Those who hoped President Obama might bring a new approach to foreign policy have been repeatedly disappointed. On Sunday, Obama had a chance to partially redeem himself. He failed. Speaking at the conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), he declared, "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."
All elements. That includes nuclear weapons.
It is hardly an exaggeration to say this week's AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C., has but one agenda item: goading Obama into confronting Iran even more than he already has. The coalition comprising Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israel lobby, and Congress's dominant pro-Israel caucus will pull out all the stops in this effort. The Republican presidential candidates (excepting Ron Paul) will add fuel to the fire while hoping that Obama leaves some room for them to out-warmonger him.
When I say all the stops will be pulled out, I mean it. Netanyahu said, "Seventy years after the Holocaust, many in the world are silent in the face of Iran's pledges to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. This is a day in which the leaders of the world must commit not to allow another genocide."
But American and Israeli intelligence agree that Iran has not decided to make a nuclear weapon. Twice U.S. intelligence has concluded that Iran scrapped its nascent program in 2003. It is a signer of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), meaning inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency are on the scene. They have repeatedly certified that Iran has diverted no uranium, which it has enriched for energy and medical purposes, to weapons construction.
On the other hand, Israel possesses several hundred nuclear warheads, some submarine-based, and is not a signatory of the NPT. It submits to no inspections. It rejects calls for a nuclear-free Middle East. Of course, the U.S. government has thousands of nukes, and surrounds Iran with ground and naval forces.
Thus the idea that Iran — even if it managed to build a warhead — represents an "existential threat" to Israel or the United States is laughable. Israeli officials admit as much.
The most hawkish American foreign-policy thinkers don't believe Israel is at risk. Danielle Pletka, vice-president of foreign and defense policy studies at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, says,
The biggest problem for the United States is not Iran getting a nuclear weapon and testing it, it's Iran getting a nuclear weapon and not using it. Because the second that they have one and they don't do anything bad, all of the naysayers are going to come back and say, "See, we told you Iran is a responsible power."
The demonization of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is particularly absurd. Hoover Institution foreign-affairs expert Bruce Bueno de Mesquita says Ahmadinejad is the 18th-most-powerful politician in Iran. As president he has nothing to say about Iran's military. His faction was dealt a big political setback in last week's parliamentary elections — at the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who condemns nuclear weapons per se. Moreover, Ahmadinejad never threatened to "wipe Israel off the face of the earth."
Netanyahu thus is shamefully using the Holocaust card as a license to launch an aggressive war against the Iranian people. But there's no way he can succeed in his plan without involving the United States. Hence, the mounting pressure on Obama.
This is why Obama needed to stand up to Netanyahu, AIPAC, the congressional war chorus, and his Republican critics, and refuse to be a party to their war agenda. An attack on Iran, regardless of whether Israel goes it alone or works in "lockstep" (Obama's word) with the United States, would be a disaster, not just for the Iranian people, but also for Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan and for the Israelis themselves.
In light of Obama's obeisance before AIPAC, he has now dashed all hope that he'd do what needs to be done: resist Israel and its lobby, and rescind the war threat, along with the immoral sanctions and CIA-sponsored terrorism.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation