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President Obama’s speech: a rare moment of unity

For a moment, the diverse crowd at the AIPAC convention united behind the President

WASHINGTON — The first reviews from AIPAC attendees on the President’s address are in, and they are generally positive – although a few noted that Obama did not really formulate any shift in position; that is to say, he repeated that he wants to give sanctions a chance to work, while still maintaining that “no option is off the table.” What he did do, however, was reiterate in stronger terms than in previous public statements that the United States military option is, indeed, an option. The speech underscored an administration that understands that attempts to deter Israel from a preventive strike against Iran only have a chance at success when coupled with stronger rhetoric and reassurances from Washington.

Where one stands on the American political spectrum will likely determine one’s stance on the speech. As the President sought to muffle the beat of war drums, decrying “too much loose talk of war” and reiterating his continuing belief that “an opportunity remains for diplomacy,” one could imagine the hawks in the room bristling with indignation. And yet, Obama also took care to strike a more forceful tone at times, echoing some of the language he used in his striking interview with Jeffrey Goldberg a few days ago. “I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I take no options off the table,” the President announced, “and I mean what I say.”

In the end, Obama’s remarks do not represent any shift in where America is drawing its red lines, although he did echo a sentiment coming out of the Israeli government of late – that Israel has the right to take responsibility for its own security. While asserting that “we all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically,” the President also warned that “Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.”

It is interesting to think of the implications of such a statement in the context of a how an Israeli preliminary strike on Iran could affect the US-Israel relationship.

Finally, in what will likely be the most repeated line from the speech — although this administration has made similar statements before — Obama attempted to once and for all put to rest any talk of a US posture that would accept a nuclear armed Iran:

Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And…I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to protect the United States and its interests.

At that moment, at least, the diverse crowd of Democrats and Republicans united behind the sentiment of the President. For striking a delicate balance dictated by the timing of the speech – at once just a day before his meeting with Netanyahu, and in the heart of election season – Obama generally earned high marks.

About the Author
Mark is a non-resident research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya.
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