February 27th, 2008

Obama and McCain on the knotty problem of Iran

Allison Kaplan Summer translates an Obama interview with the Israeli news source Ynet that is due to appear on Friday. Asked how he would deal with the threat of Iran and whether he would support military action if diplomacy fails, this was Obama’s answer:

I don’t believe that diplomacy alone will stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. I believe that we will require our national strength in order to achieve this important goal. The biggest threat to Israel today comes from Iran, where there is a radical government that is continuing its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and continues to support terror across the region. President Ahmedinejad continues to deny the Holocaust and call for Israel destruction, and it is impossible to relate to his threats to destroy Israel as mere rhetoric. My mission when I am president will be to eliminate that threat. The time has come to talk directly to the Iranians in order to arrive at an end to their support for terror and an end to the creation of nuclear weapons. I believe that we need to offer Iran improved relations with the international community. If they do not respond to that, we must continue to intensify the sanctions.

Granted, the topic of Iran is a conundrum for most politicians. No one has what I would consider a good solution—and that’s mainly because there is none. Here Obama tries to give a balanced answer, and allay fears that he is dangerously naive about Iran and far too reliant on “mere talk” in dealing with the country. His first sentence makes that clear.

But what does he actually say after that? I find it exceedingly nebulous. What is “our national strength?” (I hope it’s just a poor translation). Is that some sort of code word for military action, or at least military threat? And if he thinks that talking with the Iranians, and offering them improved relations with the international community, will bring “an end to their support for terror and an end to the creation of nuclear weapons,” I believe he has another think coming.

And sanctions? Iran is not a country especially likely to be affected by them, for a number of reasons delineated here. And here’s a more recent article describing the probable futility of such efforts. It’s unfortunately a matter of too little, too late, and with too little support from the world at large.

Sanctions are an effective tool only under certain very limited conditions. As even the left/liberal Israeli paper Haaretz points out, the sanctions on Iran presently being considered by the international community have a chance of being imposed only because they are so very weak. There are too many players who feel it is in their best interests to keep them that way.

Even under the limited conditions in which sanctions have been successful in the past (and that includes the strong support of the entire international community involved, and the provocation of an unequivocal offense committed by the country being punished—neither of which are present with Iran), they tend to take a long time to work. The Haaretz editorial points out that most of the international community believes there’s no rush with Iran, and the 2007 US intelligence report stating that Iran had suspended its program in 2003 solidified this idea, although Israel strongly disagrees. The Haaretz editors write:

Since the publication of the intelligence assessment, and the gleeful reactions to it in Tehran, they have come to their senses in Washington and are trying to state things precisely. In appearances in Congress and in the media this month, it has been stressed repeatedly that the important dimensions are in fact the other two of the three: the production of fissionable material and the development of ground-to-ground missiles that are intended to carry the warhead.

The Haaretz editors are pessimistic about the chances of sanctions succeeding against Iran no matter who is elected US President. But there’s no question that Iran is watching the campaign with interest.

Obama’s rhetoric is designed to assure supporters of Israel that he is not soft on Iran, and that he isn’t naive enough to think that diplomacy alone will solve the situation. But by invoking intensification of sanctions as the answer (the only answer?), he shows naivete about the inherent difficulties and limitations of that approach. He is so intent to avoid saber-rattling that his words appear to eliminate any military threat whatsoever.

In contrast, McCain understands the the time-honored principle of the big stick. He also has the added benefit of a personal history that conveys an inherent “warrior” message; the big stick is assumed to always be at the ready with McCain. A recent Spiegel interview with McCain (see also Part I) contains his message to the Iranian leaders:

SPIEGEL: Would you like to see Germany reduce trade with Iran?

McCain: I think we have to punish Iran to force them to abandon their current course.

SPIEGEL: Would you be willing to talk to people like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

McCain: As long as Iran continues to announce its dedication to making the state of Israel extinct and as long as the country continues to pursue the use of nuclear weapons, I will continue to say that is not an acceptable situation. I will work with other democracies in order to find incentives and punishments for the Iranians.

SPIEGEL: Is war a legitimate instrument of politics?

McCain: Every nation has the right to defend itself. That is a fundamental right.

SPIEGEL: This reminds us of your biography….

