Not sure why he’s mumbling about “viable alternatives” when the refrain from his own team over the past 24 hours, starting with Susan Rice, is that a bad deal with Iran is worse than no deal, which is precisely Netanyahu’s point. Bibi’s plan is clear enough, though: Keep the pressure on Tehran by keeping sanctions in place until they’re willing to give up more than just the 10-year temporary freeze that Obama’s currently asking for. O also complained here to the press that there was nothing new in Netanyahu’s speech, which is true — for a reason.
— Anne Bayefsky (@AnneBayefsky) March 3, 2015
Good luck finding something new to say during a six-year rolling debate when you’re not allowed to delve into the only important recent development.
Obama did end up making his strongest argument for his own plan in the course of his shpiel here, that a deal that gives nuclear inspectors real eyes on the ground to track Iran’s program would give the west a better sense of whether they’re cheating by trying to build a bomb than we have now. As he told Reuters yesterday:
“If, in fact, Iran is willing to agree to double-digit years of keeping their program where it is right now and, in fact, rolling back elements of it that currently exist … if we’ve got that, and we’ve got a way of verifying that, there’s no other steps we can take that would give us such assurance that they don’t have a nuclear weapon,” he said.
The U.S. goal is to make sure “there’s at least a year between us seeing them try to get a nuclear weapon and them actually being able to obtain one,” Obama said in the interview, carefully timed by the White House a day ahead of Netanyahu’s polarizing speech to Congress.
If we’re not willing to attack their program now, we might as well try to improve our intelligence so that we’ll know for sure when an attack is necessary. (That’s what the “breakout” period is all about.) Just one problem: Realistically, the White House will never attack Iran. If you doubt that, go remind yourself that Obama’s deputies have actually boasted to reporters that the endless nuke negotiations with Iran have crippled Israel’s own ability to attack. Obama’s not going to wreck his own legacy-establishing rapprochement with Iran by trying to blow up their enrichment facilities, setting off a regional war, particularly when lots of defense experts believe that even a U.S. attack would merely set back the program rather than destroy it. Obama won’t strike unless he has absolutely no choice, and there’s no scenario before he leaves office where he’d have no choice, i.e. where Iran’s nukes would pose an immediate threat not just to Israel but to the U.S. The deal he’s working on is transparently a punt to the next president: Iran probably won’t cheat before Obama leaves office, and if they cheat once his successor is on the clock, hey, that’s his/her problem. And once Iran does “surprise” everyone by building a bomb, that can be laid at the feet of the UN’s inspectors in failing to smoke it out rather than at Obama’s feet for failing to attack. Best-case scenario if Iran tries to “break out” is that we’ll hit them with the harshest sanctions we can muster, as if that’ll stop them. Really, if Netanyahu’s determined to block them from building a weapon, he’d better have a battle plan of his own. At least until January 2017.