Seriously, I want to know. Is there some reason only Helen Thomas asks the really interesting, really hard, really unpleasant questions, the ones that didn't come off of some party's talking points or out of some think tank? Is there some reason that the rest of the White House Press Corps can't ask those questions? Do they not think of them? Do their editors not let them ask, is it only Helen Thomas who has the guts to ask them because she has so little to lose? Or is she the "designated a-hole," the whole group's designated person to take the heat for asking the hard questions? Do they not ask the hard questions because they can count on her to do so?
During his first televised press conference as US President the other day, Obama made light of it when he called on Thomas, but you could see in his body language that he was already flinching. He was right to do so, too; she asked the perfect question. A prior question had been about US policy towards Iran. It was a dumb question, basically asking why he hadn't gotten more done already, why he hadn't already announced a schedule for when all of our problems with Iran are going to be solved. Professor Obama responded with a long lecture about what we're eventually going to do in terms of talks with Iran, and his administration's principles that we're going to stand up for in our talks with Iran, and so forth, and so on. Twice, he laid out the Obama Doctrine on why Iran can't have The Bomb. His predecessor's BS argument was that if Iran had the bomb, they'd give it to terrorists to use as they please, something an appallingly large number of ignorant Americans actually think is plausible. This president's equally BS answer was that letting Iran have The Bomb would "ignite a dangerous arms race in the Middle East," because other countries would race to have their own Bomb, too.
Gods love Helen Thomas, she took the microphone and asked, "do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?" President Obama's answer: "With respect to nuclear weapons, you know, I don't want to speculate." Thus proving that one thing truly is bipartisan. Conservative, liberal Republican, right-wing Democrat, Progressive; GI, Baby Boomer, Gen X; all US Presidents have to lie through their teeth about the Israeli nuclear arsenal. I don't know where this rule is written, but it must be written down somewhere. I suppose it's habit by now.
Once upon a time, there were real consequences to being a country that developed nuclear weapons outside of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; US law said that our foreign aid couldn't go to such a country. India and Pakistan made a hash out of that, though, so now it's moot. I guess the only reason we're still lying about the Israeli nuclear arsenal even when there is no real secret left, even after everybody who cares has seen photographs of the Israeli nuclear arsenal with their own eyes, is that we want the impossible. We want Israel to have nuclear deterrence over every country in the region. And we don't want any other country in the region to have the same balance of power that we had with the Soviet Union for almost the entire Cold War, the balance of power that kept both countries from using The Bomb, or for that matter from engaging in open warfare with each other on any front. (Covert warfare, yes, as the US and the Soviet Union cheerfully did to each other's allies exactly what Iran and Syria are doing to Israel, but open warfare, over forever.)
We know that the reason we don't think the rest of the Arab world needs a nuclear deterrent to protect themselves from Israeli nuclear attack, or Israeli military aggression of any kind, is that Israel isn't aggressive. On the other hand, ever since the current revolutionary government took control in Iran, who have they invaded? What's our proof that Iran is aggressive? The only war that Iran's been in since the Iranian Revolution was when they were invaded by Iraq (with the US openly supporting the Iraqis). To even a neutral observer, let alone an angry neighbor of Israel, the argument just doesn't hold water. This leaves them to draw the not unreasonable conclusion that it's a fundamental part of US policy that we want the entire Middle East to live in nuclear fear of Israel, and are determined to keep them from escaping that fear by any means. You think maybe that has more to do with why some of them hate us than "our freedoms" do?
If a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is so dangerous, why aren't we pressuring Israel to disarm? That's the real reason for nuclear proliferation in that part of the world. We've made it clear to the region that we'd defend Israel from invasion, from now on, with all means necessary; what do they need nukes for? Has their 200+ bomb nuclear arsenal made it any easier for them to negotiate peace with their neighbors? Not to mention that maintaining a nuclear arsenal costs a medium-sized fortune and generates a ridiculous amount of high-level radioactive waste that, itself, costs a fortune to contain or clean up; does Israel really not have a better use for that money?
But all of these questions are off limits in American politics, no matter the season, no matter who brings them up, no matter which party is in power in the White House or in Congress, whether in wartime or in peace, whether in prosperity or desperation: nobody gets to ask any questions about Israel's nuclear arsenal. Except Helen Thomas. What would we do without her?