Monday, March 05, 2012

Not bluffing

Jeffrey Goldberg's long interview with President Obama is worth reading.  I am unclear, though, whether he considers it unacceptable for Iran to have a "nuclear program" or a nuclear weapon.  Very different -- refusing to give the Iranians recourse to the former gives them incentive to pursue the latter.

As would, most certainly, an Israeli air strike that would require U.S. support (both tactically and spiritually).

The president also said that Tehran's nuclear program would represent a "profound" national-security threat to the United States even if Israel were not a target of Iran's violent rhetoric, and he dismissed the argument that the United States could successfully contain a nuclear Iran.

"You're talking about the most volatile region in the world," he said. "It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe." He went on to say, "The dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world."

The president was most animated when talking about the chaotic arms race he fears would break out if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon, and he seemed most frustrated when talking about what he sees as a deliberate campaign by Republicans to convince American Jews that he is anti-Israel. "Every single commitment I have made to the state of Israel and its security, I have kept," he told me. "Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they've had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?"

Though he struck a consistently pro-Israel posture during the interview, Obama went to great lengths to caution Israel that a premature strike might inadvertently help Iran: "At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally, [Syria,] is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?"
And I also thought this was inerstin'.

GOLDBERG: Are you friends? Do you talk about things other than business?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, the truth of the matter is, both of us have so much on our plates that there's not always a lot of time to have discussions beyond business. Having said that, what I think is absolutely true is that the prime minister and I come out of different political traditions. This is one of the few times in the history of U.S.-Israeli relations where you have a government from the right in Israel at the same time you have a center-left government in the United States, and so I think what happens then is that a lot of political interpretations of our relationship get projected onto this.

But one thing that I have found in working with Prime Minister Netanyahu is that we can be very frank with each other, very blunt with each other, very honest with each other. For the most part, when we have differences, they are tactical and not strategic. Our objectives are a secure United States, a secure Israel, peace, the capacity for our kids to grow up in safety and security and not have to worry about bombs going off, and being able to promote business and economic growth and commerce. We have a common vision about where we want to go. At any given moment -- as is true, frankly, with my relationship with every other foreign leader -- there's not going to be perfect alignment of how we achieve these objectives.  

I don't recall hearing Obama describe his administration as "center-left" before, and it is refreshing.  At least, that is, I take him to mean his "administration," as opposed to the "government."  Given the fact that the majority of the House show more fealty to the Israeli government than they do to their own, that wouldn't be quite accurate.

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