Obama’s Troubling Words — and Omissions — at AIPAC Conference

The following is a response to President Obama’s AIPAC speech this past weekend. It was written by a DC community member who, for professional reasons, asked to remain anonymous. This piece represents his own opinion and is not a GTJ institutional stance. For an alternate view point, see Leora Itman’s piece here.  To read Stephen’s summary of four years at AIPAC Policy Conference, click here.

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Barack Obama’s speech to AIPAC on Sunday is deeply troubling not only for what he said about Iran and the Mideast peace process, but also for what he didn’t say on both topics.

On Iran, Obama tried to reassure us by saying Iran “should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.” But he also had a not-too-subtle warning for Israel: “too much loose talk of war” and “bluster” actually benefits Iran by driving up the price of oil exports that fund the Iranian nuclear program. Obama did not link Israel explicitly to such rhetoric, but whom else could he be referring to? His Republican presidential challengers? None have urged Israel to strike Iran. Israeli officials, on the other hand, have recently become more vocal about the potential need for military action to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon capability. Ehud Barak’s speech to the Annual Herzliya Conference last month is a case in point.

Here’s the problem with Obama’s mixed message to Israel. Iran’s Supreme Leader also heard it. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei heard Obama slapping Israel on the wrist for “loose talk of war” and declaring a firm belief that “an opportunity still remains for diplomacy backed by pressure.” Khamenei has heard that message from Obama for years and always has reacted the same way: by enriching uranium – a key nuclear weapon ingredient – at full speed.

Just as problematic is what Obama did not say on Iran. He made no mention of a need to stop Iran from obtaining the capability to assemble an atomic bomb – a red line for Israel. Obama only spoke of a need to give Iran an “opportunity … to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons.” Israel says waiting for such a decision is a bad idea, because Iran is just several months away from being able to position the components of a nuclear bomb in places where they cannot be destroyed.

On the Mideast peace process, Obama made “no apologies” for pursuing a strategy that has left the Israel and the Palestinians even farther from peace than they were when he took office. Obama’s unusually harsh demand for Israel to stop all construction in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem caused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make that a precondition for peace talks. Abbas said as much to Newsweek magazine last year. And when Abbas added another pre-condition by saying Israel had to agree to a Palestinian state comprising all of the West Bank territory captured in the 1967 war (with possible “land swaps” to “allow” Israel to keep some settlements in return for giving up parts of its pre-1967 territory), Obama liked the idea so much that he made it U.S. policy last year, effectively siding with the Palestinians on a core issue of the conflict with Israel.

Under previous U.S. administrations, the Palestinians negotiated with Israel without any such preconditions. Under Obama, Israel’s negotiating position has weakened.

And here’s the problem with what Obama didn’t say about Mideast peace. No mention of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority needing to sit down with Israel to negotiate peace unconditionally – something Israel has long tried to do. No demand for Abbas to stop his official media and a senior cleric from glorifying the killing of Jews. Just a bland reminder to the Palestinians to “recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence and adhere to previous agreements.”

“If you want to know where my heart lies, look no further than what I have done,” said Obama to AIPAC. Here’s what Obama has done: his administration “condemned” Israel for deciding to build homes in its own capital, he joined French President Nicolas Sarkozy in whining about having to work with Israel’s prime minister, and he traveled to several Muslim nations hostile to Israel after taking office while neglecting to visit the Jewish state itself. Enough said.

9 replies
  1. Ben F
    Ben F says:

    As an independent, I can comment freely on issues. I don’t have to tow a party line.
    Also, I studied military sociology and perhaps have a wide range of elements not considered by our “DC Writer.”

    My attempt here is to show you that there are other ways of thinking… than being a warhawk. And not being a warhawk doesn’t make one wrong. And it doesn’t mean we won’t go to war. And it doesn’t mean “DC writer” is smarter than Obama, or that “DC Writer,” has more information than Obama about the elements at play if we go to war. Maybe, you are smarter than the President?

    First – “DC Writer” is most likely a Republican. And Republicans do not like anything that Obama does. And they work to undermine him in every way.
    So – I ask DC writer. In your lifetime. How many times have you voted for a Democrat?

    I would assume zero because of the intensity of the bias of your article. Your bias may have prevented you from even seeing anything Obama has done for Israel.

    Second – If you read opinion articles from the Israeli parliament members on how to regard this situation – you will get a massive variety of opinions. So, it is only Ok… to have a position on an issue – if you are not the American president?

    Third – an approach where the larger ally the US – wants to go a certain route and the smaller ally considers another… if the smaller ally calls the shots… isn’t that… the tail wagging the dog?

    We attack – we spend a trillion dollars on Iran… so – we should just be willy nilly about this?

