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Hey, remember a few weeks ago when our old friend Bibi Netanyahu came to town and made a hullabaloo over Iran and "red lines"? Admittedly, much of what the Bibster said to the US media was bluster, but the gist of the "red line" issue was that the "red line" President Obama has set for Iran—meaning, the point at which the military option would become a real option, which Obama set at developing a nuclear weapon—isn't motivation enough for Iran's leaders to bring about a resolution to the conflict over Iran's nuclear program. Nevermind the fact that Netanyahu's analysis of the issue is incredibly flawed—why believe that "red lines" have any bearing on Iran's actions, or that they are what is preventing a diplomatic accord from being struck, when the West has yet to take diplomacy seriously? What the Israeli prime minister wants our president to do is shift his "red line" a bit further down in the timeline, to when Iran is nuclear capable, a term which the PM left conveniently vague. No matter the precise definition, though, under Bibi's "red line", Iran could be bombed even if it has no intention of actually building a nuclear weapon. And that's just plain stupid.

Now, much to the President's credit, the Obama administration did not stay quiet on this, nor did it give in. Instead, the administration stuck its neck out by reaffirming its "red line" narrative. "We’re not setting deadlines," Secretary Clinton told Bloomberg Radio the day after Netanyahu said that the international community "should set an ultimatum with a timeline" for Iran. And Ambassador Susan Rice, appearing on Meet the Press right after Bibi on September 16, fervently defended the administration's position:

[T]he president has been very, very clear.  Our bottom line, if you want to call it a red line, president’s bottom line has been that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon and we will take no option off the table to ensure that it does not acquire a nuclear weapon, including the military option.
So what does it say that, less than a week after Netanyahu made his rounds on the Sunday morning talk shows, the US Senate voted overwhelming for a resolution affirming not the US president's position, but that of the Israeli prime minister?

Yes, that's right: on Saturday, the Senate passed the Graham "red line" resolution, S. Res. 380, in a 90-1 vote, with Kentucky Republican Rand Paul being the lone dissenter. The resolution expresses "the sense of the Senate regarding the importance of preventing the Government of Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability." It resolves, among other things, that the Senate—

rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran; and

urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.

Of course, the "red line" debate didn't begin with Neyanyahu's propaganda tour of the US. Back in February, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)  and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced twin legislation (the House version being H. Res. 568) calling upon the President to shift his "red line" from the production of nuclear weapons to the development of a nuclear weapons capability. The bills picked up steam when the American Israel Public Affairs Council (AIPAC) made them the centerpiece of their legislative agenda at their annual conference in March. And as we all know, when AIPAC comes calling, our representatives have a hard time saying 'no'.

What is amazing is that, back in March, Obama did say no—and has continued to do so ever since. Ahead of the annual conference, where the President and other administrative officials were set to speak, Netanyahu and AIPAC made it clear that it expected to hear the admin singing the "red line" tune in the Likud key. Secretary Clinton even made a public statement to the desired effect at a House committee hearing just ahead of the summit, at which point it seemed as if Obama had capitulated. But in a surprising show of constancy, the admin stated that Hillary had misspoken. And at the AIPAC conference, Obama reaffirmed his "red line"—refusing, in this small but significant way, to shrink before the self-styled most powerful foreign policy lobby in Washington.

Congress, on the other hand, has not been so bold. The House bill calling for a "red line" shift was passed in May in a 411-11 vote, with nine voting 'present'. The Senate version, however, got stalled—that is, until it was picked up again last week in anticipation of the long congressional recess that began over the weekend and doesn't end until after the November elections. Only two Democratic Senators—Patty Murray (D-WA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA)—did not vote for the resolution, though neither voted against it. The fact that Boxer, who wrote a scathing open letter to Bibi criticizing his media campaign as an attempt to meddle in US domestic politics, abstained but did not vote 'nay' is a testament to the power of AIPAC and its ilk.

Even Obama's unlikely though apparent ally in the "red line" debate two weeks ago, Mitt Romney, has since executed a remarkable flip-flop in favor of the Likud line. On a conference call with US rabbis last Thursday, Romney was asked whether he agreed with his "good friend" the Bibmeister's "red line" assessment. Like a good dog, Mittens gave the answer he knew the rabbis wanted to hear. According to Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy's The Cable, things went something like this:

"With regards to the red line, I would imagine Prime Minister Netanyahu is referring to a red line over which if Iran crossed it would take military action. And for me, it is unacceptable or Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon, which they could use in the Middle East or elsewhere," Romney said. "So for me, the red line is nuclear capability. We do not want them to have the capacity of building a bomb that threatens ourselves, our friends, and the world."

