Obama Doesn't Bluff, Except When He Does

Ahead of Israel PM Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, President Obama has given a lengthy interview to the Atlantic. Why, it’s even longer than that BS Report hit he gave on the NBA and his golf game, so you know he’s serious.


Barack would have us know that he’s bringing his poker face to dealings with Iran.

In the most extensive interview he has given about the looming Iran crisis, Obama told me earlier this week that both Iran and Israel should take seriously the possibility of American action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff.” He went on, “I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”

Regarding the bluffing, that’s not what Obama told his least favorite Jewish member of Congress. Flash back to July 2011. The debt ceiling debate was the talk of the town. The president met with members of Congress including Rep. Eric Cantor. Obama treated the Virginia Republican about as well as he’s rumored to have once treated Netanyahu.

Cantor said he asked Obama if he would consider allowing two votes on the debt ceiling to give leaders more time to negotiate additional budget savings while avoiding a calamitous default.

“That’s when he got very agitated, seemingly, and said that he had sat there long enough, and that no other president — Ronald Reagan wouldn’t sit here like this — and that he’s reached the point where something’s got to give,” Cantor said, describing the president’s reaction.

“He said to me, ‘Eric, don’t call my bluff. I’m going to the American people with this,’” Cantor said.


The nation ended up with a deal in which benefits for retired troops are being cut, while Gitmo terrorists get an astroturf soccer field, and the nation is no closer to seriously tackling its spending addiction. That problem has gotten worse. I’m not sure what that says about the president’s ability to bluff.

Back to the present and that Atlantic interview. I’ll leave it to poker players to determine whether it’s smart to go around talking about whether you bluff or not. Barack wants to hold ’em like they do in Texas, I guess. He also wants to keep Iran from having any excuse to play the “victim” card.

Though he struck a consistently pro-Israel posture during the interview, Obama went to great lengths to caution Israel that a premature strike might inadvertently help Iran: “At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally, [Syria,] is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?”

When does Iran not portray itself as the victim? The Middle East is largely a logic free zone, where anti-British and anti-American conspiracy theories posit myriad ways the Western Satans and our little buddy plot to keep Iran from returning to its Persian glory. If your plan is to avoid Iran playing the victim card at all costs, you’re gonna need a better plan.


That plan might work better if it nods in the direction of reality.

He also said he would try to convince Netanyahu that the only way to bring about a permanent end to a country’s nuclear program is to convince the country in question that nuclear weapons are not in its best interest. “Our argument is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily,” he said, “and the only way historically that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table. That’s what happened in Libya, that’s what happened in South Africa.”

It almost — almost — sounds as if the president is suggesting that the key to peace for Israel is to unilaterally disarm. Or retreat to indefensible borders.

The South African and Libyan cases probably couldn’t be more different from each other, and neither bears much resemblance to Iran. South Africa abandoned its nuclear weapons as part of an overall strategy of gaining acceptance into the vaunted world community. Iran doesn’t care about that. Libya, however, only gave up its nuclear program after the United States invaded Iraq and destroyed Saddam Hussein’s regime. Gaddafi, terrified by the prospect of becoming another Saddam, gave us his weapons program. The Bush administration had no intentions of invading Libya, but was happy to move Gaddafi’s nuke program to Tennessee. I’m not sure that Obama has groked that particular nuance or found a way to apply it to the mullahs in Tehran.


But hey, at least he doesn’t bluff.


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