Barack's got some 'splainin' to do
In the aftermath of Prime Minister Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress, Jonathan Tobin argues that President Hussein Obama has some explaining to do
Thus, by the time the address was over, the issue was no longer
whether he should have given the speech. Though the White House is
doggedly trying to portray the speech as partisan, it was not. Now it is
the substance of Netanyahu’s concerns about Iran’s behavior and the
failure of the Western powers to negotiate a deal that would stop Iran
from getting a weapon that is the subject of discussion. Which is to say
that after winning news cycles at Netanyahu’s expense throughout
February, the White House has set itself up to have to explain years of
concessions to a dangerous regime with almost nothing to show for it in
terms of making the world any safer.
At the core of the disagreement between Netanyahu and Obama on Iran
is the president’s faith that Iran can or will change. Even Obama
apologists no longer regard the notion that Hassan Rouhani’s election as
president signaled a move toward moderation as a serious argument.
Though the administration has been careful not to defend Iran’s past and
present behavior, by eloquently laying out the Islamist regime’s record
of terrorism and aggression, it put the onus on the president to
explain why he thinks that over the course of the next decade, Iran is
going to, “get right with the world,” as he has said.
Equally important, the speech forces the president to defend the
substance of the deal he is desperately trying to entice the Iranians to
sign. Netanyahu reminded the world what has happened since Obama’s
pledge during his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney that any
deal with Iran would force it to give up its nuclear program. Since
then, the administration has not only recognized Iran’s right to enrich
uranium but also agreed to let them keep several thousand centrifuges
and the rest of their nuclear infrastructure.
As Netanyahu pointed out, even if they abide by the terms of the
deal—something about which reasonable people are doubtful given their
past record of cheating and unwillingness to open their country to
United Nations inspectors—the ten-year sunset clause Obama mentioned in
interviews yesterday gives the regime the ability to eventually build a
nuclear weapon. Rather than stopping Iran from getting a bomb, the path
that Obama has travelled ensures they will eventually get one even if
the accord works. The president not only guarantees that Iran will
become a threshold nuclear power but, as Netanyahu rightly argued, sets
in motion a series of events that will create a new nuclear arms race in
the Middle East.
Did Netanyahu offer an alterative to the president’s policy? The
answer is yes. The administration is right when they say Netanyahu
offered nothing new, but that was the point. After belatedly adopting
sanctions, the administration quickly gave up on them just at the moment
in 2013 when they were starting to bite. By toughening sanctions, as
the Kirk-Menendez bill currently before Congress would do, and
increasing the political and economic pressure on the regime, the U.S.
has a chance to reverse Obama’s concessions and bring Iran to its knees.
The West must insist that Iran change its behavior before sanctions are
lifted, rather than afterward. Instead of Obama and Kerry’s zeal for a
deal encouraging the Iranians to make no concessions, Netanyahu was
correct to remind Congress that Tehran needs a deal more than the U.S.
Indeed, Netanyahu not only offered an alternative; he put forward the
only one that has a chance of stopping Iran from getting a weapon
without using force.
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Labels: Barack Hussein Obama, Binyamin Netanyahu, Iranian nuclear threat, joint session of Congress, P 5+1