"Exactly where those red lines [should be drawn] is something which, I guess, I wouldn't want to get into in great detail, but you understand they are defined by the Iranian capability to have not only fissile material, but bomb making capability and rocketry," Romney said.

So we've got both chambers of Congress and a presidential nominee siding with a foreign leader over the sitting president. Way to show solidarity, guys.

The only saving grace is that the congressional resolutions have no teeth: the Obama administration can decide to ignore them since it is his constitutional prerogative to conduct diplomacy, and the demands made upon him by these resolutions would constrain his ability to do so. And so far, it looks like Obama is treating the "red line" ruckus as a bunch of hot air. In a speech before the UN this morning, the President invoked the nuclear weapon "red line"—not the nuclear weapons capability one. And on Sunday, Obama told 60 Minutes,

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.
Far more frightening is the prospect of dear Mittens getting elected and having a Congress seemingly ready to authorize military action at the earliest convenience—which, I assume, would be dictated by our new supreme leader in Tel Aviv, as so much of Congress's and Romney's views on Iran have been to date. But there's no use in talking in hypotheticals at this juncture. It is enough to hope that Obama sticks to his guns—and keeps them stowed in the trunk, not loose on the front seat.
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Do you support President Obama's stand on the "red line" for Iran?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Complete stupidity on Israel and U.S. warhawks (7+ / 0-)

    part.

    Bombing Iran will not destroy its nuclear capabilities if it even acquired a nuclear bomb, which it hasn't done so yet:

    Perhaps most important, nearly all military analysts, in Washington and in Israel itself, believe that even an all-out Israeli attack on Iran would only not eliminate its ability to produce a nuclear weapon—as stated last week by Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said: “I think that it’s a fair characterization to say that they could delay but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities.” Worse, as Israel knows, an attack would solidify the power of hawks in Iran’s government.

    Not to mention that Iran has no bomb, it isn’t likely to get one for a few years (even if that’s Iran’s intent), and it has no means of delivering a weapon—meaning that the dire threat that Israel says might require a unilateral strike doesn’t exist.

    Furthermore, bombing Iran may simply hasten its goal of obtaining a nuclear weapon (if that is its goal to begin with) the same way Israel's bombing of Iraq initiated Saddam's nuclear weapons program:
    Thirty years ago Israel destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor, an act that has recently been praised, avoiding the strong evidence, even from U.S. intelligence, that the bombing did not end Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program but rather initiated it. Bombing of Iran might have the same effect.
    •  Well Said (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shawn Russell, Santa Susanna Kid

      Ehud Barak thinks only 500 Israelis will die - out of his mind.

      The whole region will ignite and with it the global economy.

      The idea behind preventing a nuke is so they don't meddle more in the region and monkey with oil prices.

      So if an attack causes a regional war at a minimum and perhaps far worse then you're creating something far worse than what you were trying to avoid in the first place.

      Where's the logic in that?

      "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

      by bcdelta on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:27:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Does the Senate resolution really contradict (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Seeds

    the administration's policy? The POTUS agrees with the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability.

    Unapologetic Obama supporter.

    by Red Sox on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 09:55:38 AM PDT

    •  No, their positions are not the same at all. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shawn Russell, UFOH1

      The President is leaving open the possibility of coming to a diplomatic accord with a nuclear weapons capable Iran, whatever way you choose to gloss that term. Congress is trying to close that door in order to make the use of more aggressive tactics—such as crippling sanctions, or god knows what—the only options moving forward. Congress's resolutions reject the idea of allowing Iran to have a nuclear weapons capability, but Obama's position does not. The President's position recognizes that the end goal for Iran could merely be a latent nuclear capability, and not a bomb. Congess's does not—or does not care. In this case, Obama's stance is far more pragmatic than Congress's—what the hell are you supposed to do to get rid of Iran's nuclear capability? As they say, you can't bomb knowledge. And once they're nuclear capable, the only way to keep Iran from desiring a nuclear weapon is to come to a diplomatic accord. The WORST thing you could do is bomb it.

      •  Did you watch his speech today? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Seeds, erush1345

        It contradicts your statement that "[t]he President is leaving open the possibility of coming to a diplomatic accord with a nuclear weapons capable Iran."

        The President said, "make no mistake, a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That’s why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that’s why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

        Unapologetic Obama supporter.

        by Red Sox on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:22:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Note that Obama said "nuclear-armed" not (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Monteego, brasilaaron

          "nuclear weapons capable", which are entirely different things, and the whole reason why there is any debate going on at all. A nuclear capability can be glossed in a number of ways, but would consist in some assortment of capabilities that fall short of an actual bomb, e.g., having a certain stockpile of 20% uranium capable of being enriched to bomb-grade if the decision were made, and/or work/development/testing of a suitable delivery device. The most important difference, though, is that a nuclear-armed Iran has made the decision to acquire a nuclear weapon, while a nuclear capable Iran has not. Countries like Japan have developed the capability to produce a nuclear weapon, should they choose to do so, yet did not have an immediate intention to actually produce one. It seems this could be the end game Iran is looking to reach as well.

          •  Sorry, I should have said that a nuclear-armed (0+ / 0-)

            Iran has made the decision to acquire a nuclear weapon, while a nuclear capable one has not NECESSARILY made that decision. And both US and Israeli intelligence access that Iran has not made the decision at this time. Thus Bibi & co trying to push the "red line" closer.

    •  It absolutely does (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shawn Russell, Megan Iorio

      Setting a red line shows one's hand - unwise and why lock yourself into something.

      Forces you to act at some point and if you don't you lose credibility.

      Furthermore, American interests first.

      Likud has gone off the deep end.  We need to be very careful about how we proceed here.

      "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

      by bcdelta on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:20:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  the resolution does not appear to demand (0+ / 0-)

        a deadline, redline or any other kind of line.

        it merely asks the president to affirm what he's already declared to be US policy: Iran should not acquire a weapon. we reserve the right to use all means including military to stop them if they attempt to do so.

        implied in his policy (as opposed to Bibis) is that we will act at a time and place of our chosing and not according to arbitrary timetables set by Iran (or Israel).

        the president will tell the senate the same thing he told bibi. "fuck off."

        •  Agreed that Obama can and should ignore the noise. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Monteego, bcdelta

          However, the congressional resolutions really do do more than ask the President to reaffirm what he's already stated to be US policy. I know that's what Congress is saying they're doing, but that's absolutely incorrect. They're saying that Iran should not acquire a nuclear weapons capability—whatever that is supposed to mean to them—and, if it does, some options, like diplomacy, ought to be taken off the table. Note that a nuclear weapons capability does not include an intention to actually build a bomb, so it is significantly different than Obama's current position. Considering the fact that the only ways to resolve this issue are through diplomacy or intervention, Congress's position is really dumb.

          •  Well Said Megan (0+ / 0-)

            The definition is a bit nebulous and while not binding POTUS essentially has Congress' blessing to go to war.

            And you never want to get into war in general, but if you do it shouldn't be done hastily.

            "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

            by bcdelta on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 06:29:54 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Even so (0+ / 0-)

          A useless declaration

          "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

          by bcdelta on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:48:02 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Also (0+ / 0-)

          the senate's vote is green lighting the war.

          "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

          by bcdelta on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:59:41 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Playing politics with national security (4+ / 0-)

    is weak, not strong.  These people are just plain dangerous.  They make America weaker.

    I hate hate. I love the look in peoples eyes when they realize, for the first time, that they have power.

    by 4democracy on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:01:25 AM PDT

  •  A containment policy and posture was laid out (4+ / 0-)

    by the neocons a couple years ago to show how supposedly difficult it would be to contain an Iran with a nuclear weapon.  The scenario they painted was akin to the Cold War with Russia including hundreds of thousands of troops and the stationing of nukes in the ME.  That reports was sent to all of the Congress and Senate.    
    Two things in the way, Iran isn't developing a nuclear weapon, that hasn't been proven, they aren't even close.  Second thing is an attack on Iran would require a UN resolution unless somehow Israel and the US could justify imminent self defense.  They'd be lying if they did.   But they govts of Israel and the US are in effect at war with Iran because of the sanctions and the destabilization efforts in and around Iran.  If international law was followed, Bibi would be brought up on war crimes right now for calling for war.

    "The Global War on Terror is a justification for U.S. Imperialism. It must be stopped."

    by BigAlinWashSt on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:08:14 AM PDT

    •  Yes—but Congress rejects containing not only an (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shawn Russell, BigAlinWashSt

      Iran with nuclear weapons, but an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability, which is the most ridiculous part. It's a way to step around the fact that both US and Israeli intelligence says Iran hasn't made a decision to develop a weapon. Of course, the need for containment comes about because certain powerful factions in the US and Israel refuse to accept a diplomatic accord.

      As for your second point: this is what Netanyahu & co has been setting up since 1992, that Iran is an "existential threat" to Israel. And the US media eats this up and spits it upon the page and the TV screen and the radio waves whenever it finds opportunity. But pay no attention to the myriad of Israeli officials who call "bunk" on this. E.g.,

       http://www.iranfact.org/...

      •  True, but I don't think there's any difference (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gooderservice

        in what Obama's saying, he has to be more political and obtuse.  Obama is saying that he will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.  So that means he will stop it sometime BEFORE Iran actually does that, hypothetically.  It would probably still be about the time Iran passed weapons grade capability.  
        Some heavy political games going on either way.

