There were two things that President Obama could have said to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee audience this morning to reassure the pro-Israel community that his administration was serious about preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. One would be to clearly state under what circumstances he would use military force against Iran. The other would be to make clear that he’d support Israel if it decided to take military action. But Obama did neither. Instead, he offered mixed signals, touted sanctions and talked vaguely that he “will take no options off the table.” Doing so is pretending that nothing has changed since 2007.
Obama’s speech was more like a presidential reelection pitch. “If you want to know where my heart lies, look no further than what I have done,” he urged the crowd. Yet most of the policies he cited as evidence of him being pro-Israel were cases in which he dragged his feet until being pressured to support Israel. A perfect example was imposing sanctions on Iran. He resisted them until Congress made them inevitable.
The reality is that when Obama took office, he adopted a hostile stance toward Israel, trying to halt Jews from building homes in the Jerusalem area, and treating that as a bigger threat to Middle East peace than Iran's nuclear program. He sought engagement with the Iranian regime, and resisted calls to stand with democratic protesters who were demonstrating against the radical Islamic government.
Now, three years into his presidency, as Iran continues to march toward a nuclear weapon and Israel moves closer to taking action, he’s still giving mixed signals.
On the one hand, he said this:
We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically. Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs. I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power. A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort to impose crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.
But on the other hand, he warned against taking action, declaring, “now is not the time for bluster; now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built.” The sanctions are, “slowing the Iranian nuclear program,” he said at another point in the speech. Yet just a few weeks ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that Iran was rapidly expanding its nuclear work.
As John Tabin explains at the American Spectator, Obama wouldn’t “say exactly what actions by Iran would trigger a strike. Notably, he says he won't tolerate Iran getting a nuclear weapon, but stops short of saying he won't tolerate Iran having the capability to build a weapon -- a hint that he might be okay with letting them get awfully close to becoming a nuclear power.”
It would be one thing for Obama to make this speech in 2007, but the issue has progressed far beyond that. For those who hoped that Obama would become more serious about Iran, this speech was not very reassuring.