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Obama: “We’ve got Israel’s back”

At quitting time Friday, I post a link to a New Republic piece suggesting that Israel P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu was looking for a firm, public commitment from Pres. Obama that the U.S. would go beyond “all-option-on-the-table” and use military means if necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Since then, I’ve read a remarkable interview with Obama by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic magazine in which, to my surprise, Obama came pretty close to that. I urge you to read the whole thing. It’s long and the quality of both the questions and the answers is breathtaking. And, obviously, Obama chose this interview to announce the message he wants Netanyahu, Iran, the world and us, his constituents, to hear.

Here’s a taste:

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: From what we understand, Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to ask you for some specific enunciations of red lines, for specific promises related to the Iranian nuclear program. What is your message to the prime minister going to be? What do you want to get across to him?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: First of all, it’s important to say that I don’t know exactly what the prime minister is going to be coming with. We haven’t gotten any indication that there is some sharp “ask” that is going to be presented. Both the United States and Israel have been in constant consultation about a very difficult issue, and that is the prospect of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. This is something that has been one of my top five foreign-policy concerns since I came into office.

We, immediately upon taking over, mapped out a strategy that said we are going to mobilize the international community around this issue and isolate Iran to send a clear message to them that there is a path they can follow that allows them to rejoin the community of nations, but if they refused to follow that path, that there would be an escalating series of consequences.

Three years later, we can look back and say we have been successful beyond most people’s expectations. When we came in, Iran was united and on the move, and the world was divided about how to address this issue. Today, the world is as united as we’ve ever seen it around the need for Iran to take a different path on its nuclear program, and Iran is isolated and feeling the severe effects of the multiple sanctions that have been placed on it.

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.

GOLDBERG: Go back to this language, ‘All options on the table.’ You’ve probably said it 50 or 100 times. And a lot of people believe it, but the two main intended audiences, the supreme leader of Iran and the prime minister of Israel, you could argue, don’t entirely trust this. The impression we get is that the Israeli government thinks this is a vague expression that’s been used for so many years. Is there some ramping-up of the rhetoric you’re going to give them?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think the Israeli people understand it, I think the American people understand it, and I think the Iranians understand it. It means a political component that involves isolating Iran; it means an economic component that involves unprecedented and crippling sanctions; it means a diplomatic component in which we have been able to strengthen the coalition that presents Iran with various options through the P-5 plus 1 and ensures that the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] is robust in evaluating Iran’s military program; and it includes a military component. And I think people understand that.

I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff. 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.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/03/2012 - 09:04 am.

    What nuclear weapons?

    Meanwhile the CIA says there’s no credible evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/25/world/middleeast/us-agencies-see-no-move-by-iran-to-build-a-bomb.html

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/03/2012 - 10:46 am.

    The Devil

    is in the likelihoods.

  3. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/03/2012 - 11:04 pm.

    A new poll by the U of Maryland

    was cited by the Christian Science Monitor of March 1. When asked if they supported Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to attack Iran, Israeli citizens responded as follows:

    43 percent support an attack only if the US provides assistance
    32 percent are opposed no matter what
    22 percent support an attack with or without US support

    I wish someone would poll the US Congress. My guess would be that the number supporting an attack — and US support — is pretty high, especially among all those who still consider Iran a member of the Axis of Evil.

  4. Submitted by james anderson on 03/04/2012 - 02:01 pm.

    US Congress poll on Israeli sopport

    If it wasnt an election year this is a pretty good idea. With an election
    in the offing I think there would be more pandering to the base than reasonrd thought.

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 03/05/2012 - 06:49 am.

    Does he US have an idea as to who is going to lend them money for this grand idea of another war?

    Will it be a war declared by Congress?

    Will the US bring back the draft, or do we not want to send the sons and daughters of the political elite and Wall Street into harms way?

    You gotta pity they young, as they get to fight and die as well as pick up the tab.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/05/2012 - 09:51 am.

      The Draft

      is probably dead.
      Wars these days don’t require large numbers of fighters; just drone operators sitting at consoles in Houston.
      When boots on the ground are needed we hire mercenaries (er, contractors). Most of the Americans in combat in Pashtunistan are not members of our armed forces.

  6. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 03/05/2012 - 07:08 am.

    Just suppose we cut back on our nuclear overload for starters..

    You could say we are the bully-on-the block; we who cherish our hoards of nuclear missiles which could blow up the globe how many times over?

    Minot North Dakota Air Force base which started out as a radar base in the 50’s, now has a stock pile of nuclear missiles to guarantee our safety?

    Anhydrous Ammonia spills, live N missiles crossing the country by mistake a few years back..flood waters lapped at the base of a few missiles this past summer…Air Force Times has an archive noting events listed. All corrected now but why the bully-load?

    Hopefully negotiations become the tool/weapon of choice here?

    Mistakes have been made and yes, our military has corrected those errors… yet, who but the military , our military alone, inspects any weaknesses in our own systems; held on-hold, to ensure, guaranteeing mass destruction for whom?

    Are there ‘globally empowered’ inspections of our nuclear weapons bases…here and overseas…if so, by whom?

