February 6, 2012
Parsing Obama’s words on Israel-Iran nukes issue
You can watch the video of Obama’s NBC interview here. And here I’m going to try and explain what the President really meant:
Amidst the constant chatter of a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, President Barack Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer last Sunday that he doesn’t believe the decision to attack has been reached.
There’s also the possibility that he knows more, but doesn’t want to share his knowledge. Or maybe he doesn’t really know what’s going on. Or maybe he believes that this is what the President should say at this point in time, regardless of what he actually knows or doesn’t know or wishes to know about Israel’s plans.
There’s been so much talk and so few verifiable facts to dissect—such heavy fog and so many uncertainties, trickery, deception and manipulation that as Obama spoke, I tried to parse the meaning of his words. It wasn’t easy, but I’m happy to share what I believe he said, without pretending to know more than I do. Here’s the President’s words, followed by what I think was meaning:
“I don’t think that Israel has made a decision on what they need to do”:
1. He`s probably right, the final decision will be made very close to the actual action (if there is action).
“My No.1 priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also, the security of Israel”:
“We are going to be sure that we work in lockstep as we proceed to try to solve this — hopefully diplomatically. “:
1. “Lockstep” - that is, until Israel decides to take action?
“I’ve been very clear - we’re going to do everything we can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and creating a nuclear arms race in a volatile region”:
In truth, the President has never been really clear about Iran. Maybe being clear on such an issue is impossible, maybe it is counterproductive. Will he “try” to solve the problem, or will he “do everything we can”? And what does he mean by “can”?
“Any kind of additional military activity inside the Gulf is disruptive and has a big effect on us”:
That is clearly a warning: Attacking Iran will have impact on the American national interest. The U.S. is not a bystander and cannot be easily ignored by Israeli decision makers as they ponder their options.
“It could have a big effect on oil prices. We’ve still got troops in Afghanistan, which borders Iran.”:
Another warning. If Israel attacks, the American people might not like it, and he is suggesting to Israel that he can easily convince Americans not to like it: Don’t count on your ability to play the inside game of American public opinion.
“I will say that we have closer military and intelligence consultation between our two countries than we’ve ever had”:
1. This is, first and foremost, a political statement. For quite a while now, the Obama team has been using this line as its most effective tool against all “Obama-threw-Israel-under-the-bus” attacks. Obama is a disciplined campaigner and doesn’t miss an opportunity to make use of this line. It is effective for three reasons:
“We don’t see any evidence that they have those intentions or capabilities right now”:
Obama is not in the mood for scaring Americans into thinking that a war against Iran must be waged. So the message is: If Iran has no “intention” to harm the U.S., why should the U.S. harm Iran?