Obama and Iran
Stopping Iran is a cardinal interest of the US, the Middle East and the entire world. It’s not just about Israel.
Bushehr nuclear power plant Photo: Reuters
In his keynote speech to AIPAC on Sunday, US President Barack Obama sought to
dispel any doubts about his resolve to prevent Iran’s mullahs from obtaining a
But some on the American Right, apparently motivated by
their partisan desire to support the Republican Party, have argued that Obama’s
speech was particularly hawkish because it was, in the words of Washington Post
columnist Jennifer Rubin, “focused on minimizing the Jewish defections” from the
In The Wall Street Journal, Dan Senor, co-author with
Saul Singer of the best-selling Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic
Miracle and adviser to the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, wondered
whether Obama’s AIPAC speech wasn’t an election-year ploy. Senor voiced concern
that if reelected, Obama might change his stance on Iran.
On the US Left,
meanwhile, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have warned Obama not to allow
Israel to “push him into military confrontation with Tehran.”
In an op-ed
that appeared in the Financial Times, Mearsheimer and Walt – known for their
infamous thesis in The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy that a Jewish cabal
runs Washington – argued that “while one can understand why Israeli hardliners
might want the US to strike Iran, Washington has no interest in pursuing this
course and Mr. Obama should make this crystal clear to Mr.
The underlying – and perhaps mistaken – assumption on both
the Left and the Right was that the US president does not see a nuclear capable
Iran as a cardinal threat to essential US interests.
True, there is not a
complete overlapping of US and Israeli interests vis-à-vis Tehran’s nuclear
Washington is opposed to allowing the Iranian regime to build a
nuclear weapon. In contrast, Israel cannot wait that long, and is determined to
prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability.
As a result,
the US timetable for waiting to see if sanctions and diplomacy work will stretch
beyond the time frame in which Israel feels it must act in its own
Also, for Israel the regime’s nuclear program may soon enter a
“zone of immunity,” beyond which it could be effectively immune to a nonnuclear
In contrast, the US has “bunker-buster” capabilities that
Israel lacks and therefore can afford to wait longer to see the effects of a
combination of diplomacy, economic sanctions and covert acts.
there might be “daylight” between Israel and the US on the timing of an attack,
the two democracies agree that all means – including military intervention –
should be used to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear.
Even without the
bomb, Iran has exerted a decisive and destructive influence in the region. The
Islamic Republic, through its support for Shi’ite gunmen in Iraq, is responsible
for the deaths of hundreds of US military personnel. Iran is a destabilizing
force in Lebanon, where it arms Hezbollah, and is actively supporting Basher
Assad’s massacre of his own people in Syria.
If Iran were to attain
nuclear weapons, its inimical influence in the region would be amplified
For instance, an Iranian threat to block the Strait of
Hormuz – through which passes a fifth of the world’s oil supply – would cause
gasoline prices to skyrocket.
The US would face the threat of a nuclear
crisis if it tried to use force to reopen the Strait. And the same would hold
true when considering a response to any Iranian act of
Meanwhile, a nuclear arms race could break out in the
region as other countries – faced with US indecision – rush to obtain nuclear
arms to counter the Iranian threat.
The US president understands all
this. Therefore, it is absurd to claim, as Walt and Mearsheimer do, that it is
solely an Israeli interest to use any means – including military – to stop
Iran’s march toward the attainment of nuclear weapons. Nor should Obama’s AIPAC
speech be seen solely as an appeal to the Jewish vote, as some seem to
Stopping Iran’s mullahs through whatever means necessary is a
cardinal interest of the US, the Middle East and the entire civilized world.
It’s not just about Israel.