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.

Goldberg writes:

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 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.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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21 Responses to Netanyahu Comes To Town To Push Attack on Iran; Obama Tells AIPAC Diplomacy Is Better

  1. Andrea Whitmore says:

    Jim, I’m losing faith that Obama really does have principles. Yet surely even an AIPAC pressured politician can see the damage another war would do to the U.S. even if he had no regard whatever for the lives lost. Our economy would be in shambles. We are certainly a nation of lemmings, with our politicians first off the cliff.

  2. Andrea W. is right about the prospects if we get involved in another Mideast war. I supported Obama but was thoroughly disappointed when he spoke to and kowtowed to AIPAC in 2008 the day after he had won enough delegates to get the nomination. The following January he was inaugurated. After some months I wondered if he had been brainwashed. Is he a Manchurian candidate? What does one do when both Democrats and Republicans and their presidential candidates are bought by the Zionists.

  3. George Graves says:

    Who will lead this world when this nation is led beyond the brink of collapse by AIPAC, Netanyahu, his cronies/thugs, our politicians who see their primary job as to be re-elected and a war-hungry, blood-thirsty domestic electorate?
    China? Russia? The United Nations?
    How many more of our own sons and daughters will we have to sacrifice along with innocents of other nations into the maw of this ruthless machine?
    The State of Israel claims to be concerned with anything which threatens its security, except of course, the State of Israel itself. Will these events lead Christianity to unite?
    Let us pray together…God save us all. Every one. Even Mr. Netanyahu. Insha’allah

  4. wallwritings says:

    Paul Findley was a Republican member of Congress from Southern Illinois from 1961 to 1983. He sent in this response. I asked him if I might post it as a Comment. He graciously said yes. Jim Wall

    by Paul Findley

    In an informal huddle with Moshe Dayan years ago, I listened to a spirited exchange with the famous and popular general. At the time he was part of the coalition governing Israel. One of my congressional colleagues said to Dayan, “Israel gets both aid and advice from Washington. It accepts the aid but rejects the advice. If Washington granted the aid only if Israel accepted the advice, what would happen?” Without hesitation, Dayan responded, “We would accept the advice.”

    As President Barack Obama ponders his upcoming visit with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he should keep Dayan’s response foremost in mind. If the president wants to prevent Israel from bombing Iran, he can succeed. In fact, he is the only person in the world who can prevent an Israeli onslaught. All he needs is a clear vision of the U.S. national interest and a strong backbone.

    As president, Obama can present Netanyahu with a clear and unqualified ultimatum that bombing would cause the immediate suspension of U.S. aid in all forms. The president would also, I believe, wish to tell the prime minister that he will explain his action in an address to the America people, citing the peril bombing would cause to several thousand U.S. citizens, military and civilian, in the region, as well as heightened risk of terrorist attacks against U.S. mainland population.

    Obama could undertake these measures confident of overwhelming public support. The experience of President George H. W. Bush should be a source of comfort. When Bush threatened in 1988 to withhold loan guarantees in protest against Israeli Prime Minister Shamir’s defiant decision to continue building illegal housing in occupied Palestine, public support for Bush’s decision was overwhelming.

    Most U.S. aid is clearly earmarked for Israel in public law, but Obama could cite military necessity as the reason justifying his decision. Israel’s powerful U.S. lobby would fume but with little effect. It is interesting to note that Abraham Lincoln cited military necessity as his justification for issuing the unprecedented Emancipation Proclamation.

    If Obama makes no effective protest, bombing may produce enormous, far-flung consequences. In recent years, U.S. war measures have led to more than 200,000 Muslim deaths, stirring anti-American passions on an unprecedented scale. Meanwhile, Muslim stereotypes becloud nearly half the U.S. population. These realities could degenerate into a terrible conflict.

    Despite its denials, Iran may intend to acquire nuclear weapons in the future. If so, their only military value would be deterrence There is no reason to believe any future government of Iran, a Muslim country, would launch nuclear missiles against Israel. Any such assault would risk destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest Muslim shrine in the world, outranked only by Mecca and Medina.

    Israel’s passion to bomb Iran’s nuclear research centers brings the United States to the edge of a military involvement of immense risk and unknowable cost to our national well-being. Netanyahu’s visit to the Oval Office may portend trouble far greater than the combined military disasters President George W. Bush initiated in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Paul Findley now lives in Jacksonville, IL

  5. Fred says:

    If Obama told Netenyahu that military aid would be stopped if Israel attacks Iran what would happen? His money from Zionists groups like AIPAC would stop, and Congress and the Mianstream media would crucify him, He should still do it, and Americans should go out in the streets that day and cheer to the high heavens.

    The American people can also choose one day soon, coordianted on the internet, with their clothes painted with “NO War ON IRAN”, go to the biggest intersections in their towns, and lie down in the streets. If that’s what it takes to stop our country from starting or joining in, another disastrous war, which would be a war crime in International law, that’s what we should do.

    We, the American people, must find a way to stop this war.

  6. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Great article. Thank you, Jim. And great commentaries, too.
    President Obama can actually derail AIPAC’s and Israel’s propaganda blitz and blackmail of American sovereignty, by making a dramatic and new declaration that calls for making the entire Middle East region a nuclear free zone, to be enforced by the UN Security Council and the US and other major powers.
    Since Israel is currently the only “nuclear” power in the Middle East, there will have to be a Plan-with-a-time-line that does not exceed 5 years, to dismantle Israel’s arsenal of mass slaughter and the potential incineration of millions of people in the Middle East. Such a plan should suffice to save face for Iran and prevent the otherwise assured nuclear race in the region.
    This will be a great step for the Middle East countries, including Israel and Iran, and it will stop a potential race to acquire nuclear bombs.
    On the other hand, an attack on Iran will only guarantee and escalate a crazed nuclear arms race that will lead to scores of resistance groups acquiring a variety of “dirty bombs”, or even nuclear weapons which, in the final analysis, will not be good for Israel, or for any country in the world.

  7. Pingback: Netanyahu Comes To Town To Bolster His Call for War With Iran « Middle East atemporal

  8. Thanks, Jim, for your usual insightful commentary.

    I have no more trust in Obama than I had in Dubya in the run-up to the Iraq debacle, which has left that sovereign nation shattered, splintered…prostrate, just where the hegemonic, psychotic Zionists want it. I cannot forget that in October 2002 I first hit the streets in demonstrations against war on Iraq. Along the way to March 2003, I joined an Australia-initiated campaign to ask the Pope to travel to Baghdad and announce that he would not leave until the war fever was extinguished. In addition to the initial plea to the Pope, I wrote numerous E-mails, always with hope that he would stand up for God and mankind…to no avail.

    I knew it was all over for Obama and any chance for sanity in America when, a day or so after the November 2008 election, he announced that Zionist Rahm Emanuel would be the Obama administration’s chief of staff. The June 2009 Cairo speech?–pure fluff, probably engineered by Emanuel as a lesson to Obama: a first and only feeble attempt for POTUS to show some backbone — and some compassion for the victimized Palestinians — in the MidEast, to be quickly swallowed up in the real-world Zionist frenzy of domination, control and the always-present flouting of international law and morality.

    And now we have the similarly wrecked and lawless Libya. If Syria continues to spiral out of control, another “threat” to the Zionist state will have been eliminated. Add in Iran, then finish off Afghanistan and even Pakistan. At that point — unless USrael implodes from sheer hubris and bankruptcy — wouldn’t Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt be justified in feeling very nervous and vulnerable?

  9. Robert Assaly says:

    Jim, as always a timely insight. Like Iraq, Iran and its people are regrettably merely expendable objects in US domestic internecine politics and its crossover with the most powerful military machine on the planet.

    I must disagree however with your wish that “they are wrong” who hold that Israel’s control of the Mideast isn’t good for US global economic hegemony. Perhaps in the very long run. But Carter’s loss of Iran to the mullahs was answered with US oil and bank profits skyrocketing for three decades now, the Dow hitting all-time highs, even GM restored to record profits, and the Americans who matter living the good life (in all misused meanings of “good”), while Republican presidents accumulated massive national debt.

    Your wish assumes that millions of home foreclosures and job losses, urban violence and sub-standard health care measure anything of value to those with hegemonic fantasies.

    I am quite confident that the US can continue merrily on its way, wrecklessly bombing its way to economic domination at only the cost of cutting out the majority of her citizens from the war booty, including the benefits of $150/bbl oil. Domestically it would mean, as now, an ever-shrinking middle class and the hopelessly poor being responsible for the increased war debt that would result, while the rich and powerful become richer and more powerful.

    Something I read decades ago, after the days of the civil rights movement, seems to have borne out: that the American power structure is unique in that it doesn’t need fear rebellion, being able to maintain the only society with stronger vertical divisions (along ideological/party lines) rather than horizontal ones (along economic lines). Thus the American dispossessed seem to have a high tolerance level for voting against their own interests and living with the consequences.

