Friday, March 2, 2012

Obama on Iran and Israel

The President has given an extraordinary interview to The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg  on his approach to Israel and the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon. Obama laments that his political foes want to drive a wedge between him and his pro-Israel supporters, then responds pithily, "we've got Israel's back" and "I don't bluff."

From Obama's standpoint, this is a good political preemptive move, giving reassurances to Israel and its friends but also warning Netanyahu that any Israeli military strike needs to be postponed. The Israeli Prime Minister thus has the choice between praising all the language of solidarity or criticizing the President for being unwilling to accept the need for early military action. Let's hope he makes the right choice.

One of the most interesting points by Obama, in my view, is that he goes beyond the usual argument that Iran could be deterred from using nuclear weapons, even if they had them, as the United States and the Soviet Union deterred each other during the cold war. Instead, Obama argues that an Iranian weapon would inevitably lead nearby nations to acquire their own nuclear capability, creating an even more volatile, unstable situation in which simple bilateral deterrence would not likely work.

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