One of the first speeches Barack Obama gave after becoming the presumptive nominee of the Democrat Party was to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In this speech, delivered on June 4, he began the difficult transformation of going from left-wing dove to progressive hawk. It is axiomatic that every nominee of both parties plays to his partisan base in the primaries and then tacks back to the "center" for the general election. In the case of Barack Obama, who has had tremendous success pandering to the lefties of his party, this tack will have to be something close to a sharp right turn. It will be exceedingly difficult for Obama to do -- something that was made abundantly clear in his speech to AIPAC. For Obama to be a credible Commander in Chief that is interested in protecting America's interests in the Middle East, he will have to become a close friend and abiding ally of Israel. Why? Because even with the nascent democracy in Iraq, Israel remains both the only thriving capitalist democracy in the Arab world and our only true politico-military ally. The U.S.-Israel alliance has been the cornerstone of our Mideast foreign policy since the late 1960s, and American Jews remain a powerful (if reliably Democrat) voting block. The speech to AIPAC was Obama's chance to show his bona fides in his support for Israel. Not surprisingly, the speech centered on the growing threat of Iran in the region.
Why Iran? Because Iran remains the single most pressing security threat to both Israel and Iraq. The mullahs have been proactively building a nuclear bomb and the missile technology to deliver it, and with a range that is capable of striking both Baghdad and Jerusalem. They have been sending weapons into Iraq with impunity, and those weapons have been used to kill both American soldiers and Iraqi civilians with lethal effectiveness. They actively support Hezbollah which has been fighting the Israeli army along the Lebanon border and which has been indiscriminately firing rockets into Israel. In short, Iran -- even without nuclear weapons -- is fighting an active war against both the U.S. and Israel in the region.
So, how did Obama do at AIPAC? If you are a fan of more diplomacy, Obama did very well indeed. Obama began with a strong statement that sounded well, hawkish:
"The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race, and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its president denies the holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat".
So far, so good. Unfortunately, what followed this was plenty of grist for the idealists in the audience. Obama's approach to this "grave" threat of Iran is -- you guessed it -- an "aggressive, principled diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions":
"We will open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, and evaluate the potential for progress. (I am) willing to lead a tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing, if -- and only if -- it can advance the interests of the United States."
And what would Obama say to the "appropriate Iranian leader"? He'd apparently offer up (again) the same carrots that the Bush Administration and the Europeans have been dangling for the past four years: lifting of sanctions and political and economic integration with the international community.
Has Barack Obama been asleep for the past few decades? Yes, I know, sitting in the Reverend Wright's church for 20 years can certainly numb the mind. But this is an incredibly naive response and a testament to his inexperience. He just -- to coin a phrase -- "doesn't get it". The Iranian regime is a revolutionary government. By definition revolutionary regimes don't seek accommodation with the existing order, they seek its destruction. The mullahs in Iran seek not just the destruction of Israel but a return to the caliphate -- an Islamic social and political order that is 100% antithetical to the existing "international community". It is, thus, no surprise that the Iranians are not interested in all the myriad concessions that the Europeans and Condoleeza Rice have been offering. What they are seeking isn't negotiable.
Of course, Obama has his own non-negotiables, namely in leaving Iraq as quickly as possible -- even in the face of the obvious success of the surge, the recent declaration by CIA Director Hayden that we are approaching a "near strategic defeat" of Al Qaeda there, and the growing clout of the Maliki government. At AIPAC, Obama again called for the "responsible phased redeployment of our troops from Iraq", though he neglected to explain just how this would help Israel. Presumably, in Obama's view of the world, the retreat from Iraq would somehow signal the Iranians that we really "mean business" and represent a force to be reckoned with. Huh? As Mathew Continetti writes in the Weekly Standard, this policy would
"Erase the security and political gains the United States and its Iraqi allies have made in the last 18 months. It would lead to more violence, not less, and to a weaker Iraqi government, not a stronger one. It would breathe new life into the radicals -- many sponsored by the Iranian regime -- who seek a failed state in Iraq. And Tehran would quickly move to fill any power vacuum that the Americans left behind in Iraq."
Beyond the obvious fact that this would hurt America and help Iran, it would actually be devastating to Israel. I know that this position is not "en vogue" among American Jews, who lean heavily left, but the best thing that America could do to protect and support Israel is to win decisively in Iraq. The total defeat of Al Qaeda and of the radical Shiite forces there, the expulsion of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the presence of a stable democracy in the heart of the Middle East -- are all part and parcel to Israel's security. In contrast, our retreat and ultimate defeat in Iraq -- and the attendant fall of the Iraqi government -- will lead to a devastating vacuum in the region that will further threaten Israel.
American Jews should understand clearly this: If you support Israel, you should be wary of a candidate pushing the tired line of diplomacy with a regime that doesn't negotiate. And you need to vote for victory in Iraq in November.