In June 2008, I happened to be traveling through Washington D.C. on the day then-Sen. Barack Obama addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In line at the airport ticket counter, I encountered some of those who had attended. They were giddy with excitement. “What did he say about a nuclear Iran?” I asked one woman. “Oh,” she reassured me. “All options are on the table,” she reassured me, beaming.
Apparently those options included letting Iran become a nuclear power. Since 2009, according to the Nonproliferation Education Policy Center, Iran has tripled its uranium enrichment, and is rapidly developing enough fissile material to create one or more nuclear weapons. The Obama administration placed great hope in repeated rounds of failed talks earlier this year, despite Israel’s warning that Iran was merely buying time.
President Obama claims credit for economic sanctions that are hurting Iran’s economy. But those sanctions have failed to stop Iran’s nuclear program. And Obama dragged his feet the entire way, delaying the approval of some sanctions and carving out waivers for Russian and Chinese companies in others, earning rebukes from his fellow Democrats.
Both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, in his recent debate with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), have rejected Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s idea of a “red line” of 90% enrichment, beyond which Iran would face military action. They have also failed to impose any kind of deadline for Iran to comply with international demands. In 2008, Obama promised “tough diplomacy,” but what he has delivered is anything but.
The Obama administration tried, indirectly, to claim undue credit for the Stuxnet virus that interfered with Iranian nuclear centrifuges. It did so through unprecedented and illegal leaks of secret information from the White House to the press, causing bipartisan outrage in Congress and pushback from Israeli officials. Regardless, Iran overcame the Stuxnet virus and its centrifuges have continued to enrich uranium at new facilities.
Obama drops hints, now and then, that military action is still an option. At the moment, there is a buildup of U.S. and international naval force in the Persian Gulf, owing largely to recent Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 35 percent of the world’s oil shipments pass. At the same time, Obama mocks rival Mitt Romney for the implication that the U.S. might have to go to war with Iran, sending a clear signal to the ayatollahs about Obama’s commitment not to use military force as a last resort.
The Iranian standoff might have been resolved without a shot in 2009 if Obama had done anything to assist pro-democracy groups that nearly toppled the regime after it stole a presidential election. Yet Obama insisted the bloody suppression of peaceful protest was an internal Iranian affair. Obama’s apparent hope was to preserve the possibility of a deal with the regime–and so he preserved the regime itself. When Syria erupted in 2010, Obama missed an chance to topple Iran’s key regional ally.
Faced with Obama’s reluctance, Israel–which is more directly at risk from a nuclear Iran–has begun making military preparations for a possible pre-emptive strike. As it has done so, it has been undermined by calculated leaks from the Obama administration about Israeli war plans that are clearly aimed at stopping any Israeli action. Obama’s cold treatment of the Israeli government has also damaged any deterrent threat to Iran.
Four years after AIPAC delegates happily reported that “all options are on the table,” Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon and both the U.S. and Israel are in greater danger than before. There is no reason to believe Obama had any intention of keeping his promise on Iran; he has, after all, abandoned his commitment to defend Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, another promise he made to his fans at AIPAC. His attempt to save face by reversing changes to the Democratic platform last month only underscored the point.
As in the recent Benghazi debacle, Obama’s policy on Iran is failure compounded by deceit. He has no new plans for confronting Iran–he merely attacks the plans proposed by his rival. Meanwhile, Israel is thought to be making plans for a pre-emptive strike on Iran if Obama wins re-election. Obama’s weakness has made war more, not less, likely.