I cannot believe what I’ve just read in the N.Y. Times. Joe Biden, in what appears to be either one of his monumental off the cuff gaffes; or else a major change in Obama administration policy–gave Israel a green light to attack Iran.
Plunging squarely into one of the most sensitive issues in the Middle East, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. suggested on Sunday that the United States would not stand in the way of Israeli military action aimed at the Iranian nuclear program.
The United States, Mr. Biden said in an interview broadcast on ABC’s “This Week,” “cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do.”
“Israel can determine for itself — it’s a sovereign nation — what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else,” he said, in an interview taped in Baghdad at the end of a visit there.
If Obama doesn’t backpedal on this then we’ll have to parse the meaning assuming his remarks were orchestrated internally. If so, this would mean that Obama is talking tough to Iran for two purposes–one internal and one external. Internally, he would be trying to steal thunder from the Republicans who are criticizing his Iran policy as consisting of all carrot and no stick. The conservative leadership of the Jewish community (including Aipac and the Israel lobby) would react very favorably to such an apparent change of heart.
Externally, Obama could be sending a signal to the Iranians that his patience is not infinite and that he is willing to sick the dogs on them if they remain intransigent about their nuclear program. This sounds to me like a Dennis Ross special. It has Aipac-Israel lobby spin written all over it.
If Biden did not go off the reservation (as I hope to God he did), then it would mean that Obama, is at least in principle, expressing a willingness to abandon his policy, which had been yoked to diplomatic engagement and which had eschewed military solutions. Bibi has specifically begged the U.S. for a green light to attack Iran and until now Obama (and Bush before him) explicitly rejected the entreaty.
In a related development, the Times of London reports that Israel has received tacit approval from Saudi Arabia to use its airspace should it attack Iran. Uzi Mahnaimi, who wrote the story is not known for being the most reliable journalist. In this report he claims that the Mossad chief, who held secret talks with the Saudi, assures prime minister Netanyahu that the Saudis would not object to such an Israeli attack that flew over their airspace. This is a lame, incredible claim on its face. But it does show an Israeli desperation to ratchet up the pressure on Iran. And it also indicates a rather “clever” attempt on the part of the Israeli intelligence services to support their claim that it has “allies” among Arab states who would be happy to see Iran humiliated by an Israeli attack. Of course, no one in the Arab world has lent any credence to the Israeli claim. But that won’t stop them from trying.
Yet another news report claims that Israeli submarines sailed through the Suez Canal on their way to the Red Sea. The purported purpose was to signal the Iranians that Israelis subs could use their Cruise missiles as part of an attack on Iran. Lots of saber rattling going on. This is what the Obama administration has just encouraged. If you wanted to stir up a nuclear hornet’s nest I couldn’t think of a better way to do it.
For Obama to turn away from a peaceful resolution of its disagreements with Iran would be a major breach and deeply disappointing to those of us who have supported him in the expectation that we would see a realist-pragmatist foreign policy in place of the Bush era Rough Rider approach to conflict.
Someone will have to explain to me how Biden’s words are any different than those delivered by Dick Cheney on the Don Imus Show when he raised the possibility that Israel would attack Iran and that the U.S. would be understanding of its reasons for doing so. Is this why we elected Joe Biden and Barack Obama to office? So they could parrot the policies of the previous discredited inhabitants of the White House??
I’m hoping that we’re going to see a response from the White House saying Biden misspoke. If not, this is a cold wind that bodes ill.
UPDATE: This “clarification” from the White House is entirely disingenuous and dissatisfying and indicates that Obama thinks he can have it both ways (which he ultimately can’t):
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Biden’s remarks did not signaling any change of approach on Iran or Israel.
“The vice president refused to engage hypotheticals, and he made clear that our policy has not changed.”
Obama, while he never took military option off the table, never offered Israel any opening to attack Iran. This is a new and deeply troubling page in Obama administration policy toward Iran. Saber rattling has not worked for the Bushites regarding Iran and it will not work for Obama. If you want a peaceful resolution you pursue that. If you want war, you pursue that. Trying to sit on the fence doesn’t work especially in a political-diplomatic environment which is so charged.