The Obama administration does not handle foreign policy crises well. And it handles multiple crises horribly. That, I suspect, is why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on Sunday on “Face the Nation.”
It was an effort to remind the Obama administration that the implosion of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government and even the civil war in Syria, not to mention the nonexistent “peace process,” are sideshows to the main event that could transform the region and wreak havoc on the U.S.-Israel relationship, namely the swift and steady progress of Iran’s government toward nuclear weapons capability.
Netanyahu’s message was threefold. First, Israel’s timetable is different than the U.S. timetable: “You know, our clocks are ticking in a different pace. We’re closer than the
United States. We’re more vulnerable. . . I can tell you I won’t wait until it’s too late.” Second, we need to avoid being suckered into passivity by the election of a less overtly snarly Iranian president:
Now mind you, there is a new president in Iran, he believes — he’s criticizing his predecessor for being a wolf in wolf’s clothing. His strategy is, be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Smile and build a bomb. He brags about the fact that he
talked to the Europeans while completing a nuclear conversion plan in Isfahan. So I think they can’t be allowed to get away with it.
And, finally Netanyahu cautioned that we need to make the military option seem more realistic:
I think it’s very important to make clear to them that you won’t allow them to have this weapon and to demonstrate that by action. That is, you can also make clear that the nuclear option which is — the military option which is on the table is truly on the table. The Iranians take note of that. Right now my sense is in the international community as a whole that because so many things are happening in the Middle East, things are happening, as you say, in Syria, in
Egypt, with the Palestinians, there are many important issues that we have to deal with. And I have a sense that there’s no sense of urgency.
That Netanyahu’s appearance coincided with the administration’s pleas for direct talks with Iran is not accidental, I think. The Israelis, not without justification, fear the Obama administration is so desperate to avoid a decision on military action that it will engage in endless, useless diplomacy or that it will reach a meaningless agreement that gives Iran cover to continue on its merry way toward nuclear weapons capability.
Foreign policy tea-leaf readers point to a sentence in President Obama’s much-criticized Berlin speech last month in which he declared that “we can forge a new international framework for peaceful nuclear power, and reject the nuclear weaponization North Korea and Iran may be seeking.” Yikes, on several counts.
“May be seeking”? Is there some doubt that North Korea has already crossed the threshold? Do we harbor doubts as to whether Iran seeks nuclear weapons? And what “international framework” is going to stop the two rogue nations? Both are already in violation of multiple international edicts.
All of this smacks of the imposition of the disastrous North Korea deal-making paradigm: We make paper agreements that neither side tends to want the wanna-be nuclear power to actually adhere to. And wouldn’t you know that the woman at the center of failed deal-making with North Korea, Wendy Sherman, is front and center the ongoing efforts to woo Iran into a deal.
Netanyahu is right to be worried. Sanctions have not stopped progress on Iran’s nuclear program and Obama is wholeheartedly dedicated to avoiding any military action in the Middle East, let alone action that could involve a prolonged conflict. One suspects this is the first of many Israeli efforts to get the administration’s attention. But like a waiter avoiding your eye contact, the administration will scurry around, hoping that faux deal-making will buy Obama time to finish his term. But of course it will be the Iranians who put that time to use, just as North Korea did, to attain its nuclear aims.