Political Animal

Blog

March 05, 2012 8:59 AM Obama Draws His Own Lines at AIPAC

By Ed Kilgore

As Adele Stan noted yesterday, the President’s speech to AIPAC was a pretty big deal: “Given tensions with Iran and the rhetoric of the Republican presidential primary campaign, the importance of this speech as both a piece of diplomacy and one of political position really can’t be overstated.”

The full import of the speech may not be apparent immediately; a lot may depend on how Bibi Netanyahu reacts during and after his private meetings with Obama. But it is clear Obama did not succumb to the pressure to close ranks with Bibi that Marc Tracy described before his remarks:

AIPAC is calling on the more than 13,000 conference attendees to ask House members and senators—many of whom will be present at tomorrow night’s “roll call” and be lobbied Tuesday on Capitol Hill—to support a bipartisan Senate resolution that would put them on the record opposing containment of an Iran with a “nuclear weapons capability.” Neither AIPAC nor the resolution allege that Iran has decided to build a nuclear weapon—and available intelligence suggests that decision hasn’t been made. Instead, they argue that Iranian capability—on the model of, say, Japan, which has all the elements in place so that it could produce a nuclear bomb within a year if it wanted—is still unacceptable. “If Iran achieves the status of a ‘threshold’ nuclear state,” the talking points declare, “it will enjoy virtually the same benefits as if it actually possessed nuclear weapons.”
The cover of the brochure that is the first thing you see when you open the media kit says it all: “Iranian Nuclear Weapons Capability: Unacceptable.”
If this became U.S. policy, it would bring its position closer to Israel’s. It might constitute the new “red line” that Prime Minister Netanyahu will seek tomorrow when he meets with President Obama at the White House.

Trita Parsi succinctly explains that Obama did not cooperate with this effort:

The dispute on the nuclear issue is centered on red lines. 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.
While expressing his sympathy and friendship with Israel, Obama did not yield his red line at AIPAC. With the backing of the U.S. military, he has stood firm behind weaponization rather than weapons capability as the red line.

This may turn out to be a more crucial distinction than the “options on the table” arguments about U.S.-Iran relations that have drawn the most media attention for years now.

More basically, at a time when the general expectation was that Obama would devote his AIPAC speech to a pander-thon, he actually didn’t. As Spencer Ackerman observed: “Obama’s speech to AIPAC threw down a gauntlet to multiple audiences, while challenging them to do things his way.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • max on March 05, 2012 9:06 AM:

    Article: "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."

    I hope this is true. By the way, when is the next election in Israel? Their current government is Way too theocratic and irrational.

  • stormskies on March 05, 2012 9:24 AM:

    It's nice to have a president who desires to remain within the parameters of international law versus the go it alone pig shit attitude of Bush, and apparently Netanyahu.

    And, by the way, Netanyahu enjoys tremendous public support in Israel.

  • square1 on March 05, 2012 9:45 AM:

    The sane solution to the problem would be to make the entire region nuke-free.

    My sense is that this is a non-starter largely because Israel would never go for it.

    Israels's problem -- diplomatically speaking -- is that it insists on a largely indefensible military asymmetry: Israel and NATO can and should possess nukes but Arab and/or Islamic states shouldn't. Israel insists on a level of peace of mind that it refuses to grant to other states in the region.

    Let's get real. Israel faces no conventional military threats. With or even without the backing of the U.S., no country is going to "push Israel into the sea" any time soon.

    If the region were nuke-free, Israel would not face any nuke-threats either. It would also greatly reduce the possibility of loose nuclear material being used by non-state entities against Israel.

  • rrk1 on March 05, 2012 10:21 AM:

    While it is encouraging that Obama didn't suck up to Nutanyahoo, at least not publicly, the pressure on him to make a perpetual commitment to Israel's support, beyond defense, is no less intense. Nutanyahoo sees Obama as an obstacle and wants him gone. That may be the most serious threat to Obama's reelection. Bush I ran afoul of the Israelis when he pushed back, and look where that got him. Bush II let them do anything they wanted, and he was adored for it. Let us not underestimate the influence of the Israelis on our politics.

    See Mearsheimer & Walt's piece in the Financial Times. These are very courageous fellows for telling it as it is:

    http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/38c9382a-65f8-11e1-979e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1oCIF9w5p

  • Rabbler on March 05, 2012 10:29 AM:

    The message delivered on Monday in secret is the one that counts. The rest is just posturing. Anyone want to bet against war within the first 2 years of the next presidential term at the latest?

  • cmdicely on March 05, 2012 12:30 PM:

    The sane solution to the problem would be to make the entire region nuke-free.

    My sense is that this is a non-starter largely because Israel would never go for it.

    Due to the substantial US aid received by Israel (and Israel's reliance on the US veto at the UN), Israel should be relatively susceptible to US pressure. The problem with this in practice is that the US never imposes consequences for Israeli actions that are inconsistent with US interests, which means Israel never feels any pressure to compromise, even with the US.

    Israels's problem -- diplomatically speaking -- is that it insists on a largely indefensible military asymmetry:

    This isn't a problem for Israel, its just an outcome of Israel's success in dictating policy to the US. (Its the source of many of the US's diplomatic problems in the region, but that's not a problem for Israel.)

  • Kathryn on March 05, 2012 1:04 PM:

    This is a perilous situation, if the world escapes 2012 without Israel attacking Iran we'll be damn lucky. Even Ehud Barak is saber rattling and I thought. (wrongly, I guess) that he was less of a hawk than Netnyahu. One thing is obvious, electing Romney, Santorum or Gingrich is green lighting a war with Iran which will be a huge clusterf..k.

    Can't believe the majority of American, even conservatives, want another nightmare in that part of the world. It's sickening, seems like the Israelis wants to adopt the Cheney approach to preemptive war which was so successful in Iraq.

  • Steve P on March 05, 2012 1:41 PM:

    How cynical would it be to suggest a poll determining how high gas prices have to rise--thanks to an Iranian embargo--before Americans decide to let Israel go stag on this one?

    Or to reckon how many of our friends/allies/competitors will share our pain and reject Iranian oil?

    Or to imagine the ads from Karl Rove or American Future if the all of the above happens: "Obama killed Nascar!"

    No more cynical than the alliance between the Likudnics (who'd throw America under the bus to save their own country) and the Evangelical Right (who see Israel solely as the conduit for the End Times when Jesus comes back to kill us all).

  • Werewolf on March 05, 2012 1:44 PM:

    I'd like to point out a couple of things.
    1). When Israel bombed the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981, there was very little public discussion about it before hand. Israeli government decided it needed to be done, it was done. Ditto with the Syrian reactor a few years ago.
    2). Israeli citizens are not very concerned with the situation in Iraq. This is a population that is *very* well informed about political and national security matters.
    The impression I'm getting is that this is a lot of saber rattling-and mind you, the Iranians are doing it, too (mostly for internal consumption-they want to seem tough by defying the West).
    And BTW, Netanyahu isn't very popular in Israel-but the way the parliamentary system works, he was best able to assemble a coalition.