Barack Obama spoke at AIPAC yesterday to defend his handling of the Israeli partnership and buff up his standing on getting tough with Iran. He insisted that “when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back,” which is open for debate. But when it came to the handling of Iran and the nuclear-weapons program, he told AIPAC that he inherited an effort “in tatters” from George W. Bush:
It was after this that Obama moved on to the topic over which the president is expected to clash with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — Monday night’s gala speaker here — over these few days: Iran.
“Four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Obama said. “That is what we have done.”
He claimed that when he took office, the George W. Bush administration had left “the efforts to apply pressure on Iran …in tatters.”
” And so from my first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime: a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don’t,” Obama said. “Our policy of engagement – quickly rebuffed by the Iranian regime – allowed us to rally the international community as never before; to expose Iran’s intransigence; and to apply pressure that goes far beyond anything that the United States could do on our own.”
That sounds very much like the same policy that Bush employed, and had been succeeding to some extent despite loud opposition from the Left for “warmongering.” In fact, Bush had been successful at getting the West to push for new sanctions until the US intel community published a national intelligence estimate (NIE) in 2007 that stated that Iran had likely given up pursuit of a nuclear weapon in 2003. That NIE, which was later proven false and blasted by other Western intelligence agencies, cut the political support in the US for pushing harder on sanctions and building a case for further action.
“By reporting that Iran halted its nuclear weapon development program four years ago because of international pressure, the new National Intelligence Estimate makes a compelling case for less saber-rattling and more direct diplomacy. The juxtaposition of this NIE with the president’s suggestion of World War III serves as an important reminder of what we learned with the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq: members of Congress must carefully read the intelligence before giving the President any justification to use military force. …
“I think Iran continues to be a threat to some of its neighbors in the region. … But it is absolutely clear that this administration and President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology. “
What about Joe Biden? Here’s what the Veep had to say at the time:
“What we learned yesterday from the N.I.E. and what President Bush has said in the past I find extremely troubling. Here in October, President Bush raised the specter of World War III with Iran because, as he said, its pursuit of a nuclear weapon — months after he’d been told by our intelligence community it’s likely that Iran had halted its weapons program as far back as 2003.
“And after all we’ve been through, for this president to knowingly disregard or once again misrepresent intelligence about the issue of war and peace, I find it outrageous. This is exactly what he did — exactly what he did in the run-up to the war in Iraq in consistently exaggerating the intelligence that he had available to him, suggesting that Iraq had W.M.D.; the vice president saying Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program; and so on…
“It further undermines America’s credibility around the world, which is at an all-time low, and it undermines the credibility here at home.”
If Bush’s policy was in tatters, it’s in part because the current President and Vice President helped undermine it by politically exploiting an NIE that turned out to be an embarrassing fantasy.
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