While the world watches and waits to see what, if anything, Washington will do to stop Iran’s nuclear program, the greatest obstacle to action may not be just the president’s indifference to the existential threat to Israel or the possibility such a development would pose to regional stability. Instead, as it is rapidly becoming evident, one of the fundamental problems here may be something else: the Obama administration’s obsession with pursuing the left’s Cold War agenda against nuclear arms.
As the New York Times‘s report (mentioned earlier today by Jennifer) shows, President Obama plans to revive a civilian nuclear agreement with Russia, one that had been spiked by the Bush administration after Moscow’s invasion of Georgia in 2008. When it comes to nuclear issues, the administration’s priority remains the futile pursuit of agreements that will diminish America’s nuclear edge rather than an all-out effort to stop the spread of such weapons. As was the case with last year’s decision to betray past promises to the Czech Republic and Poland on missile defense to appease Russia, Obama’s main concern seems to be conciliating America’s antagonists rather than solidarity with allies. Rather than wait to see if Russia will make good on the vague pledges it has made about supporting the United States on Iran, Obama has gone ahead and handed the Medvedev/Putin regime a major victory in exchange for nothing.
Yet as troubling as this foolish determination to please Russia’s new autocrats may be, it is merely part of a larger agenda in which the administration’s interest in nuclear issues has created a situation that, rather than isolating the rogue regime in Tehran, may serve to harm Israel. As the United Nations’s month-long nuclear nonproliferation conference that began last week has shown, Washington’s push on the issue has been derailed. The president’s much-heralded deference to international opinion and his clear interest in appeasing Russia and China have contributed to a situation where the main topic of conversation is becoming not how to stop Iran but rather how to disarm its intended victim Israel. The fact that Israel’s possession of nukes is purely defensive — after all, it is the only nation marked for extinction by many of its neighbors as well as by the Iranian regime — is more easily forgotten amid the new emphasis given to banning nukes started by Obama. This is reinforced by a statement earlier this week from the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, who is asking for international input on an Arab-led push to have Israel join the Nonproliferation Treaty, in a move that increases pressure on Jerusalem to disclose more information about its own nuclear weapons.
A great deal of attention has been paid to the dangerous position articulated by some in the administration of calling for linkage between American efforts to stop Iran and “progress” in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a dead end for Israel, not only because the two issues are not related, but also because the Palestinians’ lack of interest in a peace agreement would, under such an arrangement, ensure that nothing is done about Iran.
But perhaps even more dangerous is the growing international sentiment in favor of linking Iran’s nuclear program with Israel’s, and such moral equivalence between a potential aggressor and a potential victim is strengthened by the administration’s desire to revive the left’s old “ban all the nukes” spirit. Like America’s nuclear deterrent that kept the peace in Europe for 40 years after World War II and ultimately ensured that the fall of the Soviet Empire would be peaceful rather than bloody, Israel’s nuclear deterrent is not a threat to its neighbors but a guarantee that all-out war won’t happen. If, as it is becoming rapidly apparent, international nonproliferation diplomacy becomes more a matter of hammering Israel than of isolating Iran, we will have President Obama’s foolish nuclear obsession to thank for it.