Netanyahu Comes To Town To Push Attack on Iran; Obama Tells AIPAC Diplomacy Is Better
by James M. Wall
Sunday afternoon update following President Obama’s AIPAC speech
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes his annual state visit this week to Washington he will be surrounded by sycophants and loyal political allies prepared to respond to his every demand.
I speak not of the Prime Minister’s traveling companions from Tel Aviv, but of the welcoming community of American politicians, fawning pro-Israel US media stars, and brain-washed interfaith-obsessed religious leaders, far right and mainstream, who have willingly traded their stewardship of the American Soul for a bowl of interfaith Zionist porridge.
I strongly suspect President Barack Obama knows this more than he is able to acknowledge.
What he must do between now and November is orchestrate the political game skillfully enough to make it clear he does not favor an attack on Iran any time soon. If he reelected, Obama will then, and only then, be in a position to use his second term to halt all this “bomb Iran” nonsense.
The AIPAC weekend did not start well for Obama.
It was depressing to see the President playing the political game in a carefully structured individual media interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.
Goldberg used his exclusive post-Netanyahu media interview with Obama to toss up questions which sounded uncomfortably like an AIPAC’ script.
He pushed Obama to reaffirm his love for Israel, and, by extension, led him close to McCain-like “bomb, bomb, bomb” Iran campaign rhetoric.
Obama told me earlier this week that both Iran and Israel should take seriously the possibility of American action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff.”
He went on, “I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”
Why would Obama betray his own deep-rooted principles to sing the war talk song? In his AIPAC speech Obama revealed that he was traveling a tricky trail to keep his AIPAC voters on the reservation even as he acted like an adult who understood the merits of diplomacy.
Richard Silverstein has his finger on the Israeli political pulse.
He had strong misgivings over the militancy of part of Obama’s Atlantic interview. But he did find another dimension in the interview, which catches the nuance of the tricky game Obama is playing:
The other half of Obama’s message, and the one that I hope is operative and that Bibi hopes is window-dressing, is Obama’s warning that an Israel attack is a helluva bad idea:
The president also said he would try to convince Mr. Netanyahu, whom he is meeting here on Monday at a time of heightened fears of a conflict, that a premature military strike could help Iran by allowing it to portray itself as a victim of aggression. And he said such military action would only delay, not prevent, Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.
But this leaves his argument fatally flawed. An Israeli attack would not prevent an Iranian bomb, but somehow an American attack at a later unspecified date would. Of course, it’s true that the U.S. could inflict a great deal more damage on Iran’s nuclear program than an Israeli attack.
But even the U.S. military likely could not entirely destroy an Iranian program. We heard a week ago or so that Leon Panetta does not believe that America’s most potent bunker buster can penetrate the Fordow facility.
Silverstein is on to something, as Obama made clear in his surprisingly tough talk to AIPAC Sunday.
It is not his eventual Republican opponent that concerns Candidate Obama. What threatens his chances for re-election in November is the American war party of all political flavors that remains dedicated to the proposition that Israel’s control of the Middle East is the best guarantee of a permanent American control of the world’s economy.
In his Saturday New York Times story, Mark Landler gave a preview of what drives the AIPAC crowd Obama had to face Sunday:
On the eve of a crucial visit to the White House by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, that country’s most powerful American advocates are mounting an extraordinary public campaign to pressure President Obama into hardening American policy toward Iran over its nuclear program.
From the corridors of Congress to a gathering of nearly 14,000 American Jews and other supporters of Israel here this weekend, Mr. Obama is being buffeted by demands that the United States be more aggressive toward Iran and more forthright in supporting Israel in its own confrontation with Tehran.
Those war party figures who are buffeting Obama are wrong, of course, horribly and dangerously wrong. A second term Barack Obama would have the vision and courage to say that. But if he loses the White House in November, he will do his post-presidential telling through op ed columns and think tank studies.
Out of office, a president can only talk. In power, he can act. Jimmy Carter experienced that reality in 1980 when Republican leaders, whose candidate was running behind the incumbent Carter, made a deal with Iran not to release their American hostages until after the election. (See Robert Parry’s analysis of how the Reagan campaign sabotaged Carter’s reelection campaign.)
