Obama Opposes Containment, Still Prefers Diplomacy

March 4, 2012  

Barack Obama’s speech before AIPAC was an important political speech for him, both in terms of defending his record before a Jewish audience as well as an attempt to clarify the administration’s position on Iran after weeks of confusion.

In an attempt to preempt what will undoubtedly be critical remarks beamed to the attendees at the conference by Republican hopefuls Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, Obama emphasized that he wanted to be judged on his deeds and not on mere words. He said this in the body of the address and also in his peroration.

In baseball terms, he cleaned up after lead off speaker Shimon Peres cited the administration for reaching the highest level of security relations with Israel and said repeatedly that Israel had a friend in the White House.

Obama also warned that support for Israel was bipartisan and “this is how it should stay”. In other words, GOP candidates do not make a partisan issue of Israel.  

Obama claimed to have had Israel’s back “at every crucial juncture at every fork in the road. In support Obama cited the Goldstone Report, the aftershocks of the Gaza flotilla, boycotting Durban and opposing resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council (although it was his administration that rejoined that ludicrous body). He reminded listeners that he intervened to save Israeli diplomats from the mob in Cairo.

Having been in Sderot, he appreciated the importance of Iron Dome and other anti-missile systems and upped allocations to Israel. (This is, of course, the equivalent of saying that the US is supplying flyswatters and therefore there is no need for Israel to go in and drain the swamp.)

These were the facts, Obama argued, and they should not be distorted by partisan politics. As in this part of the address Obama was on relatively secure grounds, the applause lines were the most plentiful.

The peace process received relatively short shrift in the address. Obama remarked “I make no apologies for pursuing peace” and noted that Israel’s Prime Minister had also committed to the two state solution. Obama reminded the audience that his administration’s minimal conditions were recognition of Israeli security and legitimacy. He reiterated the argument that peace was essential to preserving Israel’s Jewish and democratic character and therefore he was working in Israel’s interest.

There was no talk about boundaries or other specific issues that have produced conflict with the Netanyahu government under his administration. Obama noted that he had maintained his insistence on Israel’s security and legitimacy before the UN General Assembly, a much tougher audience than AIPAC,  and received no applause there. He also rejected an imposed peace.

The final part of the address concerned Iran. This is what the attendees were waiting for.

Barack Obama expressed his understanding  for Israel’s resolve not to allow Iran nuclear weapons – and in the later part of the section on Iran he appeared to unleash Israel to conduct a strike against Iran as a sovereign country protecting its citizens.

Obama also underlined that a nuclear Iran was a threat to US security, the nonproliferation regime and the fight against international terrorism . In other words, this is not only Israel’s issue, but also an American issue. The president clarified and the clarification was necessary, given the spate of articles and statements about a rational Iran that said that the administration did not have a containment policy in mind and was resigned to a nuclear Iran. The US intended to deny such weapons to Tehran.

Obama sought to preempt the Republican narrative about his administration’s policy towards Iran. With the exception of Ron Paul, the other three prospective GOP candidates claim that Iran was the biggest failure of the Obama administration. Obama, according to the Republicans, entered office with the fantasy that he could sweet talk the mullahs. The United States shamelessly failed to back the Green Movement in Iran in 2009, they accuse, and thus squandered an excellent opportunity.

Obama told a different story to the AIPAC audience.

The administration’s willingness to engage Iran was part of a brilliant plan and an attempt to reconstruct the coalition against Iranian nuclear weapons that was in tatters (primarily due to the US National Intelligence Estimate) – when he came into office. Engagement was intended to present a clear choice to Iran. When Iran rejected the offer, it was then much easier to build a coalition and put Iran under greater pressure. Contrary to predictions by the doubters, Russia and China joined the sanctions (well, not the latest sanctions). The sanctions have proven effective and the coalition has held together.

This shows. claimed Obama. that diplomacy can work and diplomacy is the preferred choice. Obama. as commander in chief. will only commit American troops as a last resort. but said he has demonstrated that when push comes to shove he is willing to use force. The best solution is when a country on its own decides to abandon its nuclear project. Too much talk of war actually helped Iran by raising energy prices (the Republicans will attribute the spike to Obama’s solicitude for the conservationists).

Thereafter, he invoked Teddy Roosevelt and his “speak softly but carry a big stick” policy. It was not the time for loose talk, but one had to let the message sink in to Iran’s leaders.

Tomorrow comes the rebuttal from the Republicans.

The writer is a political scientist who is Arutz Sheva’s Global Agenda analyst.

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