We have one person to thank for the fact that President Barack
Obama successfully let Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu know 'who's the boss'
both at the AIPAC conference and at a meeting between the two at the White
House on Monday.
Thank you, Mitt Romney.
Imagine if things had worked out the way Netanyahu wanted
them to: Romney would have turned out to be an excellent candidate who crushed
his opponents with dispatch. He would not only have the Republican nomination sewn
up by now, but he would be the frontrunner to win in November (especially if
the economy was trending down and not up).
Under those circumstances, Bibi would have treated Obama the
way he treated President Clinton during the ridiculous Lewinsky brouhaha. He
essentially ignored him, hanging out with then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and
sending the word to his followers that Clinton was likely to be removed by
Congress. For Bibi, who hated Clinton's alliance with the late Yitzhak Rabin
and his commitment to Rabin's vision, it was all 'happy days are here again.'
That was how Monday was supposed to be, too. Instead, Netanyahu
met with an invigorated president who, thanks to Romney, Gingrich, Santorum and
the rest of the weak GOP field, looks like an almost sure bet for re-election
in November. Bibi understood that any attempt to embarrass Obama or diss him in
front of his AIPAC buddies would haunt him for five more years.
Even worse, it could cost him his job. Prime Minister
Yitzhak Shamir rallied AIPAC against the first President Bush, leading Bush to
all but endorse his opponent, Yitzhak Rabin and bring about Shamir's defeat. AIPAC
gives ovations to Israeli leaders who challenge U.S. Presidents. But the
Israeli people don't, because they live there and understand how much Israel
needs the United States (no, AIPAC, it is not the other way around).
So that is why Monday was Bibi's terrible,
horrible, no good, very bad day.
Start with Obama's
speech to AIPAC. Netanyahu had asked that the United States redraw its "red
line" from actual Iranian development of a nuclear bomb to the mere capability
to do so. Should Iran cross the line, we would go to war. Obama mentioned no
red lines and did not change U.S. policy. He maintains his latitude to do what
he thinks is right.
Netanyahu wanted Obama to agree that the diplomatic route is
dead; that sanctions can be utilized, but only to produce "crippling" pain on Iranians as
a prelude to war. Instead, Obama emphasized diplomacy,
mentioning it over and over again as the surest way to end the stalemate.
Netanyahu wanted Obama to make clear that if Israel attacks
Iran, the United States will have its back. Obama agreed with the prime
minister that "no Israeli government can tolerate" a nuclear weapon in Iranian
hands, seemingly giving Netanyahu a go-ahead to bomb. But Bibi knows that means
nothing unless the U.S. will join in the attack,
and Obama made it clear that he is not there. Not even close. The president
As President and Commander-in-Chief, I
have a deeply held preference for peace over war. I have sent men and women
into harm's way. I've seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of
those I meet who've come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who
don't make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those
moments as the most searing of my presidency. And for this reason, as part of
my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the
time and circumstances demand it.
In other words, he understands that Israel will do what it
is going to do. But as president, he won't join in unless the U.S. is directly
threatened. Vice President Biden's idea that there must be "no daylight"
between Israeli and U.S. policies was noticeably absent.
It didn't get any better for Netanyahu when he
met with Obama at the White House.
Netanyahu tried hard to get Obama to go the Biden "no
daylight" route. But Obama wasn't buying. When Bibi came out with the
outlandish and chutzpah-laden line "we are you
and you are us," Obama was silent. His message was: "We believe that there is
still a window that allows a diplomatic solution to this issue."
No wonder Netanyahu seemed so deflated when he delivered his
much-heralded speech to AIPAC. It is enough to say that its highlight was when
he justified war with Iran using a biblical story about a bad Persian tyrant who
tried to destroy the Jewish people 2,500 years ago. (Pathetically, Bibi gave Obama a copy
of the Bible story to use in his deliberations.)
It only got worse for Netanyahu today when Obama stated at a
press conference that diplomacy remains his preferred route. Obama spoke just
after the announcement
that the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany would
commence negotiations with Iran on the nuclear issue.
Unlike last time when, at Netanyahu's insistence, the United
States imposed a 3-month deadline, this time negotiations will be open-ended. According
to the New York Times, the talks would
"help relieve pressure from Israel to use military force against Teheran."
At his press conference, Obama at one point spoke as if he
was directly addressing the neocons:
I think there's no doubt that those who
are suggesting or proposing or beating the drums of war should explain clearly
to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be. I'm not
one of those people.
Because what I've said is, is that we have
a window through which we can resolve this issue peacefully. We have put
forward an international framework that is applying unprecedented pressure. The
Iranians just stated that they are willing to return to the negotiating table,
and we've got the opportunity, even as we maintain that pressure, to see how it
Netanyahu returns to Israel. From the perspective of
a hawk, his trip was an utter failure. He came here looking for a partner for
war but leaves feeling lonely. War is much less likely.
Well played, Mr. President. And, Mitt, thank you.