Despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s valiant effort this week to educate President Barack Obama on the meaning of Purim and the centuries-old tale about the triumph of moral leadership and courage, the painful reality is that his message fell on deaf ears. The president does indeed “have Israel’s back” — up against a wall.
Over the course of a week in which the president spoke frequently on the subject of Iran, one message stood out. By vociferously arguing that his administration’s brand of diplomacy is realistically capable of ending Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, and that views to the contrary are irresponsible war-mongering, Obama is attempting to undermine the legality of an Israeli strike.
In fact, self-defense in international law depends on the assessment that the threat posed to one’s civilian population is real and sufficiently imminent as to justify the use of force to prevent the impending harm. Given the catastrophic nature of the danger, it is not necessary for Israel — or America — to wait until the genocidal Iranian mullahs and President Ahmadinejad have their hands on the nuclear trigger.
But President Obama is painting a different picture. If Israel can be cast as pre-empting or foregoing the reasonable possibility of diplomatic success with a “rational actor” — as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey recently described Iran — then it would not be engaged in justifiable self-defense. Labeling discussion of the necessity of using force to stymie Iran’s aggressive behavior as “loose talk of war” or “beating the drums of war” — in the president’s words — is also to deny that such a move would be legitimate self-defense.
This explains why in Sunday’s speech to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, the president lunged the knife into Israel’s back and twisted it: “I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy. … Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision. … Israel…[has] an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically.” The insulting innuendo was that without his wise admonition Israeli mothers and fathers would be hankering to send their children into battle.
But even the spin doctors — desperate to explain away three years of policy development at odds with Israel’s (and America’s) national security — cannot cover for a patently obvious lack of resolve.
Recall the huffing and puffing and the fuzzy shifting deadlines on Iran of the administration’s first year in office. On July 22, 2009, Secretary Clinton said of U.S. action on Iran: “Our president came to office with a very clear preference for talking with people. … I think there is still a lot of opportunity here, but we are not going to keep the window open forever.” On July 27, 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said: “The president is fully aware that the Iranians may simply try to run out the clock. … I think the president is hoping for some kind of response … at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly session.” On October 1, 2009, the president said: “Iran … must grant unfettered access to IAEA inspectors within two weeks. … We’re not interested in talking for the sake of talking. If Iran does not take steps in the near future to live up to its obligations, then the United States will not continue to negotiate indefinitely.” On November 29, 2009, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said: “Time is running out for Iran to address the international community’s growing concerns about its nuclear program.”
Or compare the president himself in his first year in office to the Obama of today. On May 18, 2009, President Obama was asked about Iran and any deadlines for his “policy of engagement.” He responded: “You know, I don’t want to set an artificial deadline. … We should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction.”
Almost three years later, the president is still spinning his wheels. On March 6, 2012, after the administration announced a new round of talks with Iran, the president told a news conference in eerily similar terms: “To resolve this issue will require Iran to come to the table and discuss in a clear and forthright way how to prove to the international community that the intentions of their nuclear program are peaceful. … They know how to do it, and the question is going to be whether in these discussions they show themselves moving clearly in that direction.”
So let’s recap. The leading state sponsor of terrorism is poised to acquire the world’s most dangerous weapon. The president of the United States is still pretending that Iran could prove that its intentions are peaceful and is wondering where the Iranians are headed. And to forestall the possibility that Israel will give up on America’s commander-in-chief having his own country’s back, let alone theirs, President Obama is busy sabotaging the Jewish state’s right of self-defense.
Twenty-four centuries later and Purim is as relevant as ever.