The Buzz

Obama's Other AIPAC Speech

Obama must have given two different speeches at the AIPAC Policy Conference last weekend. The one most Americans heard featured the president repeatedly and emphatically declaring that the he would “use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon” and warning that “Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States,” that “when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, [he would] take no options off the table” and that he would “not hesitate to use force” to defend America’s vested security interest in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

But Elliott Abrams, blogging at The Weekly Standard, seems to have heard a different speech entirely. Abrams heard Obama waffling, avoiding making “a flat statement: Iran will never get a nuclear weapon because America will prevent it.” Apparently, Abrams is upset that Obama’s speechwriters failed to use these precise words. How else to explain the grappling over saying “we must accomplish our objective,” already clearly defined as preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, instead of saying “America will prevent Iran”?

Abrams goes on to characterize Obama’s central message as a request “that Israel simply rely on him and thereby let the date pass when it can act militarily itself,” then he catalogues the instances in which Obama “contradicts” himself by affirming Israel’s sovereign right to act in its defense. This is a simplification so dramatic as to be almost offensive; Abrams misconstrues the fundamental tension behind the whole Israel-Iran-America predicament—that Israel has a right to defend itself, and Washington must then decide whether backing its ally warrants the use of force and the jeopardizing of American lives—in the interest of presenting a pandering caricature of the president. And immediately after accusing Obama of self-contradiction, Abrams cites perhaps the most clear-cut line in the president’s speech: “there should not be a shred of doubt by now—when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.” The message in Obama’s speech was crystal clear. One cannot say the same for Abrams’s howler.