Thursday, March 1, 2012

Obama's Upcoming Moment of Truth

Bibi's coming to town, and by some accounts, Barack is starting to pout.  And who can blame him?

Mr. Netanyahu arrives presently in Washington with a bone to pick.  Bibi evidently is infuriated by the US's insistence (delivered by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair, General Martin Dempsey) that Israel's ramped-up threat to launch a military strike against Iran's nuclear installations is both premature and unhelpful.  

And the stage for a showdown is set.  The annual convention of AIPAC, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US, is about to begin.  Obama will be addressing the delegates on Sunday morning.  Netanyahu follows on Monday night, after a discussion with Obama slated for Monday morning.  Unless Obama caves to Netanyahu before Monday night, Bibi will surely challenge the US president to take a tougher line on military action against Iran.  Then, on Tuesday, come even more fireworks: the three top GOP presidential contenders (the honorable messrs. Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum) will be taking the rostrum, where they will most assuredly vie with each other to see who can (1) offer up to Bibi the most fulsome and sanctimonious praise and (2) trash Barack Hussein Obama as a weak-kneed Neville Chamberlain wanabee.  (Indeed, they likely will weigh in right on the heels of Bibi's speech.  Tuesday is also "Super-Tuesday" in the GOP-primary  process.)  

I highly recommend Tony Karon's reflections on all of this, especially his comment that with the US economy just maybe bouncing back, the Republicans are going to focus their firepower on Obama's handling of Iran and the "special relationship" with Israel.  And as TK also notes, Bibi's acolytes in the US Congress are already trying to force Obama's hand:
A non-binding “Sense of the Senate” resolution unveiled Wednesday by Senators Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman on behalf of a bipartisan group of 32 senators is explicitly designed to limit the Administration’s scope for compromise in any negotiating process, and to press for a more bellicose policy. The senators insist Obama draw the red line at Iran acquiring “nuclear weapons capability” rather than initiating the construction of weapons, and it “rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran.”
AIPAC delegates are expected on Tuesday to fan out across Capitol Hill to press their senators and representatives to back the resolution.
Twelve of those Senators had earlier written to Obama warning him against allowing any relaxation of sanctions in response to any Iranian concession “less than full, verifiable, and sustained suspension of all enrichment activities, including both 3 percent and 20 percent enrichment. The time for confidence-building measures is over.”

But Karon also notes that any possible diplomatic progress in this crisis will need to be predicated upon such confidence-building measures.  So, short of a complete capitulation by Iran, the only remaining course of action that the good senators seem to want to leave Obama is war against Iran.  Indeed, The Guardian reported:

Senator Joe Lieberman, one of the sponsors of the resolution, said it is intended "to say clearly and resolutely to Iran: You have only two choices – peacefully negotiate to end your nuclear program or expect a military strike to end that program."
Critics of the resolution said that it smacks of a congressional authorization for an attack on Iran. That view was reinforced when the sponsors declined a request from some Democrats to amend it to clarify that the resolution did not imply consent for war.

The manifold dangers of starting a war with Iran have been laid out fully and meticulously by a ton of experts, for months.  (And, by the way, please discount today's NYT op-ed from IAF general Amos Yadlin on how attacking Iran's nuclear facilities would likely terminate its nuclear program.  Stephen Walt does a superb job of trashing Yadlin's argument, and the fallacies on which it's built - and Walt does us a further service by enjoining the NYT's op-ed board to vet submissions more rigorously.  Of course, given that Netanyahu only weeks ago dissed the NYT, maybe they want to make nicer with Bibi?  In any event, shame on them.)  As the NYT reports, the growing fear that war may be unavoidable has already begun to nudge US gasoline prices upward.  An actual outbreak of hostilities could easily send gas prices here to $5 per gallon, potentially halting the baby-stepping  economic recovery in its tracks and most certainly enraging the Fox News-watching/Limbaugh-listening/Silverado-driving Mr and Mrs Joe Sixpacks across the USA.  And you can be sure that Fox-Limbaugh will find a way to lay blame for those skyrocketing gas prices, not on the AIPAC/GOP bomb-Iran alliance that brought them a new war, but on the shoulders of Barack Obama. . . .

IF Mr. Obama buckles under all of the pressure.  The next several days may tell us a lot about how imminent (or not) war with Iran may be, and how willing Obama is - or is not - to imperil America's economy, and what's left of its global standing, for the sake of his election prospects.

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