The overall tone of the foreign policy debate portrayed President Obama’s insecurity about the race as he swung away at Mitt Romney as if he was the challenger rather than the incumbent. But if there was any particular element of the electorate about which he seemed concerned, it has to be the Jewish vote. President Obama’s all-out effort to portray himself as Israel’s best friend and Iran’s most ardent foe showed just how desperate he is about the possibility that he will lose Jewish votes as a result of spending the first three years of his administration constantly picking fights with the state of Israel and attempting to establish daylight between its positions and those of the United States.
That the president would so emphasize Israel in the debate spoke volumes about Democrat fears about his vulnerability. Even more interestingly, he found himself staking out a position on Iran’s nuclear program that had to alarm those advocating a compromise on the issue as well as his European negotiating partners in the P5+1 process. The president didn’t endorse Israel’s calls for “red lines” about Iran’s nuclear capability as did Romney, but he did say that the only solution to the standoff involved a stand that would make the sort of compromise that realists and foreign policy establishment types approve impossible:
And we hope that their leadership takes the right decision, but the deal we’ll accept is they end their nuclear program. It’s very straightforward.
The deal that the compromisers want and which seems to be in the cards if the direct talks between the U.S. and Iran that the New York Times reported over the weekend would commence after the elections would involve an agreement that would leave the Iranian nuclear program in place but have their enriched fuel shipped abroad.
Critics rightly point out that even if the Iranians went along with this, it would mean a situation that would be a standing invitation for Tehran to cheat its way to a nuclear weapon. Their model would follow the way North Korea hoodwinked the Clinton and Bush administrations when it was assumed that the deals they signed with Pyongyang precluded that rogue nation going nuclear.
But the president has closed off that option. He is now committed to a position that is incompatible with Iran having any sort of nuclear program. His statement also makes the Iran talks that some senior officials in his administration thought were a done deal impossible. If the president is to keep his vow to prevent Iran from going nuclear, it is clear that he is now more or less forced to accept Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position on “red lines,” since the terms of the negotiations that the Europeans have pushed in the P5+1 talks have now been ruled unacceptable.
While many in the audience focused on his bragging about a 2008 visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum (as if Romney hadn’t been there himself on his various tours of the country) and to the town of Sderot, the real news is the way the president has now ruled out any compromise on Iran.
It isn’t clear whether these pledges will erase the memory of his ongoing fights with Netanyahu over borders, settlements and Jerusalem in the minds of Jewish voters. Romney’s passionate support of Israel and his pointed reminder that the world noted that the president avoided Israel when he visited the Middle East will likely win the GOP more Jewish votes than it has won in a generation. But it’s a given that Iran was sent a signal in Boca Raton that a second term sellout of Israel on the nuclear issue was just made a lot more difficult.