    The upshot, if I am correct, is that decisions not to support Israeli expansionism or American militarism would be made on a moral basis rather than an ecomonic one. As Congress is incapable of finding such a basis, it would take a strong President willing to take the heat in his second term. We’ll see….It seems you are anticipating this. Even so, there is always 2016.

  10. Patricia Pynchon says:

    I have nothing further to add. It is unbelievable to me that Obama would even think of starting another war, and that he hasn’t the guts to put Netanyu in his place. This is not a GAME. NOT ONLY iRANIAN LIVES, BUT MAYBE iSRAEL WOULD GET DESTROYED. SURELY IRAN IS PREPARING TO FIGHT BACK. All the “Holy Land would be destroyed. This is playing not only with fire, but all out destruction of the ME. (I don’t doubt that China and Russia would come in on the Iranian side. )

  11. Dean Johnson says:

    I think the suggestion of Paul Sifri that Obama declare a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone (which would mean disarming Israel over some period of time) is the only one that makes sense. Every other alternative leads to disaster.

  12. Rev. Bob Hannum says:

    I believe it was author Seymore Melman in the ’50’s, who coined the phrase, “The nth country problem.” That is, when we got nuclear weapons, it would not be long afterward that other countries (the nth country!) would also have them. And so they do. How arrogant of us to suggest that we are the only one (or ones, including western countries and Israel), permitted, while others can’t have them. Unfortunately, Russia, Pakistan and India also got them, and China, too. Now, Iran may want them. But Israel who obviously wants a qualitative and quantitative advantage, is desperately trying to stop Iran from having them, so they are the only country in the Middle East with such weapons.

    What a terribly dangerous world we and the others have created and continue to create for our grandchildren, and all the grandchildren of the world. So, let’s dismantle all these weapons and call an end to it! We all know It’s a jungle out there even without them!

  13. Larry George says:

    Thanks for your keen insights Jim, and for adding Paul Findley’s sage advice–I only hope he has some access to the president.

    President Obama, so typically adroit in responding to criticism, has been consistently awkward and ill-at-ease when talking about Israel, probably because he knows he must tell lies. He can’t be unaware that Netanyahu demeans him publicly in Israel, and he must be seething underneath, knowing even his own party leaders have pledged their higher loyalty to Israel and AIPAC’s money. I hope you’re right that he is truly committed to a different “red line”. We need to let him know we’re aware that the whole issue is a smokescreen, orchestrated as a distraction from Israel’s intensifying ethnic cleansing, dangerously approcaching genocidal proportions.

    I’m sure you recall the popular Israeli joke, “Why don’t we Israelis want to become the 51st U.S. state? Because then we’d have only 2 senators.”

  14. Pingback: Sunday afternoon update following President Obama’s AIPAC speech

  15. Sir Terence English says:

    Terence English. I write from Oxford, England and want to thank Jim Wall for keeping so many of us well informed about American/ Israeli relationships at this critical time in the Middle East, of which Israel’s threat to bomb Iran is the most urgent. Many of us here hope that, unlike June 2009, President Obama will have the courage to refuse to be dictated to by Netanyahu and indeed pursue the route of diplomacy rather than supporting Israel’s military assault on Iran.

  16. Fred Brancel says:

    I share the concern of the sadly negative impact an attack on Iran would have.

  17. ruth1940 says:

    The original purpose of the UN was to keep the peace. It was understood that if any country started to illegally wage war, all the others would attack that country, but the US has disallowed that to happen whenever Israel broke the rules. It’s way past time to hold Israel accountable to the rules everyone else is expected to follow.

  18. Fred says:

    The trouble is that the US also defies International Law by attacking countries that have done us no harm, like in Iraq. The US and Israel have become the bullies of the world, thinking we can attack and threaten nations we don’t like.

    If Israel attacks Iran, the International community should come to Iran’s rescue, and protect it. The US, however, would never do that. Our Congress enables the Israeli bully to attack whoever it wants. Somehow, the American people must change our Congress, which is Israeli occupied territory now, and has been for a long time.

  19. Pingback: Sunday afternoon update following President Obama’s AIPAC speech « Middle East atemporal

  20. Pingback: Sunday afternoon update following President Obama’s AIPAC speech | SHOAH

  21. Pingback: Iran Bombing Threat: Creating a Mindset that Leads to War – by Chris Iosso |

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