President Obama made the yearly pilgrimage to the AIPAC conference today. This is an event where it is actually considered acceptable for the President of the United States and members of Congress to swear fealty to a smaller, belligerent client state/foreign power.
Despite almost non-stop pressure from the Israel Lobby, the Israeli government and political commentators, Obama seemed to reject PM Netanyahu’s demand that he articulate clear bright line rules for when the US will attack Iran. Essentially, Netanyahu has moved the goal posts and now wants a US commitment to attack Iran as soon as Iran develops nuclear weapons capability, which is preposterous because that means that even in the absence of any plan or intent to develop the weapons, the US would attack. From HuffPo today:
The dispute on the nuclear issue is centered on red lines. Israel, like the Bush administration, considers a nuclear capability in Iran a red line. It argues that the only acceptable guarantee that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon is for Iran to have no enrichment program.
The Obama administration puts the red line not at enrichment — which is permitted under international law — but at nuclear weapons. This is a clearer, more enforceable red line that also has the force of international law behind it.
While expressing his sympathy and friendship with Israel, Obama did not yield his red line at AIPAC. With the backing of the U.S. military, he has stood firm behind weaponization rather than weapons capability as the red line.
He said: “I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon[emphasis added], I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.”
This is crucial because it is essentially a question of war and peace.
Critically, Obama’s rejection of containment at AIPAC was in the context of containing a nuclear-armed Iran, not a nuclear capable Iran.
He said: “Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Nowhere in the speech is he aligning himself, or even mentioning, the Israeli red line of “nuclear capability.”
The president’s tough words regarding his readiness to use military action is all in the context of preventing a nuclear weapon in Iran, not a nuclear capability. Strikingly, the president uses the D word — diplomacy — more than the M word — military action — in his speech (even though he primarily presents it as move that enabled greater sanctions on Iran.)
Yesterday, the NYT ran a surprisingly candid article about the public campaign by AIPAC and members of Congress aimed at painting Obama in a corner with respect to Iran:
From the corridors of Congress to a gathering of nearly 14,000 American Jews and other supporters of Israel here this weekend, Mr. Obama is being buffeted by demands that the United States be more aggressive toward Iran and more forthright in supporting Israel in its own confrontation with Tehran.
While defenders of Israel rally every year at the meeting of the pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, this year’s gathering has been supercharged by a convergence of election-year politics, a deepening nuclear showdown and the often-fraught relationship between the president and the Israeli prime minister.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu will both speak to the group, known as Aipac, as will the three leading Republican presidential candidates, who will appear via satellite from the campaign trail on the morning of Super Tuesday. Republicans have seized on Iran’s nuclear ambitions to accuse Mr. Obama of being weak in backing a staunch ally and in confronting a bitter foe.
The pressure from an often-hostile Congress is also mounting. A group of influential senators, fresh from a meeting with Mr. Netanyahu in Jerusalem, has called on Mr. Obama to lay down sharper criteria, known as “red lines,” about when to act against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“We’re saying to the administration, ‘You’ve got a problem; let’s fix it, let’s get back on message,’ ” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who took part in the meeting with Mr. Netanyahu and said the Israeli leader vented frustration at what he viewed as mixed messages from Washington.
“It’s not just about the Jewish vote and 2012,” Mr. Graham added. “It’s about reassuring people who want to avoid war that the United States will do what’s necessary.”
To give teeth to the deterrent threat against Iran, Israel and its backers want Mr. Obama to stop urging restraint on Israel and to be more explicit about the circumstances under which the United States itself would carry out a strike.
Specifically, Israeli officials are demanding that Iran agree to halt all its enrichment of uranium in the country, and that the suspension be verified by United Nations inspectors, before the West resumes negotiations with Tehran on its nuclear program.
The White House has rejected that demand, Israeli and American officials said on Friday, arguing that Iran would never agree to a blanket ban upfront, and to insist on it would doom negotiations before they even began. The administration insists that Mr. Obama will stick to his policy, which is focused on using economic sanctions to force the Iranian government to give up its nuclear ambitions, with military action as a last resort.
Despite the position of the Israelis and Aipac, the American intelligence agencies continue to say that there is no evidence that Iran has made a final decision to pursue a nuclear weapon. Recent assessments by American spy agencies have reaffirmed intelligence findings in 2007 and 2010 that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program. …[emphasis mine]
The irony of all this is that for the past several months the Israel Lobby has been trying to purge the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Media Matters of any criticism of Israel (see also here). Alan Dershowitz, who has lost whatever academic credibility he once had when he decided to become a hysterical, paranoid crusader against academic freedom in his efforts to try to get various professors fired or denied tenure, is leading the charge against MJ Rosenberg of Media Matters, while over at CAP, they have already bowed to pressure and fired one if their bloggers for using the phrase “Israel Firster” in a tweet. Thus, the CAP blog Think Progress has been censored of any criticism of Israeli policy.
While Obama tries to prevent the U.S. from entering another disastrous war, Congress is going to tie his hands with legislation that will try to force a confrontation with Iran- all at the behest of AIPAC and the Israeli government.