Today’s speech by prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu was an amazingly public and frank repudiation of U.S. policy towards Iran.
But before getting to his remarks, let’s dispose of a particularly ignorant criticism of Netanyahu. Chris Matthews said the speech was an inappropriate attempt to “take over” America’s foreign policy. That might be true if the policy in question were none of Israel’s business. But this policy is of even greater concern to Israel than it is to the United States. Obama knew that Israel would balk at his decision to abandon a tough sanctions strategy, a strategy on which Israel depended and in deference to which Israel has refused to strike Iran itself. If you think Obama is taken aback or somehow surprised or angry at Israel’s reaction, you must think he’s an idiot.
Given the scale of the interests involved, it was vitally necessary to coordinate with Israel and make sure they could live with any concessions we made; otherwise we were risking a rupture with a key ally. But Obama’s explicit policy is to accept an Iranian nuclear-weapons program so long as there is a one-year breakout time, and Israel cannot agree to that. So Obama decided early on that a deal with Iran could not be coordinated with Israel, and that a rupture was worth the risk. To make matters worse, he openly and publicly dismissed Israel’s objections, deciding to accommodate Iran’s concerns instead of Israel’s. Netanyahu’s reaction was totally predictable, and in fact Obama consciously accepted it as part of his cost-benefit analysis. The entire spectacle demonstrates something we’ve seen on the domestic-policy side for six years, which is that Obama really does not understand how to negotiate, something to think about as details of the looming deal start leaking.
Bibi took direct aim at Obama’s own talking points:
So you see, my friends, this deal has two major concessions: one, leaving Iran with a vast nuclear program and two, lifting the restrictions on that program in about a decade. That’s why this deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.
So why would anyone make this deal? Because they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse.
Well, I disagree. I don’t believe that Iran’s radical regime will change for the better after this deal. This regime has been in power for 36 years, and its voracious appetite for aggression grows with each passing year. This deal would wet appetite — would only wet Iran’s appetite for more. […]
This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires. A region where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinderbox. If anyone thinks — if anyone thinks this deal kicks the can down the road, think again. When we get down that road, we’ll face a much more dangerous Iran, a Middle East littered with nuclear bombs and a countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve come here today to tell you we don’t have to bet the security of the world on the hope that Iran will change for the better. We don’t have to gamble with our future and with our children’s future.
We can insist that restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program not be lifted for as long as Iran continues its aggression in the region and in the world. Before lifting those restrictions, the world should demand that Iran do three things. First, stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East. Second, stop supporting terrorism around the world. And third, stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.
If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal expires. If Iran changes its behavior, the restrictions would be lifted. If Iran doesn’t change its behavior, the restrictions should not be lifted. If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.
My friends, what about the argument that there’s no alternative to this deal, that Iran’s nuclear know-how cannot be erased, that its nuclear program is so advanced that the best we can do is delay the inevitable, which is essentially what the proposed deal seeks to do? Well, nuclear know-how without nuclear infrastructure doesn’t get you very much. A racecar driver without a car can’t drive. A pilot without a plan can’t fly. Without thousands of centrifuges, tons of enriched uranium or heavy water facilities, Iran can’t make nuclear weapons.
Iran’s nuclear program can be rolled back well-beyond the current proposal by insisting on a better deal and keeping up the pressure on a very vulnerable regime, especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil. Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table — and this often happens in a Persian bazaar — call their bluff. They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do. And by maintaining the pressure on Iran and on those who do business with Iran, you have the power to make them need it even more.
My friends, for over a year, we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.
Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That’s just not true. The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal. A better deal that doesn’t leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short break-out time. A better deal that keeps the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in place until Iran’s aggression ends. A better deal that won’t give Iran an easy path to the bomb. A better deal that Israel and its neighbors may not like, but with which we could live, literally.
Instead Obama chose to pursue a deal that he knows Israel can’t live with. Obama knew that his policy virtually guaranteed a painful and public rupture with Israel. And he went ahead and did it anyway. So make no mistake: House speaker Boehner issued the invitation, but it wasn’t Boehner who brought Netanyahu before Congress to criticize U.S. policy in front of the entire world. Obama did that.