The news from Israel over the weekend has left no doubt that President Obama’s failure on Iran has been one of both words and deeds. Not only did Obama refuse to speak publicly against the regime at the most opportune moments, but his administration has also trotted out high-level appointees to undermine the credibility of a Western threat to use force if sanctions and diplomacy continue to fail. (Gen. Martin Dempsey may or may not have been speaking for the administration, but Leon Panetta most certainly does.)
Those are the words; unfortunately, the deeds match them. Obama has consistently sought first to prevent, then delay, then weaken tough sanctions against Iran. At times, the president has even faced down a united Senate to oppose sanctions. At the UN, we once could count on help from Turkey on international sanctions; in the age of Obama, the international coalition on this issue continues to fray. And then there was this weekend’s announcement that the U.S. dramatically scaled down joint military exercises scheduled for this fall, and is withholding certain military assistance (once the Obama administration’s claimed trump card when criticized over U.S.-Israeli relations). Message received, say the Israelis:
The White House at the weekend reiterated its commitment to Israel’s security, but this drew a withering response from the Israeli source: “It’s hard to explain the gulf between the White House’s comments about the commitment to Israel’s security and the comments made by the US chief of staff,” the official said. “What matters are not words but deeds.”
An Israeli military source and a political analyst were more direct when speaking to Time, the publication that first broke the story:
“Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you,’” a senior Israeli military official tells TIME….
In the current political context, the U.S. logic is transparent, says Israeli analyst Efraim Inbar. “I think they don’t want to insinuate that they are preparing something together with the Israelis against Iran – that’s the message,” says Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. “Trust? We don’t trust them. They don’t trust us. All these liberal notions! Even a liberal president like Obama knows better.”
Even Obama knows better than to develop trust between allies—such a post-modern presidency! The irony is, telling Israel they’re on their own only makes a strike more likely. If the U.S. made a convincing case that the Obama administration will take care of Iran no matter what it entails—even, yes, a military strike—then the American timeline would predominate. But if the Obama administration spends its time trying to wash its hands of the whole thing, then the decision rests solely on Israel’s shoulders. And the if the decision is Israel’s, then so are the timelines and the judgments used to determine the course of action.
Additionally, the American decision to scale down military assistance considered vital to Israel’s defenses in the event of a post-attack flare-up in the region sends a message to Iran as well. And that message is not one of a united Western front, nor is it that the Iranian regime’s time to drop its quest for the bomb is running out. The Obama administration has made clear it does not necessarily stand by agreements made between previous American administrations and Israel. But going back on its own word tells America’s allies that they cannot factor in Obama’s support when planning ahead.
If the president thinks this will lead to order, not chaos, he is not much a student of history. And if he thinks this will lead to peace, not war, his lesson may come at the expense of those who possess the knowledge he lacks, but who lack the power he possesses.