In a post last week entitled “Obama’s Weak-Tea Statement on Iran,” Jeffrey Goldberg noted Obama’s pathetically weak statement on the Iranian takeover of the British embassy, but wrote he thought Obama is tougher than his words suggest. The day before, in “On Obama’s Many Promises to Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program,” Goldberg reached the weak-tea conclusion that there was “no proof” Obama would not act if sanctions fail.
Perhaps no “proof” — but there has long been a lot of evidence, starting with David Brooks’ 2007 interview, in which Obama said Iran sees nuclear weapons in “defensive terms” and thus would be “deterrable” if it gets them. Brooks reported:
When you ask about ways to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, [Obama] talks grandly about marshaling a global alliance. But when you ask specifically if an Iranian bomb would be deterrable, he’s says yes: “I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.”
The “Many Promises to Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program” cited by Goldberg were mainly campaign promises from 2008, when Obama faced John McCain — not policy statements after he took office and started facing Iran. Obama lost his voice during the “Iranian Spring,” stayed silent as his seriatim 2009 “deadlines” for negotiations were ignored, and gave State of the Union addresses in 2010 and 2011 that are telling in comparison. In his 2010 address, Obama made an explicit promise:
North Korea now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions –- sanctions that are being vigorously enforced. That’s why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran’s leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: They, too, will face growing consequences. That is a promise.
The promised “consequences” — in the form of increased sanctions — were adopted in mid-2010, but did not change Iran’s course. In his 2011 address, Obama devoted a single sentence to Iran: “Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” That was it. No promise to stop Iran’s nuclear program, no discussion of more serious sanctions, no warning about other future “consequences.”
Currently, Obama is trying to neuter the stronger sanctions that passed the Senate 100-0. He sent his defense secretary out to list five reasons why Israel better not take any action against Iran. Perhaps Obama is tougher than his words suggest, since his words are so weak. But how would Goldberg — or more importantly Iran — know?
Yesterday, Goldberg blogged that he is “beginning to have doubts about the Obama administration’s approach to this issue” but has fewer doubts about Obama himself, whom he thinks understands the “potentially catastrophic consequences of an Iran with nuclear weapons.” Goldberg believes it is only “people around” Obama who think a nuclear Iran is containable and who believe current sanctions are sufficient. But from all available evidence, those people reflect Obama’s own views.
Here’s how we can resolve this issue. Next month, Obama will give another State of the Union address. If he makes no promise of “serious consequences” as Iran continues to ignore its obligations; if he fails to warn that time is running out; and if U.S. sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank are still in doubt, we — and more importantly Iran and Israel — will know how tough Obama intends to be.