Obama’s AIPAC speech – what a difference an election year makes

Obama at AIPAC

Obama at AIPAC

It’s hard to believe that nearly a whole year has passed since that contentious speech by Barack Obama and the diplomatic lesson given to him by Binyamin Netanyahu that followed.

President Obama, addressing the AIPAC convention today in Washington, portrayed a much more conciliatory tone towards Israel. This is in part a nod to his audience, but more importantly, it was a bid to win the Jewish vote in the upcoming US elections.

The main thrust of his speech appeared to be a recitation of Obama’s and America’s strong support of Israel and commitment to its security. Unfortunately these claims are not always borne out by the truth.

But as you examine my commitment, you don’t just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds. Because over the last three years, as President of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel. At every crucial juncture – at every fork in the road – we have been there for Israel. Every single time.

Technically, Obama is correct. But US support for Israel “every single time” mostly came after making Israel sweat a little or publicly humiliating or embarrassing her.

Obama also made mention of the revolutions in the Arab world without noting the fact that the US encouraged the overthrow of an ally – Mubarak – while openly engaging tyrannical regimes like Syria and Iran in the misguided belief that dialogue will lead to peace.

The most important part of the speech was dedicated to Iran and its nuclear ambitions:

Let’s begin with a basic truth that you all understand: no Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction.  And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, and all of Israel’s leaders.

A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests. But 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. A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we have done so much to build. There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the most volatile regions in the world. It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran’s proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia.

That is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is what we have done.

When I took office, the efforts to apply pressure on Iran were in tatters. Iran had gone from zero centrifuges spinning to thousands, without facing broad pushback from the world. In the region, Iran was ascendant – increasingly popular, and extending its reach. In other words, the Iranian leadership was united and on the move, and the international community was divided about how to go forward.

And so from my first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime: a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don’t. In fact, our policy of engagement – quickly rebuffed by the Iranian regime – allowed us to rally the international community as never before; to expose Iran’s intransigence; and to apply pressure that goes far beyond anything that the United States could do on our own.

Because of our efforts, Iran is under greater pressure than ever before. People predicted that Russia and China wouldn’t join us in moving toward pressure. They did, and in 2010 the UN Security Council overwhelmingly supported a comprehensive sanctions effort. Few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime. They have, slowing the Iranian nuclear program and virtually grinding the Iranian economy to a halt in 2011. Many questioned whether we could hold our coalition together as we moved against Iran’s Central Bank and oil exports. But our friends in Europe and Asia and elsewhere are joining us. And in 2012, the Iranian government faces the prospect of even more crippling sanctions.

That is where we are today. Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure. And the Arab Spring has only increased these trends, as the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is exposed, and its ally – the Assad regime – is crumbling.

Again, what he says is true, but with a caveat. The US fumbled about before imposing full sanctions on Iran and didn’t use its full power to persuade the other countries to participate in the sanctions until almost too late.  Obama’s America abdicated its power and delegated it to the “neutral” and ineffective United Nations.

It was indeed reassuring though to hear the following from the President:

We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically. Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs. I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power. A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort to impose crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

And finally, Obama expresses what he claims are his true feelings.

…if you want to know where my heart lies, look no further than what I have done – to stand up for Israel; to secure both of our countries; and to see that the rough waters of our time lead to a peaceful and prosperous shore. Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel. And God bless the United States of America.

Amen. I just wish I felt I could trust that these words were completely sincere, and not just pro-forma statements in honour of the venue and the looming US Presidential elections.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was appreciative of Obama’s threat of force against Iran.  However, David Horovitz in the Times of Israel echoes my suspicions about Obama’s intentions when he writes that Israel and the US draw their red lines on Iran in different places:

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu have much in common. Oh, and they also each believe they know what’s best for Israel. And that the other doesn’t.

We saw this playing out publicly over peacemaking with the Palestinians. It is now playing out privately over stopping Iran’s progress to the bomb.

Obama has consistently argued that Israel’s long-term interests require it to do its utmost to reach an accommodation with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas  … He cannot understand why Netanyahu would keep building in settlements that will need to be dismantled for a viable two-state solution. He thinks Israeli interests required Netanyahu to extend the settlement freeze in order to keep Abbas at the negotiating table.

… Sometimes, it is plain, he and his administration think Israel needs to be saved from the right-wing’s settlement obsession.

Netanyahu, for his part, believes Obama overestimates Abbas’s willingness to lead his people to a viable accord. He sees few signs that Abbas is prepared to challenge the unyielding narrative that Arafat bequeathed to the Palestinian people, which despicably held that there was no Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and by extension no Jewish national legitimacy in the Middle East. …

He thinks Obama let Abbas off the hook by pressuring Israel to halt settlements as a pre-condition for negotiations, costing critical leverage. And now he sees Abbas, intolerably, partnering with Hamas and seeking UN endorsement for independence without the inconvenience of having to negotiate basic modalities with Israel.

This year, the central subject has shifted: it’s all about Iran.

What hasn’t changed is the divergent thinking.

Obama, as he told Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview just last Monday, believes economic pressure could yet persuade the “self-interested” regime in Tehran to halt its drive to the bomb. Netanyahu fears that a regime that preaches the destruction of the Jewish state as constituting God’s will has very different calculations of self-interest.

Obama, though restating that a military option is available if needed, argues that sanctions are starting to have a real impact. Netanyahu said in Cyprus 10 days ago that, sadly, they are not.

Netanyahu does not doubt that Obama is determined to prevent Iran from attaining the bomb. It is, rather, the “timeline” that divides them, as officials on both sides acknowledge. The red lines are drawn in different places.

