On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama discussed the “deal” with Iran (and I use the term loosely, since no one can actually agree on what the supposed agreement is) in an interview with NPR. Incredible assertions by the State Department that Obama misspoke notwithstanding, Obama plainly admitted in this interview that, even assuming that Iran adheres to all of its terms, the “deal” really does not do more than delay Iran’s ability to obtain a nuclear weapon by 13-15 years, and that at that time “the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.” At the same time, the White House is insisting that the only alternative to this “deal” is to do nothing, and allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon even sooner.
I was reminded today of the very different position that Obama took on these issues in March of 2012, when he still had an election ahead of him, and when he was attempting to forestall a potential Israeli military strike. In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama insisted that containment of a nuclear Iran was not an option, that he was seeking a permanent solution to the nuclear issue, not a temporary fix, and that, if diplomacy failed to achieve those objectives, US military action was “on the table.”
Here are some quotes.
GOLDBERG: Do you think Israel could cause damage to itself in America by preempting the Iranian nuclear program militarily?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don’t know how it plays in America. I think we in the United States instinctively sympathize with Israel, and I think political support for Israel is bipartisan and powerful. . . . In that context, 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.
On containment of a nuclear Iran:
GOLDBERG: Let me flip this entirely around and ask: Why is containment not your policy? In the sense that we contained the Soviet Union, North Korea —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It’s for the reason I described — because you’re talking about the most volatile region in the world. It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe. . . .
GOLDBERG: What I’m getting at specifically is, let’s assume there’s a Hezbollah attack on Israel. Israel responds into Lebanon. Iran goes on some kind of a nuclear alert, and then one-two-three —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: The potential for escalation in those circumstances is profoundly dangerous, and in addition to just the potential human costs of a nuclear escalation like that in the Middle East, just imagine what would happen in terms of the world economy. The possibilities of the sort of energy disruptions that we’ve never seen before occurring, and the world economy basically coming to a halt, would be pretty profound. So when I say this is in the U.S. interest, I’m not saying this is something we’d like to solve. I’m saying this is something we have to solve.
On the US military option:
GOLDBERG: Go back to this language, ‘All options on the table.’ You’ve probably said it 50 or 100 times. And a lot of people believe it, but the two main intended audiences, the supreme leader of Iran and the prime minister of Israel, you could argue, don’t entirely trust this. The impression we get is that the Israeli government thinks this is a vague expression that’s been used for so many years. Is there some ramping-up of the rhetoric you’re going to give them?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think the Israeli people understand it, I think the American people understand it, and I think the Iranians understand it. It means a political component that involves isolating Iran; it means an economic component that involves unprecedented and crippling sanctions; it means a diplomatic component in which we have been able to strengthen the coalition that presents Iran with various options through the P-5 plus 1 and ensures that the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] is robust in evaluating Iran’s military program; and it includes a military component. And I think people understand that.
. . . .
GOLDBERG: One of the aspects of this is the question of whether it’s plausible that Barack Obama would ever use military power to stop Iran. The Republicans are trying to make this an issue — and not only the Republicans — saying that this man, by his disposition, by his character, by his party, by his center-left outlook, is not going to do that.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Look, if people want to say about me that I have a profound preference for peace over war, that every time I order young men and women into a combat theater and then see the consequences on some of them, if they’re lucky enough to come back, that this weighs on me — I make no apologies for that. Because anybody who is sitting in my chair who isn’t mindful of the costs of war shouldn’t be here, because it’s serious business. These aren’t video games that we’re playing here.
Now, having said that, I think it’s fair to say that the last three years, I’ve shown myself pretty clearly willing, when I believe it is in the core national interest of the United States, to direct military actions, even when they entail enormous risks. And obviously, the bin Laden operation is the most dramatic, but al-Qaeda was on its [knees] well before we took out bin Laden because of our activities and my direction.
In Afghanistan, we’ve made very tough decisions because we felt it was very important, in order for an effective transition out of Afghanistan to take place, for us to be pushing back against the Taliban’s momentum.
So aside from the usual politics, I don’t think this is an argument that has a lot of legs. And by the way, it’s not an argument that the American people buy. They may have complaints about high unemployment still, and that the recovery needs to move faster, but you don’t hear a lot of them arguing somehow that I hesitate to make decisions as commander in chief when necessary.
Sounds a lot like, “You can keep your health plan. Period.”