In separate interviews broadcast last night on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” President Obama and Mitt Romney aired their differences on a host of issues. While much of the exchange consisted of the usual talking points on the economy from the two candidates, perhaps the most significant statement uttered (the complete transcript can be read here) was when the president was asked about the calls from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to state specific red lines about Iran’s nuclear threat that would trigger U.S. action:
When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis on these issues because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.
While the second half of that answer sought to paper over the differences between his administration and Israel, there can be no doubt about the import of the first half. It was not only a clear statement from the president that he will not allow himself to be influenced by Netanyahu’s sense of urgency about Iran, but a not-so-subtle attempt to play the “Israel Lobby” card by asserting that he would do “what’s right for the American people.” The implication of this is that what’s good for America is not what’s good for Israel and if Netanyahu doesn’t like it, he can lump it.
Of course, even the closest of allies do have separate interests. But on Iran, as even the president has admitted, there is no real difference since a bomb in the hands of the ayatollahs is a threat to both the “Great Satan” and the “Little Satan” as the Islamist regime’s leadership refers to the United States and Israel.
The issue at hand is not Obama standing up for the American people against “the noise” coming from Israel but whether the president is actually defending those interests by a policy of failed diplomacy combined with belated and ineffective sanctions that no serious person believes can convince Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions.
While Netanyahu’s statements have been interpreted as an attempt to intervene in American politics, the difference between the two countries centers on the administration’s refusal to concede that its policies have failed. For four years, Obama has tried a strategy of “engagement” and endless negotiations with Iran that flopped badly. The Iranians have used these years to get closer to their nuclear goal.
As the most recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency showed, the Iranians have doubled the number of centrifuges enriching uranium and stored them in underground bunkers that may be invulnerable to air attack. That means that more rounds of futile negotiations in which Iran’s representative can stall the West are likely to mean it will be too late to use force even if the president ever really decides that the game is up.
By refusing to meet with Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly in New York this month (though he will make time to chat with Whoopi Goldberg and the other yentas on “The View” while there), Obama is sending a pointed message to the Israelis that he will kick the can down the road on Iran for as long as he likes. The implication is that once re-elected, it is entirely likely that he will reverse course on containment of a nuclear Iran.
While most observers are blaming the trouble on Netanyahu, the problem remains Obama’s feckless Iran policy. More to the point, if the president considers the plea of Israel’s prime minister to get serious about Iran mere “noise” that is attempting to divert him from defending American interests while he is running for re-election, it isn’t hard to imagine how hostile he will be to the Jewish state during a second term.