        "The Global War on Terror is a justification for U.S. Imperialism. It must be stopped."

        by BigAlinWashSt on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:31:42 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, absolutely. But he's giving himself more (0+ / 0-)

          room than Congress is. And also, US intelligence has been saying over and over that if Iran did make a decision to actually build a bomb, it would very likely be detectable. So there's that distinction, which is very important to make. People like Rep. Ros-Lehtinen like to claim that we wouldn't know. But that contradicts US intelligence assessments on the matter.

    •  "Make no mistake: a nuclear-armed Iran is not a (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gooderservice

      challenge that can be contained".  That's what Obama said today.  That's the same thing as a red line, it is a red line.  "The U.S. will do what we must to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon".   It might not be Netanyahu's red line in rhetoric, but it's the same thing.  The US will use all options include military attack to stop Iran from developing a weapon.  The question is at what point do they lie to the public that Iran is doing just that.

      "The Global War on Terror is a justification for U.S. Imperialism. It must be stopped."

      by BigAlinWashSt on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:26:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  But it's not the same thing. (0+ / 0-)

        In order for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, they need to make the decision to do so. So the difference between Bibi's and Obama's lines are the decision to make a nuclear weapon. US intelligence thinks this would be detectable. And at this point, both US and Israeli intelligence believe there has been no decision to actually build a weapon. Nor is there good reason to believe Iran ever will make that decision—unless the US or Israel do something incredibly stupid.

    •  Iran (0+ / 0-)

      Is most certainly developing nukes - no question.

      Furthermore, we need zero permission from the UN to do anything.

      This being said setting red lines is a bad idea.

      Let the sanctions work.  The Iranian economy is in shambles.

      Bomb them and then the Moolahs have an external boogeyman to deflect attention from their severe mismanagement of the Iranian economy.

      War may ultimately happen, but all other options need to be exhausted - we're not there yet.

      This is far more problematic than Iraq or Afghanistan.

      Tread carefully.

      "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

      by bcdelta on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:38:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I wonder... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bcdelta, Megan Iorio

    ...I haven't been following this situation as closely as a lot of people, but I have one question that sticks out like a sore thumb:

    If Israeli law requires the prime minister to get authorization from parliament to launch a military operation, did Bibi go to his parliament to request authority to launch some sort of major operation--including an air strike--on Iran?  And if he did, did his parliament say NO, that the situation did not yet meet the criteria for such an operation?

    If that is indeed the case, that the Israeli government didn't give him the authority, it now begs the following question:  Is he rattling the cage now because he wants an airstrike now?  And since he can't get the authority from his own government, he is trying to get Obama to do his bidding (like a schoolteacher scolds an unruly child), and is now inserting himself into the current state of American politics to become a major distraction?

    Fortunately, Obama knows how high the stakes really are, and is not falling for it.  That is why Bibi is throwing a tantrum now.  We've seen the results of one man's recklessness, and Obama is not going to make the same mistake again.

    •  Pretty accurate assessment (0+ / 0-)

      Outside of insufficient internal support Israel can't get the job done on their own so Bibi is trying to goad us into it.

      "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

      by bcdelta on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:40:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Oh, Bibi's been on the receiving end of a lot of (0+ / 0-)

      opposition at home. For some examples, check out

      http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/...
      http://iranfact.org

      I'm not so sure what Bibi is playing at. Pretty much no one thinks that a strike on Iran would help at all. A group of former US officials just released a report making dire predictions about such a scenario:

      http://thinkprogress.org/...

      I think he's looking to make the military option seem more real, to push more crippling sanctions on a faster schedule, and perhaps more collaboration on covert activities. And worst of all, try to make it more difficult to reach a diplomatic agreement. I've long held the view that Likud's end game is regime change. They won't get that with a military strike, though.

  •  Why have Democratic communities been so silent? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Megan Iorio

    The community at Kos and across a lot of the blogosphere does way too much chasing of the past. We should get ahead of these attacks on President Obama's foreign policy. Two important diaries, this one and the one on Libya, have gotten less attention than some garbage about polls.

  •  Bibi has been saying this crap for 20 years (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Megan Iorio

    in 1992 Bibi was saying that Iran would have a nuke in 5 years.  Wow, i guess they must have like 200 of em by now, just like Israel.  Oh wait, we're talking about the REAL world, where Iran doesn't have nukes but Israel does. Ok, got that strait.  So now, we just gotta make sure that Iran doesn't get nukes in six months, just like Bibi says.  
    Are those Friedman-unit 6 months? Or Bibi's fevered imagination 6 months? Real 6 months?  It's so hard to keep this strait.

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