Note the different emphasis. Although we can assume that Obama’s interview with Ynet represents his strongest statement on the subject of Iran, it differs greatly from McCain’s in both its emphasis and its force.

The distinction is far from trivial. It reflects a difference in philosophy about vital matters: the deterability of the mullahs and their ultimate intent, the effectiveness of diplomacy in dealing with such a regime, the ability of the nations of the world to agree on the threat and act together to counter it, and the conditions under which force should be used or even mentioned. In these respects, it appears that Obama and McCain live in different universes.

24 Responses to “Obama and McCain on the knotty problem of Iran”

  1. expat Says:

    Haven’t the Dems done all they could to convince the world that the US has the national strength of a wet dishrag?

  2. Dave Moelling Says:

    Amir Taheri wrote an interesting piece in the NY Post on Feb 18 titled the Infidel Retreat. He noted how the Islamacists were steadily working to eliminate interaction between the West and the Islamic world. He pointed out the terrorists threats against the Paris Dakar rally had resulted in it’s moving to South America.

    How then can an Islamacist government like Iran’s be interested in sitting down with Obama for anything other than a propaganda victory?

  3. gcotharn Says:

    Obama is a mirror (as maybe someone has already said on this blog). His statement was a mirror. He advocated nothing which is not already being implemented as best as possible.

    Obama is playing politics with foreign policy. Maybe I am remembering wrong, but it seems as recently as the the 2000 Election, playing politics with foreign policy was reprehensible. Then John Kerry started the meme that the world hates us b/c of Bush. Kerry thus played politics with foreign policy, and got away with it, and now all the Dems do it. Thus, another standard of patriotic behavior is cast into oblivion.

    The way to beat Obama is to blatantly point out that he is full of manure. Call him out. Mock him. Laugh at him.

    Barack is puffed up and over-confident in his ability to rhetorically slip and slide – as he did last night over the Farrakhan question, and over the question about being rated as the most liberal Senator. He hubristically confident in his rhetorical castle fortress. He doesn’t disavow Rezko, Farrakhan, Rev. Louis Wright, or Michelle’s “political” lack of pride in America. Instead of squarely facing the issues, and putting them behind him: he just tamps down, tamps down, tamps down. He apparently hopes to conserve votes on the front end, b/c he is so confident his rhetorical skills will save him on the back end.

    Call him out. Directly and openly prick his hubristic, puffed up, overconfident self. Manure does not equal wisdom. Rhetorical cleverness shall not win in the end.

    Barack is kind of a tragedy. I think he could’ve been something, but he had too much success too soon, and now may be ruined forever. Like a pretty girl who never develops as a person, Barack may always try to get by on looks and charisma. He may never develop as a thinker.

  4. Hope Muntz Says:

    Only a self-deluding fool would believe that Obama’s change of tack on this issue is in any way heartfelt, especially since his campaign staff remains riddled with Edward Saids and former Farrakhan cult members. Moreover, his code-Pink responses to what he would do if the US were attacked–never mind Israel–by Iran have been more or less consistent.

    The sad fact is that his pro-Palestinian views are perfectly in synch with those of many liberal Jews in this country. For the rest, it’s been my own personal experience that the only way to sincerely ‘woo Jews’ is with a deep passionate commitment. In that, I believe, they are no different than anyone else.

  5. Cake Says:

    More of the daily onslaught of Obamagic, I can barely stand it anymore.

    The barrage of Nicolai Carpathia pablum is getting on my nerves, sadly I am far too lazy to hit the mute button on the remote.

  6. Perfected democrat Says:

    “Like a pretty girl who never develops as a person, Barack may always try to get by on looks and charisma. He may never develop as a thinker.” – gcotharn. Cleverly put and very appropriate; To which might be added: Talk is cheap, but a person can often be judged by the company they keep…

  7. strcpy Says:

    “Only a self-deluding fool would believe that Obama’s change of tack on this issue is in any way heartfelt,”

    There is no change of tack – there is only a change in granularity. That is, he went from specifics to vagueness and is allowing you to fill in the blanks. This allows you to believe that he said what you wanted to hear (whatever that may be), in this case this causes him to appear to have changed course to you – but to those that believe as he does there is nothing changed.

