Obama’s mixed messages on Iran and Jerusalem
Do President Obama and the administration have Israel’s back or not? How about the Democratic Party? There seem to be mixed signals on this.
The major area of disagreement is Iran. The administration has been pushing for more time for sanctions to take hold. It also believes that there is no significant event until Iran begins to assemble a nuclear weapon.
On the other hand, Israel believes that Iran must be stopped before it enters a “zone of immunity,” the point when a military attack could not derail Iran’s nuclear project.
Iran and its surrogate Hizbullah continue to make provocative statements about the end of the “Zionist entity.” Taking Iran at its word, Israel sees an Iran nuclear weapon as an existential threat. Washington seems to treat Iran’s talk as hyperbole.
The administration appears more bothered by what it perceives as Israel’s preparations for a military strike against Iran, especially if the strike is timed prior to the presidential election.
Can the United States achieve its goals through diplomacy?
It is acknowledged that the United States-sponsored sanctions have not delivered the desired results. The Iran nuclear program continues undeterred. The International Atomic Energy Agency just reported Iran has effectively shut down a probe of its Fordo site, suspected of work on nuclear weapons development, while doubling the number of machines it could use to make nuclear warheads at an underground bunker safe from airborne attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged the administration to adopt clear “red lines” for Iran. According to Graham Allison, a Harvard expert on nuclear conflict, the United States and its allies have allowed Iran to cross seven previous “red lines” over 18 years with few consequences.
In an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, says he witnessed a sharp confrontation between Netanyahu and the American ambassador to Israel. He described Israeli leaders as being at “wit’s end” over what they see as President Obama’s unwillingness to provide them with his “red lines” in the effort to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
The administration unsuccessfully tried to dissuade UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi from attending the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Tehran and thus legitimizing the Iranian regime. The unanimously adopted final communiqué of the meeting expressed support for Iran’s nuclear energy program and rejected U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Meanwhile, Israel’s biggest-selling daily, Yediot Ahronot, reported Washington was secretly negotiating with Tehran to keep the United States out of a future Israel-Iran war, a report which the White House denied.
Elsewhere, Time reported that the United States greatly scaled back its participation in a delayed U.S.-Israel joint military exercise.
Then there is the remark of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey that he did not want to be “complicit” in an Israeli attack on Iran, a statement that went beyond any Obama policy statement.
Should it be a surprise that the original 2012 Democrat platform dropped reference to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to Hamas and Hizbullah as terrorist organizations? As Elliot Abrams wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Platforms don’t dictate policy, of course, but they don’t appear out of thin air. They come from committees formed to say what the party and its candidate for president believe.”
This change of position caused an uproar, which, according to reports, caused Obama to ask for Jerusalem language to be reinstated into the platform, along with a deleted reference to God.
The original platform had prominent Jewish Democrats squirming. DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said the omission of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the word God in the party platform was a “technical oversight” because it is “many pages long.” And in an interview with Charlie Rose, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) tried multiple dodges, saying that he does not know the president’s position on Jerusalem.
The reinstatement process was comical, with the convention chair calling for three ambiguous voice votes before declaring the amendments “adopted.” His pronouncement was greeted with boos, resulting in headlines like CNBC’s “Dems Boo God & Jerusalem.”
On Abrams’ point that platforms do not come out of thin air, at its Sept. 6 press briefing, under intense questioning, the State Department spokesperson refused to name the capital of Israel.
Jewish Americans play an important part in American politics. Their election turnout, as a percentage, is higher than other groups’. They contribute large amounts of money to candidates, Democrats receiving the larger share. Finally, and importantly, in a close presidential election, Jewish voters are strategically placed in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. A small shift in voting could influence the outcome in these states and the resulting votes in the Electoral College. Thus, President Obama supporters are trying to position him as “rock solid” on Israel.
But is he?