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_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Bushehr nuclear power plant_311
(photo credit: 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 nuclear weapon.
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 Democratic Party.
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. Netanyahu.”
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 program.
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 defense.
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 Israeli strike.
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.
But while 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 exponentially.
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 belligerence.
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 believe.
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.