In an interview with Israeli TV, just released by the White House, President Obama sounds the toughest I’ve ever heard him with respect to Iran and its nuclear weapons program.
Now, of course, we must consider that every politician plays to his audience, and in this case the audience is a country that damn well wants him to use the most expensive and heaviest bombs he has on Iran’s nuclear installations. But perhaps there are signs here that Obama is thinking at some point about abandoning the Neville Chamberlain approach to Ahmadinehitler.
Let’s look closely at what he said. Remember, Obama chooses his words carefully and knew he’d be asked this.
Question: You mentioned Iran, and obviously you instituted tough sanctions against Iran. You said that in the meeting with Netanyahu. How long are you going to give the Iranian President, and what are you willing to do if he continues with his nuclear program?
Obama: Well, what I’ve said consistently is, is that it is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon, that we’re going to do everything we can to prevent that from happening. What I’ve also tried to do is build an international consensus so that Iran can’t somehow play a victim, can’t suggest somehow that they’re being singled out by the West. They are the only country that has not been able to convince the International Atomic Energy Agency that they are pursuing nuclear power for peaceful means. It’s not hard to do, but they haven’t been able to do it because all indicators are that they are in fact pursuing a nuclear weapon.
So we just pursued the toughest sanctions that have ever been applied against the Iranian government. We followed those up with U.S. sanctions that are going to be tough. Allies and partners are following up with those sanctions. We want to continually ratchet up the costs of them pursuing this nuclear program.
Now, will that work? We don’t know. And we are going to continue to keep the door open for a diplomatic resolution of this challenge. But I assure you that I have not taken options off the table.
Three important things are said here:
1. “It is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon . . . we’re going to do everything we can to prevent that from happening.”
The phrase “everything we can” must by definition include a military attack on the nuclear installations.
2. “Now, will that work? We don’t know.” Obama is acknowledging that diplomacy may not work, a sign he might consider other means.
3. “I assure you that I have not taken options off the table.” White House officials usually have to be asked specifically if the military option is still around. Here, Obama is volunteering it.
I unfortunately doubt that Obama will use our military against Iran. More likely, he will take the passive aggressive approach of letting Israel do it while hand wringing away on the sidelines. But I might be wrong.