Too many on the left who are commenting on this interview are picking up only one short sentence from the President. When Goldberg asked him what he means when he says "all options are on the table," his response included this statement.
I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff.
The takeaway is, of course, that he's not bluffing when he suggests that military options are on the table. Cue poutrage.
A look at the actual interview tells us that statement from the President was preceded by this description of ALL the options that are on the table.
It means a political component that involves isolating Iran; it means an economic component that involves unprecedented and crippling sanctions; it means a diplomatic component in which we have been able to strengthen the coalition that presents Iran with various options through the P-5 plus 1 and ensures that the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] is robust in evaluating Iran's military program; and it includes a military component. And I think people understand that.
But lets back up a minute and hear what the President says about why stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons is so important.
In addition to the profound threat that it poses to Israel, one of our strongest allies in the world; in addition to the outrageous language that has been directed toward Israel by the leaders of the Iranian government -- if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, this would run completely contrary to my policies of nonproliferation. The risks of an Iranian nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorist organizations are profound. It is almost certain that other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons. So now you have the prospect of a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world, one that is rife with unstable governments and sectarian tensions. And it would also provide Iran the additional capability to sponsor and protect its proxies in carrying out terrorist attacks, because they are less fearful of retaliation.
In terms of the administration's strategy for how to avoid that, here is perhaps the most important part of the interview:
...we have a sanctions architecture that is far more effective than anybody anticipated; that we have a world that is about as united as you get behind the sanctions; that our assessment, which is shared by the Israelis, is that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt.
In that context, our argument is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily. And the only way, historically, that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table. That's what happened in Libya, that's what happened in South Africa. And we think that, without in any way being under an illusion about Iranian intentions, without in any way being naive about the nature of that regime, they are self-interested. They recognize that they are in a bad, bad place right now. It is possible for them to make a strategic calculation that, at minimum, pushes much further to the right whatever potential breakout capacity they may have, and that may turn out to be the best decision for Israel's security.
First of all, notice how he affirms that there is no imminent threat. While this issue needs to be dealt with - there is no "looming mushroom cloud."
And then we see him articulate this ability to identify common goals that serve opponents self-interests. Most of us can also see the skills he learned as a community organizer writ large on a global scale.
What he's laying out here is that it is not only in Iran's interest to end their isolation from the rest of the global community, it is in Israel's interest to have this problem solved permanently - something military intervention is incapable of doing. Brilliant!
The only questions that remain to be answered for this strategy to be successful are whether or not the leaders of Iran and Israel are capable of acting rationally on their own self-interests.
Here's what President Obama said about that when it comes to Iran.
I think it's entirely legitimate to say that this is a regime that does not share our worldview or our values. I do think...that as we look at how they operate and the decisions they've made over the past three decades, that they care about the regime's survival. They're sensitive to the opinions of the people and they are troubled by the isolation that they're experiencing. They know, for example, that when these kinds of sanctions are applied, it puts a world of hurt on them. They are able to make decisions based on trying to avoid bad outcomes from their perspective. So if they're presented with options that lead to either a lot of pain from their perspective, or potentially a better path, then there's no guarantee that they can't make a better decision.
And when it comes to Netanyahu:
I think that in the end, Israel's leaders will make determinations based on what they believe is best for the security of Israel, and that is entirely appropriate.
When we present our views and our strategy approach, we try to put all our cards on the table, to describe how we are thinking about these issues. We try to back those up with facts and evidence. We compare their assessments with ours, and where there are gaps, we try to narrow those gaps. And what I also try to do is to underscore the seriousness with which the United States takes this issue. And I think that Ehud Barak understands it. I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu, hopefully when he sees me next week, will understand it.
I hope so too Mr. President.