Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Today's Reading Assignment

Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal, describes how President Obama is actually pushing Israel toward war with Iran. As he writes:

Events are fast pushing Israel toward a pre-emptive military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, probably by next spring. That strike could well fail. Or it could succeed at the price of oil at $300 a barrel, a Middle East war, and American servicemen caught in between. So why is the Obama administration doing everything it can to speed the war process along?

At July's G-8 summit in Italy, Iran was given a September deadline to start negotiations over its nuclear programs. Last week, Iran gave its answer: No.

Instead, what Tehran offered was a five-page document that was the diplomatic equivalent of a giant kiss-off. It begins by lamenting the "ungodly ways of thinking prevailing in global relations" and proceeds to offer comprehensive talks on a variety of subjects: democracy, human rights, disarmament, terrorism, "respect for the rights of nations," and other areas where Iran is a paragon. Conspicuously absent from the document is any mention of Iran's nuclear program, now at the so-called breakout point, which both Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his boss Ali Khamenei insist is not up for discussion.

What's an American president to do in the face of this nonstarter of a document? What else, but pretend it isn't a nonstarter. Talks begin Oct. 1.


In sum, the conclusion among Israelis is that the Obama administration won't lift a finger to stop Iran, much less will the "international community." So Israel has pursued a different strategy, in effect seeking to goad the U.S. into stopping, or at least delaying, an Israeli attack by imposing stiff sanctions and perhaps even launching military strikes of its own.

But, as Mr. Stephens notes, the administration isn't taking the bait. He wonders if Mr. Obama believes that (a) diplomacy will actually work; (b) the U.S. has the luxury of time; (c) he can talk the Israelis out of attacking Iran; (d) Washington actually wants Tel Aviv to do the dirty work, or (e) he isn't paying attention.

Our guess would be a combination of A and E. Mr. Obama has long believed in the primacy of diplomatic talks, even with adversaries (read: North Korea) who have a history of breaking every agreement they sign. We also believe that the issue has slipped off the President's radar, despite Iran's steady advance towards nuclear weaponry. This afternoon, for example, the White House announced that the commander-in-chief will appear on David Letterman later this week and on five Sunday talk show this weekend. We're guessing that Iran won't be a primary topic of discussion--if it's mentioned at all.

At the risk of patting ourselves on the back, we should note that Mr. Stephens's column dovetails nicely with our previous post, which predicted a foreign policy reckoning for President Obama in the coming months. Judging by events in Iran, that reckoning may be closer than we might imagine.


Neil said...

I suspect the answer is more like a combination of b) and d). Obama is no fool, and understands the use of power quite well, whatever his ideological proclivities may or may not be.

Obama can try the heavy lifting of imposing sanctions, past the objections of China, Germany, Russia, and his own political base, and likely fail at it. Or he can goad the Israelis into taking care of the problem for him.

Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Rich said...

The Obama Administration, EU, and Russia have accepted a nuclear armed Iran. So the answers are a thru c.

The Obama calculus seems to be - avoid conflict now; the Saudis, UAE, et al. will become solely dependent on a US defensive "umbrella", providing the US with a measure of political leverage in the area. If the Israelis are somehow persuaded to live under a US committment for their survival, albeit highly unlikely, Obama will have saddled the world with an unstable MAD posture against an unpredicatble Iranian regime.

For Netanyahu the calculus is made much simpler - answer d and e.

OldSarg said...

I can't get my thoughts off the issue of Obama running around like Chavez putting his mug on every screen he can.

Paul G. said...

I think Thomas P.M. Barnett put it well regarding this piece:


Quite the rhetorical sales job here: If Obama does not wage war on Iran pre-emptively, then he is to be blamed--not Israel--when Israel goes to war.

You have to be a special kind of stupid to buy this lame argument.

Israel, it seems, is totally under our thumb, so much so that we determine when it wages war. Who knew we had such power?

Or maybe it's the other way around, because now America is supposed to wage war on Israel's behalf whenever the latter decides it cannot live with another state breaking its decades-long monopoly on WMD in the region.

Stephens was the editor of the Jerusalem Post from 2002-2004, so you know he speaks from the heart here, as opposed to his head.

But the "kill the Persians now!" push he offers here is transparent beyond words.

Ed Rasimus said...

I can only conclude that the administration is utterly naive with regard to foreign policy. They have not benefited from history, they adopt neither the "realist" Morganthau view or the "idealist" good-guy/bad-guy perspective of international relations.

The basis of decision seems to be emotional appeal to the base and without recognition of either America's power or responsibility.

Netanyahu cannot afford such waffling. His nation's survival is at stake.

Meanwhile Obama makes the talk-show rounds, Biden offers gaffe-of-the-day and Hillary is marginalized. Where is Reagan not that we really could appreciate him?

Augurwell said...