    If too many allow him to use broad language then he will most likely win, if enough force him to state what he believes he will be destroyed in the main election. So far this is how he handles it when someone confronts him and it has worked quite well. I don’t know how much I trust McCain to force the issue (while he has been attacking on the Al-Qaida and Iraq statement from last night he has also been going out of his way to say what a nice person Obama is and how good a job he does – not gonna win you an election there chief) – I sure don’t trust the MSM to force him to actually say what he believes.

  8. camojack Says:

    Another poll-driven empty suit.

    Where’s the change?

  9. David MacKinnon Says:

    We will have precious little “national strength” to use if Senator Obama has his way with his stated goals to “cut investments in unproven missile defense systems” (you know, like the one we just used to shoot down a satellite), “slow the development of future combat systems” (sounds like a good plan – to let the Chinese catch up to us), and “not develop new nuclear weapons”, among other anti-defense comments.

  10. Gray Says:

    Here’s what I posted at American Digest on Obama and Defense:

    I think every program he mentioned is being built by The Boeing Corporation–Missile Defense, Future Combat System….

    What does he have against The Boeing Corporation? Their headquarters is in Chicago! They pay the vig to diversity and the not-very-special interests.

    I work on missile defense.

    He just said that if he is elected, I’m out of a job. I have a wife and a couple of kids–I assure you, there will be no wailing and rending of national garments when I am laid off, just a kick in the ass and ‘good riddance’.

    I was laid off 4 times in the 90′s when defense systems were cancelled by Clinton. We lost an entire professional generation of engineers–I’m 40 and I’m the youngest engineer on my program; the youngest engineer in my company!

    First in the Army, and then working for the DoD, I’ve given my youth to defending this country: nothing but training, math, short-hair, drug-testing, exercise and software–since I was 17!

    I might just have to give up working in defense. Maybe all of us will….

  11. gcotharn Says:

    neo,
    I felt guilty for, in my comment, sort of running off from the point of your post. So, I reread, more slowly!

    I was struck, again, by Barack’s weasel/mirror phrasing. The phrasing actually says nothing. Instead, it purposefully allows the reader to believe that Barack believes as the reader believes.

    Example 1:
    “I don’t believe diplomacy alone will stop Iran”

    Reader: Hooray! Barack believes as I do!

    Example 2:
    “we will require our national strength”

    Reader: Hooray! Barack believes as I do!

    Barack follows with a clear statement about the Iranian threat to Iran. This statement of obvious fact feels almost forceful. The reader again feels: Hooray! Barack believes as I do!

    Yet, in this “forceful” section, Barack is doing nothing more than stating obvious fact: Iran is a threat to Israel. It is professional craft, yet is no more than that. It is professional as a good auto mechanic is professional, or as a good plumber is professional when he fixes your pipe. It is well done, yet it is craft.

    Last, I was struck, as you described in a slightly different way, by the contrast between McCain’s blunt ACTION words, and Barack’s softer action words.

    McCain:
    punish … force … abandon …
    As long as Iran continues to announce its dedication to making the state of Israel extinct … that is not an acceptable situation
    Every nation has the right to defend itself. That is a fundamental right.

    McCain is sure of himself. He is sure of the ground on which the battle is being contested. Contrast Obama:

    the time has come to talk directlyoffer improved relations … If they do not respond to that, we must continue to intensify the sanctions.

    As you pointed out: if you really look at what they are saying, the contrast is sharp.

  12. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Near the end of Obama’s comments he uses the phrase “international community.” There’s his problem right there. There is no international community. The UN is a collection of government representatives, not national representatives. The western elites feel an affinity for each other that crosses national borders. The Barack’s of the world vaguely associate these two phenomena into some idea of an international community. It is a mirage.

  13. Perfected democrat Says:

    It is not only a mirage, it is an obfuscation of the truth that the international community is deeply embedded in a passive malaise concerning their own self defense, or as in the case of Communist China and Russia, as well as Venezuela, they are actively working aggressively against the interests of America and the most basic survival of Israel; supporting the active enemy, arming them for no good reason other than aggressive activities, financing, aiding and abetting to undermine us in the U.N., as well as for direct conflict against us in Taiwan and the west Pacific, as well as eastern europe ultimately. We need to move the U.N. somewhere “neutral”, and use the current real estate for a union of countries engaged similarly to an authentic modern NATO…..

