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December 3, 2011 8:21 pm

Obama’s Response to Iranian Nukes Is Far From Serious

avatar by Benyamin Korn

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President Barack Obama. Photo: Marc Nozell.

By Gary E. Erlbaum and Benyamin Korn

Supporters of President Barack Obama may take comfort from his newfound push for tighter United Nations sanctions against Iran. And surely American Jews should support any and all pressure against the nuclear weapons program — finally acknowledged by the International Atomic Energy Agency — of the messianic regime in Tehran that loudly proclaims its intention to destroy the State of Israel, not to mention the United States.

But we should ask ourselves whether this new initiative of Mr. Obama’s is really expected to prevent Iran’s development and deployment of nuclear weapons. Or is the president’s shift toward renewed diplomatic pressure on the Iranian regime merely a political fig leaf — or, as most likely, too little, too late?

Let’s recall that the president campaigned upon and entered office with a posture of engagement toward the Islamic republic. His stance of engaging Iran “without pre-conditions” was part of his declared “reset” of U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Not long after Mr. Obama extended the hand of American friendship to the world’s Muslims — in his meeting with the Saudi king and his speech in Cairo — he then kept silent for weeks as millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest an election stolen by their fanatic of a president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Many Americans, including longtime Democratic loyalists, were appalled by the reluctance of Mr. Obama to give even rhetorical support to Iran’s pro-American democracy movement, a failure that persists until today.

Unfortunately, it is no longer clear that any amount of non-military pressure will deter Iran from obtaining the bomb. But if sanctions have any chance to succeed, they must come now, and be drastic enough to shut down the regime’s banking system and domestic oil industry. Virtually the entire U.S. Senate believes this is at least worth a try.

“In August,” veteran defense and foreign affairs analyst Josh Rogin wrote recently in Foreign Policy magazine, “more than 90 senators signed a letter to President Barack Obama.” He noted that the letter, written by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), stated, “The time has come to impose crippling sanctions on Iran’s financial system by cutting off the Central Bank of Iran.”

But in the three months since the letter was written, according to Rogin, and after “Kirk introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill, which is on the floor now, which would force the administration to cut off from the U.S. financial system any bank that does business” with Iran’s Central Bank, “the administration, led by Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen, has been lobbying against the Kirk amendment because they believe it could risk harm to the U.S. economy.”

Though the administration fears that sanctioning Iran’s Central Bank — which facilitates that country’s sale of oil to the world — will raise the price of gas, it is fair to ask what they think will happen to the global economy if Iran’s ayatollahs get nuclear weapons that will give them hegemony over the Persian Gulf.

Economic explanations also came from Obama’s defense secretary, Leon Panetta, who stated twice in the past weeks that the United States opposed using force against Iran’s nuclear program. He also made the questionable claim that because a military attack would presumably only delay Iran’s nuclear capabilities, it should be removed from consideration entirely.

All of this means that President Obama has actually slowed the pace of U.S. diplomatic pressure on Iran, won’t support the democracy movement there, is lobbying against stringent U.S. economic sanctions and has tabled the military option.

These failures on Iran underscore that Obama cannot be trusted. The president believed the force of his personality could solve the problem but the ayatollahs have merely laughed at him and his attempt at engagement. Even after admitting the failure of his feeble attempt, the president hasn’t been able to mobilize international support for sanctions and, more importantly, also hasn’t summoned the will to enforce existing measures. He and his administration have seemed more intent on stopping Israel from acting to remove this existential threat than on restraining Iran.

America’s allies in the Middle East — both Israel and its neighbors — understand that this administration’s opposition to Iranian nukes is not serious, and are considering their own measures in response. But this menace isn’t Israel’s problem alone. If the United States were to enact and enforce the “crippling” sanctions that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has espoused — and there is no reason to believe they will — America would at least enhance its position to thwart Iran’s nuclear threat. Rather than meekly applauding Obama’s policy of inaction, American Jews need to be speaking out in favor of a change of course.

Gary Erlbaum is a member of the board of governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a trustee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and a past chairman of the Jewish Exponent. Benyamin Korn is a former executive editor of the Exponent.

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  • Jeff Blankfort

    If and when there is an attack on Iran because it may be striving to obtain a weapon that Israel already has in the hundreds and a catastrophic war ensues that will cause the collapse of an already shaky global economy, something these writers seem to care nothing about, the world will know who and what has been the driving force responsible for that disaster and where to find them.

    • S. L. Goldman

      Blankfort’s comment does not respond to the main point of the article–an equivalent response to him would be, when Iran develops nuclear weapons, uses them against Israel and the West, and gives them to terrorists, the world will know who is responsible for the catastrophe and Blankfort and those like him will share the blame. The real question is what is the best way to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Negotiating with Iran has proven ineffective. For sanctions to be effective, they must be strong enough to have an effect, including sanctions on the Central Bank, importation of gasoline and sale of oil (even if it raises the price of oil and gasoline–Iran’s actions with nuclear weapons would raise the price much more). So far, the US Administration has not been willing to push for or impose strong sanctions. The failure of the US and the West to impose strong sactions may leave no alternative to military action.

      • Jeff Blankfort

        Unfortunately, we live in the real world and the Iranians have been given no convincing argument why they should not be allowed to have nuclear weapons–if that is what they are trying to achieve– when the world has had no problem with any other country besides No. Korea having them.

        The idea that any of the current nuclear powers would use their weapons is ludicrous and doubly so for Iran which would be utterly destroyed should it develop a nuke and use it and the notion that they would put it in the hands of terrorists to use is equally ludicrous. (The Iranians may be nuts by our standards but they are not suicidal.)

        There is much more potential danger of that with regard to Pakistan’s nukes but everyone seems to be keeping mum about that.