Presidential Promises and Platitudes

In 2008 and again in 2012, President Barak Obama made lofty promises and gallant assessments of Iran and the Middle East respectively.  His remarks to the annual AIPAC conference four years ago about Israel and Iran have proved to be out and out fictions.

Eight years ago at a similar AIPAC conference, then Senator Obama blamed the previous [Bush] administration for the tumult in the Middle East, concluding that “America is more isolated in the region, reducing our strength and jeopardizing Israel’s safety.” He then asked rhetorically, what are we going to do about that?  Eight years later, the Obama Administration has not yet found answers, only a management style that systematically kicks the can down the road.

Barak Obama at the annual AIPAC Conference on March 3, 2012:

“No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction. (Applause.) And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, and all of Israel’s leaders.

A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests. But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States. (Applause.)  Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon

“After all, the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons. That’s what history tells us.

We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically. Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States — (applause) — just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.

Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. (Applause.) And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests. (Applause.) “

Senator Barack Obama at the annual AIPAC conference on June 4, 2008:

“Hamas now controls Gaza. Hezbollah has tightened its grip on southern Lebanon, and is flexing its muscles in Beirut. Because of the war in Iraq, Iran — which always posed a greater threat to Israel than Iraq — is emboldened and poses the greatest strategic challenge to the United States and Israel in the Middle East in a generation. Iraq is unstable, and al-Qaida has stepped up its recruitment. Israel’s quest for peace with its neighbors has stalled, despite the heavy burdens borne by the Israeli people. And America is more isolated in the region, reducing our strength and jeopardizing Israel’s safety.”

“The question is how to move forward. There are those who would continue and intensify this failed status quo, ignoring eight years of accumulated evidence that our foreign policy is dangerously flawed. And then there are those who would lay all of the problems of the Middle East at the doorstep of Israel and its supporters, as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of all trouble in the region. These voices blame the Middle East’s only democracy for the region’s extremism. They offer the false promise that abandoning a stalwart ally is somehow the path to strength. It is not, it never has been, and it never will be.”

If candidates in this presidential campaign ever get around to talking about foreign policy and the US’ leadership role in the Middle East (other than bombing ISIS) in the next administration, the electorate needs to beware of wanting to embrace what it is offered!

Please, no more soft ball tosses from the media about foreign policy, especially in the presidential debates after Labor Day.

Which candidate will have lunch with Putin or merely be Putin’s lunch?

There are lessons for an electorate who only wants to hear promises and platitudes. One may feel good for the moment, but swallowing the Kool-Aid, inhaling the good stuff, or getting hammered on home brew, only makes you feel good temporarily!

And then almost for certain, the Middle Eastern tumult will come and bite the next President, and end up on our doorsteps, like it has for every president since Ronald Reagan. And all the electorate will have to show for itself over the next several years are promises not kept and presidents who are proven inept. And worse still, a United States that is weaker militarily than it was when that 45th president was inaugurated in January 2017.

About the Author
Ken Stein is Professor of Contemporary Middle Eastern History and Political Science at Emory University. He is the author of Heroic Diplomacy: Sadat, Kissinger, Carter, Begin and the Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1999 and with Ambassador Samuel W. Lewis, Making Peace Among Arabs and Israelis Lessons from Fifty Years of Negotiating Experience, 1991.
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