Obama to AIPAC and Israel: I'm not signing on for war yet
J Street's M.J. Rosenberg, who is very much opposed to going to war with Iran, gives President Obama high marks for what he calls Obama's Peace Speech At AIPACTPM Cafe 03/04/2012:
Both Netanyahu and his lobby wanted Obama to set out "red lines" that, if crossed by Iran, would lead to an American attack on that country. Obama offered no red lines. Yes, he said that the war option was on the table but, contrary to Israel's demands, made clear that it would come into play if, and only if, Iran develops a weapon, not when it develops a weapons "capability" as Israel (and its Congressional acolytes demand). ...
Obama is saying he supports Israel's right to do what "is required to meet its security needs." But then enumerates that he will do what is in America's best interests, including diplomacy. In other words, "Bibi, you are on your own." And, because Israel cannot do it alone, Obama is telling Bibi that he is not getting his war.
Rosenberg also provides a good summary of the "red lines" business which we're hearing a lot about recently on the Iran issue.
Still, typical for Obama, he took a pro-peace position on the question of the moment, but framed it in a larger prowar perspective, another example of his strong tendency to justify Democratic positions on Republican terms, thus reinforcing the larger Republican narrative on the issue at hand. From the White House transcript:
That is where we are today -- because of our work. Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure. And by the way, the Arab Spring has only increased these trends, as the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is exposed, and its ally -- the Assad regime -- is crumbling.
Of course, so long as Iran fails to meet its obligations, this problem remains unresolved. The effective implementation of our policy is not enough -- we must accomplish our objective. (Applause.) And in that effort, I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy -- backed by pressure -- to succeed.
The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program. Now, the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists. Sanctions are continuing to increase, and this July -- thanks to our diplomatic coordination -- a European ban on Iranian oil imports will take hold. (Applause.) Faced with these increasingly dire consequences, Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision. They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end. ...
We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically. Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States -- (applause) -- just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs. (Applause.)
I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. (Applause.) That includes all elements of American power: A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency. (Applause.)
Even Rosenberg in praising the speech says, "I understand that Obama did not deliver a traditional 'peace' speech." Glenn Greenwald explains in Iran, threats and the UN CharterSalon 03/03/2012:
Regardless of how one wants to rationalize these threats of an offensive military attack — they’re necessary to persuade the Israelis not to attack, they’re necessary to gain leverage with Iran, etc. — the U.N. Charter, to which the U.S. is a signatory, explicitly prohibits not just a military attack on another nation, but also the issuance of threats of such an attack. From Chapter II, paragraph 4:
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
Does this matter at all? Should we even pretend to care in any way what the U.N. Charter prohibits and whether the U.S. Government’s threats to attack Iran directly violate its core provisions? I’m not asking this simple question rhetorically but rather to hear the answer.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: ... At the same time, we understand that the bottom line is: Does the problem get solved? And I think that Israel, understandably, has a profound interest not just in good intentions but in actual results. And in the conversations I've had over the course of three years, and over the course of the last three months and three weeks, what I've emphasized is that preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon isn't just in the interest of Israel, it is profoundly in the security interests of the United States, and that when I say we're not taking any option off the table, we mean it. We are going to continue to apply pressure until Iran takes a different course. ...
In addition to the profound threat that it poses to Israel, one of our strongest allies in the world; in addition to the outrageous language that has been directed toward Israel by the leaders of the Iranian government -- if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, this would run completely contrary to my policies of nonproliferation. The risks of an Iranian nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorist organizations are profound. It is almost certain that other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons. So now you have the prospect of a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world, one that is rife with unstable governments and sectarian tensions. And it would also provide Iran the additional capability to sponsor and protect its proxies in carrying out terrorist attacks, because they are less fearful of retaliation.
GOLDBERG: What would your position be if Israel weren't in this picture?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It would still be a profound national-security interest of the United States to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
I would note that much of the language in Obama's AIPAC speech that suggest he's insisting on restraint by Israel is also included in the Atlantic interview.
Sometimes, when I read the usual news stories, I think I am transported back to those months before the U.S. attacked Iraq. The warnings were similar: Saddam Hussein might have nuclear weapons, or he had them. In any case, he was a danger and a dictator, and if we don't do something, a "mushroom cloud" might be in our future. It was fear-mongering, pure and simple -- and it was false.
Those warnings around Iraq, led by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, tried to justify war based on a possible threat, not an attack -- or even threat of attack -- against the United States. There are lots of dangerous nations in the world and lots of dictators and even would-be nuclear powers. If we attacked them all, we'd do nothing but fight wars.
But some politicians apparently see an electoral advantage in fear-mongering -- especially when it's a predominantly Muslim nation -- and so they continue to raise the "threat of Iran."
But this Iranian dance is just like the one in Iraq -- pure lunacy.
The United States really needs to be more assertive in demanding that Israel refrain from actions that potentially compromise US national interests. The US should also expect Israel to be a responsible partner when we act on their behalf. Robert Wright in Netanyahu's Latest Affront to ObamaThe Atlantic Online 03/02/2012 reports:
The most amazing headline of the day comes from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: "Israel told U.S. Iran must halt enrichment ahead of nuclear talks, sources say." ...
For years, at the cost of great effort and diplomatic capital, the U.S. has painstakingly assembled a regime of international sanctions against Iran. And--let's be honest--it has done so largely on Israel's behalf. Now, finally, we seem to have gotten some payoff for this effort: Iran is saying it will resume negotiations, thus opening the door, however slightly, to a peaceful resolution of the current standoff.
Israel's way of saying thank you--to America and to the international community--is: "Sorry, we've decided we don't want negotiations resumed after all." And make no mistake: this is the message in that headline. Demanding that Iran suspend uranium enrichment before the talks start would guarantee that the talks don't start at all. And Bibi Netanyahu knows that.
A healthier US foreign policy wouldn't put up with conduct like this from a far-right, warmongering government in Israel.
Plus, this whole idea that negotiations should only take place after all major issues have been resolved is pretty insane. It's part of the poisonous legacy of the neoconservatives that such a position is taken seriously at all.