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Letting Bibi Do the Dirty Work

Bret Stephens wonders why the U.S. is forcing Israel into a military strike on Iran. The U.S. gave Iran a deadline. The Iranians submitted “a five-page document that was the diplomatic equivalent of a giant kiss-off” and the Obama administration agreed to start talks. Stephens notes:

All this only helps persuade Israel’s skittish leadership that when President Obama calls a nuclear-armed Iran “unacceptable,” he means it approximately in the same way a parent does when fecklessly reprimanding his misbehaving teenager. That impression is strengthened by Mr. Obama’s decision to drop Iran from the agenda when he chairs a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Sept. 24; by Defense Secretary Robert Gates publicly opposing military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities; and by Russia’s announcement that it will not support any further sanctions on Iran.

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 despite open discussion of its military options, Israel can’t seem to get Obama to draw a line with Iran or even begin to beat the drum for sanctions. Why? Stephens suggests that this is a plan to turn Israel, in essence, into the bad guys who will strike Iran, thereby sparing Obama from getting his hair mussed. Stephens observes:

It is not in the U.S. interest that Israel be the instrument of Iran’s disarmament. For starters, its ability to do so is iffy: Israeli strategists are quietly putting it about that even a successful attack may have to be repeated a few years down the road as Iran reconstitutes its capacity. For another thing, Iran could respond to such a strike not only against Israel itself, but also U.S. targets in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

But most importantly, it is an abdication of a superpower’s responsibility to outsource matters of war and peace to another state, however closely allied. President Obama has now ceded the driver’s seat on Iran policy to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

So this is what passes for “smart” diplomacy: evading our international commitments, shirking our role as leader of the West, setting our ally up to be the fall guy, and advertising to other foes that we lack the will to pursue either economic or military options, even when our own security and that of our allies are at stake. In some sense this is worse than the diplomacy of Jimmy Carter, who lacked an appreciation for the motives of the Soviets until they invaded Afghanistan. The Obama administration understands, it seems, what Iran is up to; it just lacks the spine to do anything about it.


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