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Stratfor: On Obama and the Nature of Failed Presidencies

By George Friedman 
Stratfor Global Intelligence

 

We do not normally comment on domestic political affairs unless they affect international affairs. However, it is necessary to consider American political affairs because they are likely to have a particular effect on international relations. We have now entered the final phase of Barack Obama’s presidency, and like those of several other presidents since World War II, it is ending in what we call a state of failure. This is not a judgment on his presidency so much as on the political configuration within it and surrounding it.

The midterm elections are over, and Congress and the president are in gridlock. This in itself is not significant; presidents as popular as Dwight Eisenhower found themselves in this condition. The problem occurs when there is not only an institutional split but also a shift in underlying public opinion against the president. There are many more sophisticated analyses of public opinion on politics, but I have found it useful to use this predictive model.

Analyzing a President’s Strength

I assume that underneath all of the churning, about 40 percent of the electorate is committed to each party. Twenty percent is uncommitted, with half of those being indifferent to the outcome of politics and the other half being genuinely interested and undecided. In most normal conditions, the real battle between the parties — and by presidents — is to hold their own bases and take as much of the center as possible.

So long as a president is fighting for the center, his ability to govern remains intact. Thus, it is normal for a president to have a popularity rating that is less than 60 percent but more than 40 percent. When a president’s popularity rating falls substantially below 40 percent and remains there for an extended period of time, the dynamics of politics shift. The president is no longer battling for the center but is fighting to hold on to his own supporters — and he is failing to do so.

When the president’s support has fragmented to the point that he is fighting to recover his base, I considered that a failed presidency — particularly when Congress is in the hands of the opposition. His energy cannot be directed toward new initiatives. It is directed toward recovering his base. And presidents who have fallen into this condition near the end of their presidencies have not been likely to recover and regain the center.

Historically, when the president’s popularity rating has dipped to about 37 percent, his position has been unrecoverable. This is what happened to George W. Bush in 2006. It happened to Richard Nixon in 1974 when the Watergate crisis resulted in his resignation, and to Lyndon Johnson in 1967 during the Vietnam War. It also happened to Harry Truman in 1951, primarily because of the Korean War, and to Herbert Hoover before World War II because of the Great Depression.

However, this is not the final historical note on a presidency. Truman, enormously unpopular and unable to run for another term, is now widely regarded as one of the finest presidents the United States has had. Nixon, on the other hand, has never recovered. This is not therefore a judgment on Obama’s place in history, but simply on his current political condition. Nor does it take failure to lose the presidency; Jimmy Carter was defeated even though his popularity remained well in the 40s.

Obama’s Presidency

Of the five failed presidencies I’ve cited, one failed over scandal, one over the economy and three over wars — Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. Obama’s case is less clear than any. The 40 percent who gravitated to the opposition opposed him for a host of reasons. He lost the center for complex reasons as well. However, looking at the timing of his decline, the only intruding event that might have had that impact was the rise of the Islamic State and a sense, even in his own party, that he did not have an effective response to it. Historically, extended wars that the president did not appear to have a strategy for fighting have been devastating to the presidency. Woodrow Wilson’s war (World War I) was short and successful. Franklin Roosevelt’s war (World War II) was longer, and although it began in failure it became clear that a successful end was conceivable. The Korean, Vietnam and two Iraq wars suffered not from the length, but from the sense that the presidency did not have a war-ending strategy. Obama appears to me to have fallen into the political abyss because after eight years he owned the war and appeared to have no grip on it.

Failure extends to domestic policy as well. The Republican-controlled legislature can pass whatever legislation it likes, but the president retains veto power, and two-thirds of both houses must vote to override. The problem is that given the president’s lack of popularity — and the fact that the presidency, all of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate will be up for re-election in two years — the president’s allies in Congress are not as willing to be held responsible for upholding his vetoes. Just as few Democrats wanted Obama campaigning for them, so too do few want to join the president in vetoing majority legislation. What broke Truman, Johnson and Nixon was the moment it became clear that their party’s leaders in Congress wanted them gone.

Acting Within Constraints

This does not mean that the president can’t act. It simply means that it is enormously more difficult to act than before. Gerald Ford, replacing Nixon but weakened by the pardoning of his predecessor, could not stop Congress from cutting off aid to South Vietnam during the final Communist assault. George W. Bush was able to launch the surge, but the surge was limited in size, not only because of strategic conditions but also because he had lost the ability to force Congress to fund alternative expansions of the war. In each of the failed presidencies, the president retained the ability to act but was constrained by the twin threats of an opposition-controlled Congress and his own party’s unwillingness to align with him.

At the same time, certain foreign diplomatic initiatives can continue. Nixon initiated negotiations between Egypt and Israel that culminated, under Carter’s administration, in the Camp David Accords. Truman tried to open negotiations with China, and the initiative’s failure had little to do with opposition to a negotiated settlement in Korea.