    Fourth – is anyone aware of our current military constraints? Would the man who posted this article also be for balancing the budget? While starting another war? And towing the line on not returning tax rates for the wealthiest Americans to historic levels? What about the reality that most of our troops have already been deployed multiple times and recruitment has been challenging? And that several cities worth of materials and personnel are currently being shipped here to be revitalized to peak fighting condition?

    Fifth – The US military can wipe out the Iranian military in about two weeks. But, as sanctions go further – they will fall faster. The sanctions are taking away the tax base that the Iranian government pays it’s troops with.

    Furthermore – the US military leaders have been handling the battle planning for all options for hitting Iran. They are still planning. They are building a larger bunker buster bomb to do the job of hitting nuke sites. They know what their window is to respond and how to respond. The larger bunker busters were just ordered and are not complete yet. Do we start a war before we have the tool that we want for the fight?

    Sixth – Russia supplied anti-aircraft batteries to Iran. This indicates that attacking Iran might trigger a far larger conflict including Russia… and who knows who else. And thus, rushing to war is not a brilliant idea.

    Seventh – the global community is forming behind us. This creates the conditions for a multilateral military assault on Iran if it comes to that. This would be vastly more effective than jumping into war.

    Eighth – The Iranian people are educated and intelligent people. Many do not support the regime. Many are pro-American. History has taught us something. What happened when we dropped missiles on Iraq? Did the Iraqi’s welcome us with open arms? Greet us as liberators? No. History – over-and-over again shows that whomever is dropping bombs on someone’s head is not liked. First bombs drop, we loose the Iranian popular support that we do have.

    Nineth – Obama has doubled the funding we send to Israel. He has also provided a missile shield system that is being deployed right now. He also pushed the UN incredibly hard not to allow the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. And that succeeded. Do we trigger a war while the missile shield is still being put out?

    Tenth – Syria is in the mix. Currently, we are working to garner global support to stop the bloodshed in Syria. If we play our cards right – we can change the game in Syria and in Iran at the same time. Move too fast and we risk that. Do you know what diplomatic efforts are going on behind the scenes? Perhaps today we are negotiating with our allies what their contributions will be in case we go to Iran… and our allies are saying… take a short while – give this one thing a shot – and then we are onboard. We don’t want to hear a rush to war the instant we agree to help.

    And perhaps – if we get military action going against Syria – we will draw the forces of Hezbollah and others that work in both countries out of Iran before trying to hit Iran. And if we hit Syria then Syria will not be there to help Iran.

    And what about Turkey? Turkey is a huge trading partner with Iran and our ally. Do we help Turkey transition trading first to other sources… so that their country doesn’t collapse… or do we just rattle the sabers and go to war?

    Eleventh
    How would we invade Iran? We have to get there. So, perhaps we have to go through Turkey for a large portion of our supply lines. If you look at a map of the middle east, you will see that We can’t go through Iraq to the west. We just left Iraq and they don’t want us there. Pakistan is to the East. Not going to be much help there. Afghanistan… already a giant mess, but we could probably come from there.

    Twelfth
    We recently completed an arms deal with Saudi Arabia to shift the balance of power in the region against Iran. We are currently delivering the arms that our ally would use against Iran if we were to attack. Do we attack before our nearest and closest ally has the sophisticated weapons we are sending them?

    Thirteenth
    The middle east is very unstable. There are battle lines being drawn between Shia and Sunni. If we rattle the sabers and start dropping bombs we risk inflaming an entire region – that once inflamed – we may not be able to put out. And that without nuclear weapons… a militarily active – firing and bombing middle east – that is battling all over the place could be a bigger risk to Israel than nuclear weapons.

    Fourteenth
    The sanctions are the strongest that have ever been imposed on any nation in history.
    The President of Iran has lost some power in the recent election. And the target of our efforts is currently changing.

    Fifteenth
    Dropping bombs is a delay. They could just go right back and start again. If we can resolve it a different way then it can be halted. With multilateral efforts that raise our standing in the world.

    Sixteenth
    Who says that Israel is always right? Israeli parliament members are against settlements. Some are against threatening Iran. Settlements are being put in places that break up the capacity of Palestinians to build a sovereign nation with uniform borders – which is the requirement. So – maybe, they should be angry about it? Maybe, they shouldn’t love what Israel is doing?

    Seventeenth – these are the reasons I could come up with off the top of my head.
    The teeth of the sanctions are sinking in to Iran and they have become far more open very recently.

    Inspectors have been allowed into military bases that they were not.
    Talks have resumed.

    But… I don’t know. Maybe, DC Writer was glad that we rushed into Iraq to clear up all the WMD?

