Commentary Magazine


Topic: President Obama’s Cabinet

They Doth Protest Too Much — or Not Enough

Robert Gibbs went nuts over the New York Times story reporting that Robert Gates had sent a memo to the president in January warning that the administration lacked an adequate plan to prevent Iran from going nuclear. He claimed the Times didn’t have the entire memo and that the reporter took Gates’ warning out of context. But of course Gibbs didn’t release the memo or read from it; he only pointed to Gates’s damage-control statement after the fact. Gibbs went to great lengths to stress that the memo really didn’t set anyone’s “hair on fire.” Well, I’m sure this crowd never finds it hair-inflaming when someone points out that its Iran policy lacks seriousness.

As Peter Feaver points out, the damage control was less reassuring than the original memo:

The original story had Gates warning his administration counterparts in January that their Iran strategy was failing and that they needed to scrutinize more carefully military contingency options. … More to the point, what is alleged to be in the Gates memo is true, almost inarguably so: after a year of patient effort, President Obama’s Iran strategy was failing and showed little prospect of actually deflecting the Iranian nuclear trajectory. At that time, the administration’s Plan A of unconditional outreach to Iran had clearly failed, the administration was walking back from its stated Plan B of “crushing sanctions,” and many observers were beginning to talk about Plan C as “learning to live with the Iranian bomb.”

So the original story amounted to this: the most impressive member of President Obama’s Cabinet sent around a memo describing fairly and accurately the perilous condition of one of the administration’s most important national security initiatives. I can understand why the administration didn’t like the story, but I would have been far more worried if the story was untrue.

The real question is why the American Jewish community and Congress aren’t more alarmed about the absence of anything approaching a viable plan to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. If the administration is ho-hum, the rest of the foreign policy establishment, Congress, and American Jewish leaders aren’t exhibiting much more urgency. The sanctions bill is in a holding pattern, Congress is meandering through financial regulation and climate legislation, and from Jewish officialdom we’ve yet to hear more than politely worded letters suggesting it’s time to get going on sanctions.

We’re told Iran could be a year away from a nuclear weapon, and we still have no sanctions (crippling or otherwise) on the table. The administration has spent quite a bit more time trying to restrain Israel from acting. (How many trips have U.S. officials made to Israel for this purpose? Many, I would venture.) What it should have been doing is rallying public opinion and devising a feasible plan — military or otherwise — that would block the mullahs from acquiring a nuclear weapon. So if Gibbs says the memo didn’t raise many eyebrows — why not? And what are Israel’s supporters going to do about it?

Robert Gibbs went nuts over the New York Times story reporting that Robert Gates had sent a memo to the president in January warning that the administration lacked an adequate plan to prevent Iran from going nuclear. He claimed the Times didn’t have the entire memo and that the reporter took Gates’ warning out of context. But of course Gibbs didn’t release the memo or read from it; he only pointed to Gates’s damage-control statement after the fact. Gibbs went to great lengths to stress that the memo really didn’t set anyone’s “hair on fire.” Well, I’m sure this crowd never finds it hair-inflaming when someone points out that its Iran policy lacks seriousness.

As Peter Feaver points out, the damage control was less reassuring than the original memo:

The original story had Gates warning his administration counterparts in January that their Iran strategy was failing and that they needed to scrutinize more carefully military contingency options. … More to the point, what is alleged to be in the Gates memo is true, almost inarguably so: after a year of patient effort, President Obama’s Iran strategy was failing and showed little prospect of actually deflecting the Iranian nuclear trajectory. At that time, the administration’s Plan A of unconditional outreach to Iran had clearly failed, the administration was walking back from its stated Plan B of “crushing sanctions,” and many observers were beginning to talk about Plan C as “learning to live with the Iranian bomb.”

So the original story amounted to this: the most impressive member of President Obama’s Cabinet sent around a memo describing fairly and accurately the perilous condition of one of the administration’s most important national security initiatives. I can understand why the administration didn’t like the story, but I would have been far more worried if the story was untrue.

The real question is why the American Jewish community and Congress aren’t more alarmed about the absence of anything approaching a viable plan to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. If the administration is ho-hum, the rest of the foreign policy establishment, Congress, and American Jewish leaders aren’t exhibiting much more urgency. The sanctions bill is in a holding pattern, Congress is meandering through financial regulation and climate legislation, and from Jewish officialdom we’ve yet to hear more than politely worded letters suggesting it’s time to get going on sanctions.

We’re told Iran could be a year away from a nuclear weapon, and we still have no sanctions (crippling or otherwise) on the table. The administration has spent quite a bit more time trying to restrain Israel from acting. (How many trips have U.S. officials made to Israel for this purpose? Many, I would venture.) What it should have been doing is rallying public opinion and devising a feasible plan — military or otherwise — that would block the mullahs from acquiring a nuclear weapon. So if Gibbs says the memo didn’t raise many eyebrows — why not? And what are Israel’s supporters going to do about it?

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