At AIPAC conference, Obama boasts of his support for
Israel while effectively ruling out military action on Iran
It may well have been one of the most shamelessly duplicitous speeches in American presidential history.
Standing before the delegates of the 2012 AIPAC Policy Conference on Sunday, the largest annual gathering of pro-Israel activists in America, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a speech filled with praise of himself and his commitment to Israel's security. In that same speech, however he effectively ruled out any American or American-assisted military action against Israel's most pressing security problem: the Iranian nuclear program.
The rebuke was long expected by observers and Israeli officials, and indicated by recent press reports. So, of course, was Obama's rhetorical attempt to paint himself as Israel's best friend in the world ever.
"You don’t just have to count on my words," the president said, "You can look at my deeds. At every crucial juncture – at every fork in the road – we have been there for Israel. Every single time."
The president hoped, apparently, that his listeners had forgotten his first year in office, when he treated PM Netanyahu like a pariah and was "there for" the Palestinians in a way no other American president has ever been.
Nonetheless, Obama gave his audience the solemn declaration that "Israel’s place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected," a sentiment that he promptly undermined in the only really important part of his speech.
"No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust," he said of the Iranian regime,
threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction. It is also counter to the national security interests of the United States. Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
If there was a moment to endorse, or at least not openly oppose military action, it would have been at this juncture; but it was precisely then that Obama hit Israel square in the face with his refusal to do either.
I firmly believe that an opportunity 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.... Both Israel and the United States have an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically. After all, the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons. That’s what history tells us.
"History," needless to say, tells us no such thing. In fact, practicaly the only circumstances in which a regime has willfully given up such weapons has been under credible military threat, attack, or when the regime itself collapses.
More important, however, is Obama's obvious intention to put off any military action on Iran to the non-existent future. He already knows that Israeli officials believe there is no time for delays, and that Israel, or the U.S., or both must attack Iran's nuclear program soon if it is to prevent the program from passing the point of no return. Obama's statement, in other words, is both a refusal to commit America to Israel's aid against Iran, and very possibly a red light on an unassisted Israeli attack.
As if to drive the point home, Obama explicitly ruled out the possibility of military action except in the vague sense of leaving "all options on the table."
As President and Commander-in-Chief, I have a deeply-held preference for peace over war.... Already, there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend upon to fund their nuclear program. For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster; now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built. Now is the time to heed that timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: speak softly, but carry a big stick. As we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve, and that our coordination with Israel will continue.
Over 2,000 years ago, on the eve of another war, the Spartan leader Sthenelaides listened to a representative of the Athenian empire give a lengthy speech setting forth his city's case in its dispute with Sparta. Then Sthenelaides rose and said,
The long speech of the Athenians I do not pretend to understand. They said a good deal in praise of themselves, but nowhere denied that they are injuring our allies and the Peloponnesians. And yet if they behaved well against the Persians then, but ill towards us now, they deserve double punishment for having ceased to be good and for having become bad. We meanwhile are the same then and now, and shall not, if we are wise, disregard the wrongs of our allies, or put off till to-morrow the duty of assisting those who must suffer today.
One hopes that Israel's leaders, in the face of an administration with so much praise for itself and so little good behavior to match it, will find within themselves a similar stoic courage.