The Obama Watch

Obama’s Ostrich Strategy

Head in the sand foreign policy makes for warped perceptions.

By 5.7.10

To listen to the Obama Administration, it's appears they can't decide which country is more difficult to deal with -- Iran or Israel? The debacle of P.M. Netanyahu's March trip to the White House was alluded to only by the few Obama aides who were allowed to speak, and they tended to mumble defensively.

Of course no word was given out of exactly what went wrong, though if there was a consistent theme it was Netanyahu's obdurate stance. It is suggested by White House apologists that the Israeli leader just wouldn't accept the logic of peaceful negotiation and diplomatic/economic pressure so eloquently presented by the U.S. president. Ultimately the impression is given that the Israelis, led by Bibi Netanyahu, are hell bent on blowing up Iran no matter what is suggested by the wise Barack Obama.

If the entire situation weren't so serious, the White House's concerted effort in seeking to condemn Israel as an irresponsible bully would be laughable. The Obama portrait of a big bad Israel is supposed to show the Muslim countries of the Middle East that Washington is now truly even-handed. The Palestinians of all hues will dance in joy and the Iranians supposedly will understand the error of their way -- or something!

Stripping away all the blarney -- to mix in an old Irish expression -- the reality is that unless the Iranians are stopped from further development of a nuclear weapon capability, Israel will have to take action on its own to do so. What therefore are the chances of Iran being persuaded by an American-led policy of marginal pressure to cease Tehran's program of weapon creation?

To begin with, the Obama Administration has posited a theory that though the Iranians will have the ability to construct a nuclear device in one year, it will take them another five years to "weaponize" the device. This heretofore unreported lengthy technological gap between construction and production has been conveniently evolved (invented?) in order to give the public the impression that there remains considerable time to negotiate a Persian step-down.

This is a wholly new calculation that has never been suggested by earlier intelligence estimates, which projected a six-month timetable between development and production, depending on mode of delivery. Apparently North Korean assistance was included in this estimation and there is no reason to rule it out now.

In response to queries regarding this inconsistency, the always anonymous White House sources have indicated that NSC staff technical advice has been that the Iranians would want to build an entire nuclear armed missile strike force before challenging Israel or anywhere else. This is a very convenient scenario for President Obama's desire to stretch out the potential negotiating time line.

In the meantime, the White House plan is to attempt to convince Russia and China to go along with some form of increased UN sanctions against arms sales to Iran. Rather belatedly there is recognition by Washington that the Iranian central bank must be a principal focus. A revised resolution at the United Nations is being worked on to satisfy Moscow and Beijing's objections, but nothing is evolving that really will pressure Iran.

Right from the beginning the Obama administration gave away its negotiating position by admitting that it didn't expect to get agreement on a broad range of controls. A key target was the inspection of cargoes designated for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps under false registries and flags. Granting the exclusion of this essential element in enforcing arms sanctions is a major impediment to any sanctions success.

To make up for the weakness of the American effort to press for strong UN sanctions against Iran, administration spokesmen have indicated an expectation of tougher European Union measures. The logic of this maneuver lacks credibility in terms of its effectiveness as a threat. Nonetheless, that has not deterred the White House from attempting to sell the concept in order to appear to be doing something important.

Netanyahu's political opponents in Israel include many who want to support Barack Obama's avoidance of military threats, but Washington's weak alternative strategy has given them little or nothing with which to work. On the contrary, Israel is now faced with dealing with the oft-repeated threat of the Iranian leadership, clerical and secular, that Tehran's intent is to destroy Israel.

President Obama's warped perception of the use of military action in defense of national interests has kept him from any appreciation of the role that military preparation and preemptive action has played historically in the preservation of Israel's existence. Netanyahu recognizes this situation and will encourage his defense cabinet to act accordingly when the time is right.

This decision most likely was well communicated by the Israeli prime minister to the American president. It explains the abortive nature of the White House meeting. Meanwhile, Obama proceeds with his strategic head in the sand.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.