Does President Obama even know what he wants? Having what appeared to be an endorsement of the Cordoba Project mosque being built on Ground Zero, the New York Times ran the headline: “Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site.” Suddenly late Saturday, the president ran for cover and told both Politico and the New York Times “that he wasn’t endorsing the specific project but making a general plea for religious tolerance toward all.” As the once paper of record reported on Saturday, “ he was ‘not commenting on the wisdom’ of that project, but rather trying to uphold the broader principle that government should treat ‘everyone equal, regardless’ of religion.”
The White House press office quickly explained, “Just to be clear, the president is not backing off in any way from the comments he made last night” — except, just to be clear, he is backing off from them. Can we be any more confused? In seeking his outreach to the Muslim world, the president now seems to be emulating the Arab leaders whose respect he courts — the same leaders who regularly say one thing to their own constituency and something else when talking to the West. But in this case, the president was addressing Americans on both nights — and hence made obviously contradictory statements, only one of which can be true.
Is it then any wonder that when it comes to what the Israelis think of Obama, they are totally confused and perplexed when they try to figure out what he really thinks of their nation and of America’s “special relationship” with it? In this regard, one must turn to the very important and penetrating lead article in the latest issue of The Atlantic by their star reporter on the Middle East, Jeffrey Goldberg.
I cannot think of a more essential article than the one Goldberg has just published. He has talked and spoken to every important player on both sides of the world, including a one-on-one with Benjamin Netanyahu a short time before he was sworn in as prime minister. Goldberg leaves Israel with the thought that if sanctions against Iran do not work by next spring — and few believe that they will — then Israel will have no option left but to bomb Iran. Of course, it would be better if the United States, and not Israel, did the job. But would Obama do it if all signs point to its necessity? The key paragraph in Goldberg’s article comes at the beginning of his long essay:
“But none of these things—least of all the notion that Barack Obama, for whom initiating new wars in the Middle East is not a foreign-policy goal, will soon order the American military into action against Iran—seems, at this moment, terribly likely. What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft. (It’s so crowded, in fact, that the United States Central Command, whose area of responsibility is the greater Middle East, has already asked the Pentagon what to do should Israeli aircraft invade its airspace. According to multiple sources, the answer came back: do not shoot them down.)”
So we evidently will not stop Israeli aircraft from doing the job, but we will leave it to them. The reason they will do so, Goldberg writes, is rather simple: “[T]he Israelis will tell their American counterparts that they are taking this drastic step because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people. The Israelis will also state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years. They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice. They will not be asking for permission, because it will be too late to ask for permission.”