Bluster (n): loud, aggressive, or indignant talk with little effect
-Oxford English Dictionary
The take away from President Obama’s speech before AIPAC this week has been primarily focused on his stated rejection of “containment” as a strategy against Iran. Some on the President’s left were distraught over this apparent policy position, fearing it made war with Iran “certain,” while much of the mainstream media seems to be supporting the position as a careful and successful threading of the needle between Obama’s desires for diplomacy while assuaging Israeli concerns.
President Obama however has asked to be judged not by words but deeds. In doing so, we note that while President Obama openly stated, “that I do not have a policy of containment,” in reality there is little to distinguish the administration’s present policy from a containment policy. In his AIPAC speech the President called for sustaining international coalitions, maintaining pressure and isolating Iran while preserving diplomatic options, and hoping Iran makes the choice to abandon nuclear weapons. These efforts are effectively the basis of a containment policy regardless of what the President chooses to call it. And while the media may give President Obama credit for his statement, “I will take no options off the table…” the reality is that this trite and largely meaningless phrase has been part of the American lexicon on Iran for a decade.
The Iranians are unlikely to be as impressed as the American news media with President Obama’s reiteration of the Bush-era policy from 2003 under which Iran dramatically expanded its nuclear work. Indeed the day after President Obama gave his speech, the IAEA announced publicly what they had known confidentially since last month, that Iran has tripled its monthly production of uranium enriched to 20%. Such Highly-Enriched Uranium (HEU) is only a short step from being processed into weapons-grade. And even as President Obama took the podium at AIPAC’s conference hall, the German-language newspaper Die Welt reported an analysis suggesting that a North Korean nuclear weapons test conducted in 2010 may have been conducted on behalf of the Iranians.
So while President Obama’s words constructed a rhetorical vision of an Iran increasingly isolated by crippling sanctions and international pressure, events conspire to show the reality, which is that Iran remains unbowed, despite pressure, moving inexorably towards the bomb.
Judging President Obama by his deeds, as he requests, one sees a President who, when timing matters critically, has always been a step or two behind.
President Obama takes credit now for sanctions currently wracking the Iranian economy, when the reality is that he opposed, and sought to delay and water down these same sanctions when they were proposed. In fact on March 1st, the Times of Israel reported that the Obama administration had “side-stepped” the new Kirk-Menendez sanctions, choosing not to impose the required penalties, despite that enforcement was supposed to begin 60 days following the law’s passage. We now, on the President’s insistence, have to wait until July until the new sanctions go into effect. That gives the international community more time to figure out routes for still engaging in trade with the Iranians, and of course, gives the Iranians more time to complete their nuclear weapons program.
President Obama also congratulated himself for his 2009 attempts at diplomatic engagement with Iran. Ironically President Obama takes credit for the failure of his policy since the doomed effort at engagement allegedly helped “rally the international community.” What President Obama did not mention in his AIPAC speech was that while he was extending his hand to the Islamic Republic of Iran, the people of Iran were taking to the streets in a desperate attempt to shake off their dictators. Michael Ledeen, a renowned scholar with long ties to the Iranian dissident community, recently published a memo, purportedly from elements of the Green movement leadership. The memo called out for western assistance, at the exact time the Obama administration insisted that the Iranian people did not want our help, and that our support would be a hindrance. Another time-sensitive opportunity missed by President Obama.
The most strident and aggressive posture taken by President Obama in his speech was directed not at the Iranians at all, but against an army of straw men whose “loose talk of war” was allegedly emboldening and bolstering the Iranian regime by driving up oil prices. In this dizzyingly convoluted formulation, it is apparently the words of unidentified pro-Israel hawks which are driving up the price of oil, rather than the terror attacks and provocative military exercises being conducted by the Iranians themselves.
President Obama stated that, “for the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.”
He could not be more right.
Unfortunately, of all the parties involved, it is President Obama’s policy which consists primarily of “indignant talk with little effect.” The Israelis have certainly made clear, as evidenced by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s own AIPAC speech that they are not merely talking. They are prepared to enforce their stated red lines with action against Iran. The Israeli position has been strident and clear. Nor is there any indication that the Iranians are bluffing. They have stated an intention to see Israel, and indeed America, wiped from pages of history, and all of their activities are orchestrated to see that goal take effect.
It is only President Obama who is obligated to declare he is not bluffing, largely because his deeds do not match his administration’s actions. It is President Obama who publicly takes credit for sanctions he privately declines to implement. It is President Obama who publicly backs Israel’s right and ability to defend itself, while his advisors, notably Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta pooh-poohed Israel’s ability to stop Iran in the media. Publicly undermining your ally’s deterrence is not an effective strategy for avoiding war. Nor does having an Iran policy which has scarcely evolved from 2009 and the days of the “unclenched fist,” despite Iranian nuclear advancement, help to convince Israel that America intends to honor nuclear red lines.
President Obama is right. It is time for the bluster to stop. Unfortunately following his speech at AIPAC it is increasingly clear, that nobody is blustering but Obama.
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