As a result of the Iranian deal, Carter’s lead in the polls disappeared. On election day he was replaced by a washed-up Hollywood actor who read scripts like the experienced performer he had been. Several wars and a right-wing Supreme Court followed. The country continues to pay for that damage.
Noam Chomsky, writing for Truthout, asks his readers to view the current Iranian “crisis” from a different perspective:
Concerns about “the imminent threat” of Iran are often attributed to the “international community” – code language for U.S. allies. The people of the world, however, tend to see matters rather differently.
The nonaligned countries, a movement with 120 member nations, has vigorously supported Iran’s right to enrich uranium – an opinion shared by the majority of Americans (as surveyed by WorldPublicOpinion.org) before the massive propaganda onslaught of the past two years.
China and Russia oppose U.S. policy on Iran, as does India, which announced that it would disregard U.S. sanctions and increase trade with Iran. Turkey has followed a similar course.
Netanyahu counts on his troops within the US power structures to keep that perspective out of sight. It is not good to trouble the locals with the larger pictures.
This explains why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is using this annual visit to rally his American sycophants and loyal political allies to force Obama to fall into line and join Israel’s war strategy.
Ironic, isn’t it, that Israel, with its massive (some estimate as high as 200) nuclear weapons collection, secreted in Dimona, Israel, is the nation that is warning the world of what a great danger a nuclear-armed Iran presents to its neighbors.
This week into our midst comes this man, Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of a foreign nuclear-armed power, determined to make the case that the US must join him in removing Iran from the potential list of nuclear powers.
In his speech to the opening session of AIPAC Sunday, President Obama answered Netanyahu.
Obama combined the usual rhetoric about the “unshakeable bond” between Israel and the US, with a warning to Netanyahu that he wants to be clear that the two men have a significant difference.
Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, a frequent media commentator, and the author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran, points to the significant dividing line between Obama and Netanyahu.
Call it the “red line difference”, as in “Warning, danger, do not cross”.
In an interview with The Institute for Middle East Understanding, following the Obama AIPAC speech, Parsi said:
Israel, like the Bush administration, considers a nuclear capability in Iran a red line. It argues that the only acceptable guarantee that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon is for Iran to have no enrichment program.
The Obama administration puts the red line not at enrichment – which is permitted under international law – but at nuclear weapons. This is a clearer, more enforceable red line that also has the force of international law behind it. (emphasis added).
While expressing his sympathy and friendship with Israel, Obama did not yield his red line at AIPAC. With the backing of the US military, he has stood firm behind weaponization rather than weapons capability as the red line.
He said: “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.”
This is crucial because it is essentially a question of war and peace. Critically, Obama’s rejection of containment at AIPAC was in the context of containing a nuclear-armed Iran, not a nuclear capable Iran.
The New York Times‘ Helene Cooper began her Obama AIPAC story by quoting Obama’s warning against “loose talk about war”. She then described the speech as a “political high-wire act”, and
an effort to demonstrate his commitment to Israel’s security without signaling American support for a pre-emptive strike against Iran.
It was also an effort to confront the Republican presidential candidates “who have turned the Iranian nuclear issue into the top item in their litmus test for demonstrating support for Israel.”
Obama’s AIPAC speech says, in effect, Netanyahu does not have the support of either Obama or of his military advisors, for an attack on Iran unless the Obama “weaponization” red line is crossed.
In his analysis of the Obama AIPAC speech, Trita Parsi reports that Obama used the D word (diplomacy) more often than the M word (military action).
The President’s tough words regarding his readiness to use military action is all in the context of preventing a nuclear weapon in Iran, not a nuclear capability. Strikingly, the president uses the D word, diplomacy, more than the M word, military action, in his speech, even though he primarily presents it as a move that enabled greater sanctions on Iran.
The Israeli red line is a fast track to an unnecessary and counterproductive war. This is why the US military and Obama so adamantly opposes this red line – because it ensures both war and a nuclear-armed Iran down the road.
Political shorthand to Netanyahu, AIPAC and its American friends: Stand down!
There will be plenty of time after the November election for a second term President Obama to resolve this matter peacefully.
The war option is not acceptable. No one has shown this more clearly nor with greater insightful passion, than Director Stanley Kubrick.
Here are the two closing scenes from Kubrick’s 1964 movie, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
The picture at top is from Reuters.
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