    And where is the voice of the Palestinian in these present talks between Bibi N and Obama? Who will suffer the backlash from whatever these talks succeed in “justifying’?

    We worry about the price of oil going up with the ‘sanctions’ alternative…far less destructive if nuclear war starts escalating possibly?

    But sanctions too…starve the Iranian people or otherwise we bomb Iran and begin the big bang war in all its ugliness?.

    Who wins, who loses?So what if we cut back on our ‘overload’ of nuclear stockpiles as one concession by us…and then Negotiate, negotiate…but no winners here I suppose which ever way you look at it….

  7. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 03/05/2012 - 08:33 am.

    What a difference a year makes

    Last year at this time Netenyahu was convinced by the right wing that Barack was not “one of us”. After the American people were informed by the conservative right, Barack would be dispatched after one term.

    Netenyahu and his AIPAC crowd trotted into the White House and showed
    B.O you know what. After all Bibi was going to Congress and they were collectively gonna show Obama the door. After all what did this man of Kenyan heritage know about America.

    Now a year later Obama looks like he is gonna be around for another four + one. Now Netenyahu comes to the White House after Obama politely signalled at the AIPAC conference “No”.

    Netenyahu can only howl and throw a fit, but he has been emasculated. And the whole world knows it. He knows that he cannot bomb Iran without American support, despite all his bluffs. He knows the Iranians are not stupid and will not fall for some escalation unlike the Arabs of past.

  8. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/05/2012 - 09:39 am.

    Every war looks like a grand idea and a simple solution before the shooting starts.

    Those ideas are the first to die in the mud and the blood.

    Precision bombing is a myth. The kill radius extends far beyond the target. How many children have been killed by drones?

    Want to feel good about our understanding of Iran:

    (quote)

    But the work of the “Iran watchers” brings attention to one of the realities that American decision-makers face — without an embassy and consulates inside Iran, most of what they know about that country is second and even third hand. In a world where such information helped mislead the Bush administration into asserting erroneously that Saddam Hussein still had active weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq, the prospect that U.S. intelligence may be guided, even in a small way, by such reports unnerves some.

    Anyone who will talk to an Iran watcher “is someone who wants a (U.S.) visa, who wants money, is an expatriate, or someone with an explicitly anti-Islamic Republic agenda,” said Flynt Leverett, a former White House and CIA official who’s now a professor of international affairs at Penn State University.

    “The whole concept is really flawed,” said Leverett, a long-time critic of U.S. Iran policy. “It’s almost structurally designed to make sure we get skewed information.”….

    …Even so, the cables show, the U.S. often has a difficult time knowing what is going on there.

    The largest mass protests in the Islamic republic’s history “were unanticipated by most of us,” Feltman acknowledged to the Iran watchers on June 26, 2009, two weeks after disputed presidential elections sparked massive demonstrations and rioting in a challenge to Iran’s theocracy.

    “Without a post in Iran and given the Iranian government crackdown on its citizens, journalists, foreign diplomats and most modes of communication, our ability to get reliable news and make sense of the situation here in Washington has proved most difficult,” Feltman wrote….

    …Iran, with its suspected nuclear weapons program, ties to terrorist groups, and attempts to spread influence throughout the Middle East, has been a prime foreign policy headache for both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

    But the 295 “Iran watcher” reports reviewed by McClatchy, out of 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks, also show what seem to be missed chances at reconciliation between the adversaries.

    In November 2008 and again in April 2009, U.N. officials and a former Iranian official told U.S. diplomats in Istanbul, Turkey, that the Tehran regime would welcome an American offer of counter-narcotics cooperation. Iran is plagued with rampant drug addiction and opium trafficked from neighboring Afghanistan.

    But Washington apparently never picked up on the proposal.

    In a more humorous encounter, a U.S. official found herself staying in the same hotel, on the same floor, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the latter’s August 2008 visit to Istanbul.

    A cable relates what happened next: “She was approached in the lobby by an Iranian official mistaking the (U.S.) official for a Western reporter and asking her if she had any question to ask him.”

    The Iran watcher program is relatively small, current and former U.S. officials say, comprising about 15 diplomats stationed in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Great Britain, Germany and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Its unofficial headquarters is the State Department’s Iran Regional Presence Office in Dubai, where an estimated 700,000 Iranians live.

    A State Department official in Washington said the program was established in 2006 for three reasons: to improve U.S. knowledge about Iran; to prepare a cadre of diplomats should the United States ever re-establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran; and to build up a corps of Farsi-language speakers.

    Before the program, the number of State Department Farsi-speakers with knowledge of Iran “was three, maybe four,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak for the record….

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/04/17/112290/state-department-cables-reveal.html

    (end quote)

    No real inside information, 4 Farsi speakers in the State Department, 15 diplomats that talk to various people outside of Iran.

    Sounds like recipe for another screw-up.

  9. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/05/2012 - 09:54 am.

    What the middle east really needs

    is a total iron clad ban on nuclear weapons.
    Hint: there’s only one country in the area with nuclear weapons, and it’s had large numbers of them for decades. It’s not Iran.

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