not, to enrich uranium for fuel in power plants. Tehran has declared it will not be the only nation to surrender its legal rights under the NPT. And in response to the Israeli military exercises, Tehran conducted its own missile-firing exercises this week.
If neither side yields, confrontation is inevitable. Perhaps soon.
For we are only four months from the election, and Israel is pawing the ground to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
Is this Bush's back door to war with Iran?
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, in Israel a week ago, returned to say a "third front" in the Middle East, with Iran, would be "extremely stressful" to U.S. forces.
He is saying that U.S. ground forces probably cannot now cope with another war, with a nation three times as large as Iraq.
Asked about Israel taking unilateral action, Mullen replied, "This is a very unstable part of the world, and I don't need it to be more unstable." But Mullen is not the president. What did Bush tell Olmert? Does Israel have a green light, a yellow light or a red light?
Should Israel attack Iran and Bush deny complicity, he would no more be believed than were Britain and France in 1956. Then, the Israelis stormed into Sinai, and Britain and France said they were intervening to separate the warring nations and secure the Suez Canal. Outraged, Ike ordered the British, French and Israelis alike to get out of Suez and Sinai. They did.
President Bush must step up to the plate.
If he believes sanctions are not succeeding and Iran's nuclear program must be halted, he should go to Congress for authority to neutralize the facilities. If he has not so concluded, he should tell Israel it is not to start a war that U.S. airmen, sailors, soldiers and Marines will have to finish.
America needs to restore that absolute freedom of action in matters of war and peace she once had, before entering the skein of entangling alliances that now encumber the republic.
No ally, no client state, should ever be allowed to drag America into a war she has not chosen, constitutionally, to fight.
No more blank checks for any nation.