  14. Terrye Says:

    I read the NIE report and even if you believe there is a possibility that the Iranians stalled part of their program, the NIE makes plain that ultimately Iran wants a bomb. I think more people need to read that report, it is only about a thousand words and it is does not just let the Iranians off the hook.

  15. Vince P Says:

    The NIE was PROPAGANDA.

    The authors of it knew full well how it would be received if they wrote the beginning of it the way they did. Like John Bolton says,, it’s a coup de tet by functionaries from the State Dept.

  16. Truth Says:

    Obama in Cleveland on Sunday, Feb. 24
    By Ami Eden of the Jewish Telegraphic Association (JTA)

    IRAN – ALL MILITARY OPTIONS ON THE TABLE, BUT LET’S TRY SOME AGGRESSIVE DIPLOMACY FIRST:

    “Now the gravest threat as [U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.)] mentioned to Israel today I believe is from Iran. There a radical regime continues to pursue its capacity to build a nuclear weapon and continues to support terrorism across the region. President Ahmadinejad continues his offensive denials of the Holocaust and disturbing denunciations of Israel. recently referred to Israel as a deadly microbe and a savage animal. Threats of Israel’s destruction can not be dismissed as rhetoric. The threat from Iran is real and my goal as president would be to eliminate that threat.

  17. logern Says:

    Obama is hardly as you wish to portray him.

    Read this for instance:

  18. logern Says:

    http://tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=4d40a39e-8f57-4054-bd99-94bc9d19be1a

  19. Vince P Says:

    “U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla”

    Yeah he’s not a strident asshat partisan extremist.

    /sarc

  20. Perfected democrat Says:

    “Almost everyone worried that an invasion would detract from the fight against Al Qaeda. “It should have been obvious to anyone who’d served in government that we can’t walk and chew gum at same time,” says one Obama adviser. “That’s not a paradigm, that’s a judgment.” from logern’s article above.

    The usual simpleton’s fare that reduces everything to “the fight against Al Qaeda”, ignoring the reality which is far more complex and dangerous, and involves the acquiescence and complicity of approx. 25% (1.5 bil +/-) of the earth’s population that is Mo’s hordes. Al Qaeda? They don’t call Hezbollah the “A Team” for no reason. Rumsfeld said “we have to do something”, Iraq and Saddam was a great place to start…. Obama is just another left-wing blowhard lightweight against any American soldier on the ground in Iraq…

  21. Ymarsakar Says:

    “It should have been obvious to anyone who’d served in government that we can’t walk and chew gum at same time,”

    Is that what they are for diplomacy and national healthcare? To prove that the government, in killing millions of people, really can’t walk and chew gum at the same time?

  22. Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Says:

    The Iraqi Army that the USA is training will, some time in the future, be led by generals who have lost relatives to terrorists.
    Some of these terrorists will have been funded from Iran.

    The Operation Iranian Freedom Invasion force will have a majority of the boots filled by Iraqis — who will not be happy with a nuke wielding Iran.

    Or, Iran will get a nuke and “somehow” some terrorists will use it.

    The USA should be talking war already, and getting used to the idea that more serious action needs to be taken if soft sanctions fail. Blockade for instance, and diversion of all Iranian ships to other ports.

  23. Obama and McCain on the knotty problem of Iran | NeoConstant Says:

    [...] Neo-Neocon Allison Kaplan Summer translates an Obama interview with the Israeli news source Ynet that is due [...]

  24. Howard Says:

    We are facing the worst economic melt down since the great depression. McCain says it should take first priority over politics. Obama says if you need me, call me, I’ll be at the debate hall. Then, Obama says McCain should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. First of all, Obama has never set aside his personal ambition for the good of the country. He has no sense of priority. The economic problem is huge, will effect Americans for decades, and deserves more than a Presidential candidate’s rubber stamp, or blank check. The walk and chew gum cliche is about as trite as Obama’s slogans … like ‘change we can believe in’. Unlike Obama, McCain is responsible, and has genuine leadership qualities. Obama will say, or do anything to get elected. McCain puts Americans, and America above politics, and personal ambition. No Wright, no Pfleger, no Farrakhan, no Rezko, no Ayers, no mean Michelle, and NOBAMA !!!

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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