Read it all for slightly depressing but not entirely pessimistic analysis.

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15 Responses to Obama’s AIPAC speech – what a difference an election year makes

  1. Obama remains a political animal. His word is as good as the momentary direction of the wind blows for or against his political ambitions. Israel can take out Iran now or later but it prefers to have the support of the US.in an attack on Iran as well as that of the international community. So it waits until the US is ready. At that time Obama will dither and ask first for congressional approval – which he will get, but then he’ll ask for UN approval which he won’t get which will be his excuse for refusing to attack. Nevertheless, he will not interfer with Israel’s inevitable attack. Months after Israel’s successful neutralizing of Iran, the Middle East will be in great turmoil and will have little, if any capacity to pose a threat to any nation. All the Arab states involved in the Arab Spring will be impotent politically, economically and especially, militarily. Hamas and the PLO will be without financial support from either Iran or the EU and on life support. Syria will remain in civil war. Hezballah will be without Iranian or Syrian support and in demise. And throughout the remainder of the Arab world the Sunni/Shiite/Alawite/Kurd/Christian and other multiple tribes will be at each other’s throats – all to the benefit of Israel which, as the only remaining stable nation in the Middle East will thrive economically, politically and militarily. While the Arabs march themselves back to the 7th century, the rest of the world can remain at peace.

    • Leslie Greenberg says:

      From your mouth to God’s ears!!

    • anneinpt says:

      Elliot, thank you for your detailed reply. As I said below, I sincerely hope you are right. We all do. Certainly much of what you write sounds extremely likely, e.g. Obama receiving Congressional approval but not the UN’s. But will the Arabs really turn on each other and not try to take revenge on Israel? Again, it’s likely but I’d be scared of getting too over-confident.

  2. Roxymuzak says:

    O’Bama, and recently aquired apostrophe, was over here in Ireland last year, spouting blarney – that word originated in Ireland so we know blarney when we hear it – and drinking Guinness. He’d talk the hind legs off an ass, would El Presidente. He was also getting all misty-eyed about a long lost Irish relative.I almot shed a tear myself, going forward.
    He’ll tell the Irish, Jews and Italians eveything we want to hear heading into the election. That’s politics.

    • anneinpt says:

      Aridog was saying much the same in an earlier thread (I can’t remember which one now). As Elliott Alhadeff says above, Obama is the consummate politician and will swing with the wind. Can’t really blame him, all politicians are the same, even Israeli pols, except he seems to have no red lines regarding US or Israeli security.

  3. Arieh Shealtiel says:

    Thank G-D for Israel and Israel place in the region, to hear Obamas unreserved commitment is an assurance not to be taken scathingly. It is deeply unhelpful to be negative. Israel and the West are inextricably linked,economically, politically and militarily.

    • anneinpt says:

      I agree that It is certainly cheering and heartening to hear Obama’s new commitment to Israel. However I can’t help being slightly sceptical, given his past behaviour. You are 100% right that Israel and the West are inextricably linked. For that reason alone, Obama should be sincere. We will have to wait and see.

      • Obama has sustained Special Operations Command and the SOCOM forces (so far), as well as increased the intensity of drone strikes. That’s the good part, but … There is a reason: He can report and take credit for those successful missions that suit his personal purpose, and not mention those that go awry. Then, when he takes credit, he talks too much.

        Never-the-less we are grateful for small favors, and hope he continues to support Special Ops for whatever reason., even selfish ones. That said, Obama is the last man on the planet anyone should divulge anything secret to … unless they want it to pop up in some global news piece.

    • People. Please. As Elliott Alhadeff said:

      Obama remains a political animal. His word is as good as the momentary direction of the wind blows for or against his political ambitions.

      Plainly put, his word is worthless.

      But he will take credit for it all if Israel succeeds. That is the only reason he’s moderating his tone just now … so he take credit later if it suits him. If Israel should be less than fully successful, he’ll be first to say “I told you so.”

      Turn your back on this man, put your trust in this man, at your peril. Period.

  4. Rob Harris says:

    the scepticism about Obama is well deserved, and reinforced yet again with his political points scoring in a speech today http://news.ie.msn.com/world/republicans-beating-drums-of-war-obama where he tried to make out the Republicans would start a war with Iran, a moot point since they are not in power, whilst pouring cold water in Netanyahu’s fears. At the end of the day Obama may not hate Israel but he regards it as an abject nuisance & is willing to play fast and loose with the lives of the people there for political gain. That is surely a measure of the man’s character.

    • anneinpt says:

      I think your opinion is spot on. Between you and Aridog you have the measure of the man. At the very least you echo what the majority of Israelis feel.

  5. cba says:

    I found this interestng http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/obamas-passover-seder-at-aipac-does-the-policy-contain-bitter-herbs/ (all text that follows is from the article):

    “10 times in his speech the President referred to preventing the ominous “nuclear weapon.” As a former speechwriter for American and Israeli political leaders, I found the constant repetition of the phrase “nuclear weapon” to be both calming and curious. The president elaborated on the threat of a weapon – to Israel, the Middle East, US interests and world peace. But a speechwriter tries to give some variety to his words, and Obama’s writers stuck with the phrase “nuclear weapons” throughout the address… 10 times in his speech the President referred to preventing the ominous “nuclear weapon.”

    Was it just a rhetorical tool to repeat the phrase? Or was it a policy decision to limit American reaction only to the final act of a “obtaining a nuclear weapon?”… He never voiced opposition to a “nuclear Iran,” or to “Iran’s nuclear capability,” or to “Iran’s uranium enrichment program.”

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