Nothing annoys foreign policy establishment types more than the need for presidents to pander to the opinions of the voters. That’s even more true this year than most as President Obama’s desire to pose as Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House has caused him to take stands that not only bother veteran Foggy Bottom “realists” but also his core supporters and staffers who apparently take a dim view of the desire of the overwhelming majority of the American people to support Israel and to vigorously oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But though Obama’s Jewish charm offensive may still be in full swing, government insiders are apparently working overtime to send Israel and the rest of the world the signal that the president’s political commitments ought not to be taken all that seriously.
That’s the upshot of a week of heavy duty leaking on the part of administration officials who are less than thrilled about the fact that the president has publicly enlisted them in an effort to stop Iran. Yesterday, there was the attempt by Washington to expose Israel’s secret alliance with Azerbaijan and thereby ensure that it would be broken off so as to render an attack on Iran more difficult. Today, the New York Times has another leaked story in which anonymous government figures state their concern the president’s public rhetoric on Iran has boxed them into a spot that neither he nor they want to be in.
The leaking demonstrates just how unhappy the Washington foreign and defense policy establishment is about the way the president’s re-election campaign has led him to commit himself to action on Iran. Lest there be any doubt about the purpose of these disclosures, the officials tell the Times their hope is these stories as well as the recent leak about a Pentagon war simulation that was specifically crafted to feed speculation about possible U.S. casualties in the event of a conflict with Iran are designed to “provide the president with some political cover.”
The “cover” will presumably be necessary because the administration has no intention of ever actually going to the mat with Iran in spite of all the tough talk that comes out of the president’s mouth when addressing pro-Israel audiences. Some of the anonymous sources for the Times story are worried about the tough talk taking on a life of its own and overwhelming their proposed diplomatic plans on Iran. But the underlying assumption of these leaks is that the real truth about the president’s plans was revealed in his “hot mic” moment with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev when he spoke of having more “flexibility” after his “last election,” not his speech to AIPAC.
But for all the duplicity involved in the formulation of current U.S. policy toward Iran, the leakers have brought attention to a genuine dilemma. The president has condemned “loose talk” about war with Iran and has stuck to his belief that diplomacy can find a way to beguile the Iranians to abandon their nuclear plans. But the talkative administration officials understand all too well that the president’s “window of diplomacy” never really existed. No matter how much they boast of their success in creating an international coalition to back sanctions against Iran, they know this is mere talk. The Iranians don’t believe the Europeans will, when push comes to shove, enforce crippling sanctions against them. And they have no intention of backing down.
That means sooner or later, President Obama will have to choose between actually taking action on Iran and breaking his promise to ensure that Iran never goes nuclear. His staffers just hope that moment comes after November when, they presume, he can safely break his word. After all these leaks, if the Iranians didn’t already know this to be true, they know it now.