Loose Canons

Barry’s Phony Bluff

He can't fool anyone most of the time, certainly not Iran or Israel.

By 3.5.12

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When President Obama meets Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu today, he will have only two goals. He may succeed in one and will certainly fail in the other.

Obama's goals are simple. First, to avoid a repeat of the televised lecture by Netanyahu immediately after the two met. Before Netanyahu's arrival last year, Obama harshly criticized Israel and demanded peace talks based on the pre-1967 war borders with the Palestinians. In what was supposed to be a friendly televised chat after their Oval Office meeting, Netanyahu politely but firmly took Obama to school and bluntly rejected the 1967 baseline. It was a public relations disaster for Obama that he can prevent this time by just refusing another such event. He may even deny Netanyahu the side-by-side press conferences common to meetings with other nations' leaders.

Second, Obama wants Israel to commit that it will not attack Iran this year. His administration has been frantically trying to persuade Israel to delay any attack, and has been met with quiet opposition and growing silence from the Israeli side.

Obama's two goals are based only on avoiding damage to his campaign. If there is another public break with Israel or if -- as is most likely -- Israel attacks Iran's nuclear facilities, Obama's campaign will be distracted and damaged. Any resemblance between Obama's goals and America's national interest is purely coincidental.

Obama is playing for time. He wants the world's nuclear cauldron -- Iran, North Korea, Pakistan et al. -- not to boil over before his election. That is the primary reason that we've -- again -- filled the North Korean begging bowl to cease nuclear production. This is, what, the third or fourth time we've done this? And this time, like every time before, we'll deliver the bribes (fuel oil, food, whatever) which will be used to prop up the Norks' regime, their people will continue to starve, and they will go on with their nuke program. But nothing will be noisy until after the election.

If only those noisy Israelis would go along and shut up for the rest of the year. But their interest in Obama's campaign is less than their interest in national survival. Which is why, in Canada before coming here to meet Obama, Netanyahu warned against some new attempt at negotiations with Iran because they would just serve to give Iran more time to produce nuclear weapons.

Building up to today's meeting, Team Obama has puffed and fumed. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey went so far as to say Iran is a "rational actor." Indeed it is, but only in the sense of the Iranian theological "rationale." Iran is governed by Shia "twelvers," believers in a mystical "twelfth imam" whose return to earth will create a global Islamic paradise. And the "twelvers" -- unique among the world's religions - believe that an act of man can bring about the deity's return to earth. Unfortunately, they believe that an apocalyptic event is the way to bring the twelfth imam back. This is a rationality that makes nuclear war a career objective for the "twelvers."

Obama has been making noise about how tough and decisive he is on Iran. In a widely-reported interview with the Atlantic magazine, he said that we "have Israel's back" and will destroy Iran's nuclear weapons program if economic sanctions don't succeed.

Obama also said that, "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."

Obama's formulations are artful. He says that we would destroy Iran's nuclear weapons program if economic sanctions fail.

Obama's "bluff" is open-ended. Sanctions have been tried against Iran for many years, and have had zero effect on its nuclear program. They can go on forever, giving Iran whatever time it needs to complete its nuclear development program. The regime has made its nuclear program a top national priority and isn't going to give it up peacefully.

Obama wants to sound tough without committing himself to anything. The Iranians understand this. For eight years, George W. Bush said the same things: that for Iran to have nuclear weapons is unacceptable and that all options are on the table. But saying those words and actually trying to effectuate them as a policy are two different things. Both Bush and Obama said the words and did nothing to deny Iran's nuclear progress. By repetition of words, passage of time, and inaction, two presidents have proven that we are willing to do nothing to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and that, whatever options may be "on the table," none that will be exercised will be the only thing that can work: extensive and intense military interdiction of Iran's nuclear weapons development.

Obama now tells Iran not to call his bluff. What bluff? Obama has made no threat with a date certain for enforcement, only that someday, if economic sanctions "fail" will we take military action. That's not a bluff, it's barely a schoolyard taunt. It's rhetorical, a campaign promise and nothing more. The only bluff Obama is running is to the American voters so that he can get through the election without doing anything about Iran (and a host of other war issues, especially Afghanistan).

There's no hope of anything better from Obama. Which makes an Israeli attack on Iran not just inevitable but essential.

If Israel does not attack Iran soon, Obama -- and Bush before him -- will have gifted the mullahs with the time they needed to develop their nuclear arsenal. When they have done so, it is not only Israel that will be in mortal danger. So will we and every other nation that is a target Islamic terrorism. 

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.