In the first of a couple of notably eye-opening passages from Barack Obama’s appearance on 60 Minutes last night, Steve Kroft asked the President whether he was getting his ear bent by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu over Iran. Obama blew off a meeting request from Netanyahu, who has made clear his unhappiness with the Obama administration’s unwillingness to set “red lines” on Iranian progress toward a nuclear weapon. Obama told Kroft that while Israel was “one of our closest allies in the region,” when he decides on what to do about Iran, he intends to ignore “noise” from everyone else but his own team. The Weekly Standard has the transcript:
STEVE KROFT: “How much pressure have you been getting from Prime Minister Netanyahu to make up your mind to use military force in Iran?”
PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Well—look, I have conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu all the time. And I understand and share Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insistence that Iran should not obtain a nuclear weapon, because it would threaten us, it would threaten Israel, and it would threaten the world and kick off a nuclear arms race.”
STEVE KROFT: “You’re saying, you don’t feel any pressure from Prime Minister Netanyahu in the middle of a campaign to try and get you to change your policy and draw a line in the sand? You don’t feel any pressure?”
PRESIDENT OBAMA: “When it comes to our national security decisions—any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out—any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis—on these issues. Because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.”
Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul provided a response that not only ripped Obama for dismissing Israel’s extremely valid concerns over Iran’s nuclear program as “noise,” but also for Obama’s odd qualifiers on Israel’s status as an ally:
“Tonight on 60 Minutes, President Obama called Israel’s legitimate concern about the impact of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons ‘noise’ and referred to Israel as merely ‘one of our closest allies in the region.’ This is just the latest evidence of his chronic disregard for the security of our closest ally in the Middle East. Governor Romney’s views stand in sharp contrast to the President’s. Governor Romney strongly believes that Israel is our most important ally in the Middle East and that support for Israel is essential to extending freedom, peace and democracy throughout the region. As president, Governor Romney will restore and protect the close alliance between our nation and the state of Israel.”
Israel isn’t “one of our closest allies in the region”; it’s our closest ally in the region, and it’s not even a matter of subjective debate. Who would be closer? Egypt? Oh, wait, Obama wouldn’t even commit to the idea of Egypt being an ally at all. The Saudis? We do a lot of business with the Saudis, but they’ve hardly been the kind of ally Israel has been — and if Obama wants to talk about democratization as the basic qualifier (which I’ll address later), then the Saudis don’t qualify at all. It’s certainly not the Iranians, nor the Libyans, especially in the eastern part of the country.
If we are to stop Iran from gaining and then using nuclear weapons, then Israel has to be a very close partner in that effort. The concerns of our friends over an Iranian nuclear program that will undoubtedly target them — and probably be used against them sooner rather than later — is anything but noise.