Neoconservative Hudson Institute pundit Lee Smith seems very upset with the Obama administration. Reacting to retired Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ comments, reported by Jeffrey Goldberg, that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an ungrateful ally, Smith wrote in the Weekly Standard that the Obama administration is to blame for Israel’s growing isolation. Smith, reading deep into the Pentagon’s motives, explains:
Gates is upset because, while the White House has provided the Israelis with “access to top-quality weapons, assistance developing missile-defense systems, high-level intelligence sharing,” the administration hasn’t gotten what it really wants in exchange — movement on the peace process, according to Goldberg. Of course, the Israelis haven’t gotten what they really want either — action on Iran — and the Pentagon’s munificence is partly intended to deter the Israelis from taking matters into their own hands.
Smith seems to think “action on Iran” can only possibly mean a military attack, revealing both his designs and what he thinks the Israelis want. But his analysis is nonetheless off the mark. In fact, the Obama administration has taken many wide-ranging steps both to slow down the Iranian nuclear program and find a solution that averts military action.
For instance, the United Nations Security Council, shepherded by the U.S. in a renewed era of Obama multilateral diplomacy, passed sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program in 2010. This May, a U.N. Experts Panel said the sanctions “are constraining Iran’s procurement of items related to prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile activity and thus slowing development of these programs.”
There’s also, as Smith notes, been great military and intelligence cooperation on Iran between the Obama administration and Netanyahu’s government. Smith generally mentions the cooperation in passing, but fails to address perhaps its most dramatic facet: when Israel and the U.S. worked together on the Stuxnet computer virus that damaged Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. Exactly how much is uncertain, but no serious analysts challenge that it did slow the program. After the Stuxnet cyber-attack was widely reported, legendary Israeli spy chief Meir Dagan pushed back Israel’s estimate for when Iran would get a bomb to 2015 at the earliest.
President Obama also changed the tone of discourse with Iran from the hawkish Bush administration approach that spurned talking and rejected cooperation, which led to even more sour relations. Negotiations over the nuclear program and other subjects have yet to yield fruits, but, according to Iranian dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, the Obama approach has helped in other ways. In 2010, Ganji spoke with CAP analyst Matt Duss and told him Obama’s shift opened up the political space that made possible the rise of the Green opposition movement:
Asked about the impact of President Obama’s approach to Iran, Ganji praised the change in rhetoric, and suggested that it helped create a favorable environment for the Iranian democracy movement. “Obama offered a dialog with the Iran,” Ganji said, “and this change in discourse immediately gave rise to that outpouring of sentiment against the Islamic Republic last year.”
There can be little doubt that Israel wishes for regime change in Iran, yet giving breathing space to the most broad indigenous opposition movement to emerge in Iran since the fall of the Shah in 1979 doesn’t seem to be enough for Smith.
If by “action,” Smith is limiting himself to talking about bombing Iran, he ought to drop the euphemism and say so. And, indeed, the Obama administration has not gone that route, probably because analysts — even military analysts at pro-Israel think tanks — widely agree that such a course would be dangerous and potentially disastrous. Only neocons seem to disagree.