    Lastly, there is this assumption that Obama wouldn’t support Israel – or attack Iran if needed. Who killed Bin Laden? It was Obama’s order. Who authorized the drone attacks that took out the top leadership of Al Qaeda – that was Obama. Who took out Ghadafi? That was Obama. And Congress was against him.

    There is this assumption in the writing above that Obama is some wimp.

    I reject that notion and supplied the above evidence.

    Obama’s concept is to tread lightly and carry a big stick. Well, does that mean he won’t commit to a battle? Not at all. It means… we have a choice today of attempting to escalate or de-escalate the conflict.

    And signs are that some de-escalation is possible while at the same time we are escalating diplomatic efforts to bring allies against Iran and crush Iran’s economy.

    I mean – sanctions were just past. And the Iranian military will find problems paying it’s people. And morale of the forces we would face as resistance to an attack will drop.

    So – why go to war of anhillation when we can crush the resource base of our opponent through a global war of attrition that achieves the military aim of crippling their forces – and the political aim of global support for the US actions and an improved US reputation in the world? But… perhaps… “DC writer,” sees the only strategy as war… bombs… and that there is nothing else… no other pieces of the puzzle. Is it as simple as DC writer makes it out to be? Is he smarter than our President? (Republicans raise your hands yes… Democrats raise your hands no… independents… raise your hands that Obama is smarter than the idiots running.)

    Sincerely,

    Ben F.

    Reply
  2. Ben F
    Ben F says:

    As a note.

    The first actions of the US military given an assault on Iran would be to attack the supply lines and economic forces that support the military.

    We are doing that without even having to throw a bomb!
    Ps. The dollars that come into the economy, which are now blocked via sanctions… are how Iran pays for it’s nuclear program too.

    Reply
  3. Ben F
    Ben F says:

    Not to mention… the context of the leader in question.

    Obama has spent a large part of his political career focused on nuclear nonproliferation.

    That was one of his core issues while in the senate.

    And he just signed the “START” treaty with Russia that was a dramatic reduction in global nuclear arms.

    So – are we to assume that “DC Writer” is correct? And that Obama will all the sudden go lax on nuclear arms? Or, that Obama doesn’t have any idea of the issues regarding nuclear arms? That maybe Obama is naive?

    Well – somehow – Obama keeps achieving results – uses military effectively – uses diplomacy effectively – and yet nobody seems to want to give him a moment.

    Reply
  4. D
    D says:

    Wow, Ben F., pontificate much? Making a 32-paragraph, 17-point response to a short, eight-paragraph opinion piece is less about refuting the writer’s position and more about showing everyone just how brilliant you believe yourself to be.

    For a self-proclaimed independent, you’re sure in the President’s tank 150%… and I thought independents were supposed to be unbeholden free-thinkers and all. On that point, the intensity of your (three-in-a-row) responses beg the question, which you so haughtily answered for DC Writer by assumption: have you ever voted Republican? I won’t be so uppity as to make assumptions for you, but lest you feel the need to make your own for me, you should know that I have voted for both sides evenly across the last four presidential elections.

    Labeling yourself an independent to lend an air of non-bias to your writing is super hypocritical when you come off as a Democratic operative second only to Axelrod. But hey, you’re apparently smarter than everyone else, so maybe it’s just our little brains being unable to solve the conundrum of Ben F.

    Reply
  5. jessie
    jessie says:

    what???
    When I read this article then go to Stephen’s summary I wonder if these two people heard the same speech. I am deeply bothered by how the facts were twisted by this anonmous author. Stephen’s article is expressive of the facts while this article seems to be written by someone who is mentally challenged. This article does not remotely reflect the contents of the speech by Obama. I am not a big Obama fan but I get really tired of people like this author selectively taking short statements out of a speech and twisting them to suit their own politics. It is actually a sinful act as it is simply bearing false witness. No wonder this world is such a mess. It is due to people like this that lie and deceive the public.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Stephen Richer is President of Gather the Jews.  To see two other pieces on AIPAC Policy Conference — on President Obama’s Speech — please click here. […]

  2. […] Leora Itman is the President of TC Jewfolk, a commentary site that also aggregates events for Jewish young adults in Twin Cities, Minnesota.   Leora and GTJ president, Stephen Richer, have chatted many times about common experiences and finally got a chance to meet at AIPAC Policy Conference.   The following is Leora’s response to President Obama’s speech and does not reflect a GTJ stance. For an alternate piece on the speech, click here. […]

  3. […] Leora Itman is the President of TC Jewfolk, a commentary site that also aggregates events for Jewish young adults in Twin Cities, Minnesota.   Leora and GTJ president, Stephen Richer, have chatted many times about common experiences and finally got a chance to meet at AIPAC Policy Conference.   The following is Leora’s response to President Obama’s speech and does not reflect a GTJ stance. For an alternate piece on the speech, click here. […]

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