Monday, March 5, 2012

Israeli leader should embrace Obama, not undermine him

By DeWayne Wickham

After publicly backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism of U.S. efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., offered up this bit of doublespeak.

“It’s not just about the Jewish vote and (the) 2012 (presidential election),” The New York Times reported Graham as saying in defense of his actions. “It’s about reassuring people who want to avoid war that the United States will do what’s necessary.”

No, I think it really is about election year politics. Republicans have been trying desperately to find a foreign policy issue on which to attack President Obama, whose success in killing Osama bin Laden and a long list of other terrorist leaders has made him no easy target on this front. More than Israel’s special relationship with the U.S. , it is the influence of Jewish voters in presidential elections that has turned Graham and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also in the meeting, into sedan chair carriers for Netanyahu’s concerns.

By using Graham and McCain, who lost the 2008 presidential election to Obama, as his key U.S. mouthpiece, Netanyahu has inserted himself squarely in the middle of the presidential race. By associating himself with their attacks on Obama’s foreign policy, Netanyahu becomes an interloper in U.S. election politics.

On Monday, Netanyahu met at the White House with Obama. While those talks were private, it seems what the Israeli leader wants is not simply Obama’s support in the showdown with Iran , but also his compliance. Netanyahu wants the U.S. president to do what he demands — and that’s not going to happen.

Obama has repeatedly said that he will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Last week, using the language of the tough streets he once worked as a community organizer, Obama told The Atlantic magazine that he’s not bluffing when he says he won’t allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. Then, in an address Sunday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama offered an even stronger guarantee: There shouldn’t be any doubt that “when the chips are down, I have Israel ’s back,” he said.

Netanyahu isn’t convinced of that. So he threatens to go it alone in launching a pre-emptive strike against Iran . But that would be a war Israel probably couldn’t win without massive American military and financial aid.

Understandably, Netanyahu is jittery over the prospect of Iran getting a nuclear bomb. After all, he bears a great responsibility for safeguarding his country. But Netanyahu should neither doubt the public assurances Obama has given Israel , nor try to use the president’s political adversaries to pressure him into letting Israel dictate when the U.S. sends its servicemembers to war.

“If during this political season you hear some questions regarding my administration’s support for Israel , remember that it’s not backed up by the facts. And remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics,” Obama said in his AIPAC speech. That’s a message that should not be lost on Netanyahu.

Obama has given the Israeli leader a strong, unequivocal public commitment to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power — an action that will be taken on the president’s terms. Netanyahu makes a big mistake when he tries to get Obama to do otherwise, or uses those who are trying to unseat the president to champion his concerns.

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