The president has few domestic options. Whatever Obama does with his power domestically, Congress can vote to cut funding, and if the act is vetoed, the president puts Congressional Democrats in mortal danger. The place where he can act — and this is likely the place Obama is least comfortable acting — is in foreign policy. There, the limited deployment of troops and diplomatic initiatives are possible.

Obama’s general strategy is to withdraw from existing conflicts in the Middle East and contain and limit Russian actions in Ukraine. The president has the ability to bring military and other pressure to bear. But the United States’ opponent is aware that the sitting president is no longer in control of Washington, that he has a specific date of termination and that the more unpopular things he does, the more likely his successor is to repudiate them. Therefore, in the China-North Korea model, the assumption is that that continuing the conflict and negotiating with the successor president is rational. In the same sense, Iran chose to wait for the election of Ronald Reagan rather than deal with Jimmy Carter (who was not a failed president).

This model depends on the opponent’s having the resources and the political will to continue the conflict in order to bargain with the president’s successor, and assumes that the successor will be more malleable. This is frequently the result, since the successor can make concessions more readily than his predecessor. In fact, he can make those concessions and gain points by blaming the need to concede on his predecessor. Ironically, Obama used this strategy after replacing George W. Bush. The failed president frequently tries to entice negotiation by increasing the military pressure on the enemy. Truman, Johnson and George W. Bush all took this path while seeking to end their wars. In no case did it work, but they had little to lose politically by trying.

Therefore, if we follow historical patterns, Obama will now proceed slowly and ineffectively to increase military operations in Syria and Iraq, while raising non-military pressure on Russia, or potentially initiating some low-level military activities in Ukraine. The actions will be designed to achieve a rapid negotiating process that will not happen. The presidency will shift to the other party, as it did with Truman, Johnson and George W. Bush. Thus, if patterns hold true, the Republicans will retake the presidency. This is not a pattern unknown to Congress, which means that the Democrats in the legislature will focus on running their own campaigns as far away from Obama and the next Democratic presidential candidate as possible.

The period of a failed presidency is therefore not a quiet time. The president is actively trying to save his legacy in the face of enormous domestic weakness. Other countries, particularly adversaries, see little reason to make concessions to failed presidents, preferring to deal with the next president instead. These adversaries then use military and political oppositions abroad to help shape the next U.S. presidential campaign in directions that are in their interests.

It is against this backdrop that all domestic activities take place. The president retains the veto, and if the president is careful he will be able to sustain it. Obama will engage in limited domestic politics, under heavy pressure from Congressional Democrats, confining himself to one or two things. His major activity will be coping with Syria, Iraq and Russia, both because of crises and the desire for a legacy. The last two years of a failed presidency are mostly about foreign policy and are not very pleasant to watch.

 
On Obama and the Nature of Failed Presidencies is republished with permission of Stratfor.
 
 
 
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Leibler: Obama Seeks Confrontation with Israel

Originally published Oct. 30, 2014
by Isi Leibler @ wordfromjerusalem.com


 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the intensifying global pressures on Israel is to firmly reject any further territorial withdrawals that would put Israel’s security at risk, stating that “Israel will not lose hope for peace, but neither will it cling to false hope.”

He was also forthright about his intention to continue residential construction in Jerusalem, noting that “all previous Israeli governments have done so. . It is also clear to the Palestinians that these territories will remain within Israel’s borders in any deal.”

The Obama administration’s response to Israel’s confirmation that it would continue to create homes in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem was vindictive, brutal and in stark contrast to its deafening silence in relation to Palestinian incitement.

The State Department went so far as to accuse Israel of acting “illegally,” and in a manner “incompatible with the pursuit of peace”.

In an interview with American journalist Jeffery Goldberg published in The Atlantic, a senior US official referred to Prime Minister Netanyahu as “chickenshit” and described him as “the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most”. More than Assad, Erdogan, the Iranian Ayatollah, Putin, and the ‘peace loving’ Abbas?

The curtain drop to the administration’s malice was displayed last week in the Ya’alon imbroglio. In a private conversation earlier this year, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon disparaged Secretary of State John Kerry’s behavior in relation to the peace process as “obsessive” and “messianic.” He made his remarks when Kerry was repeatedly making provocative statements against Israel and then retracting them.

As defense minister, Ya’alon is limited in what he can say publicly and the fact that he spoke off-record is irrelevant if he was subsequently quoted. But he apologized and reiterated the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Nevertheless, the White House inflated his unofficial remark totally out of proportion.

To invoke such a vendetta against the defense minister of its most important regional ally, months after the event, exposes the pettiness of the Obama administration. That Ya’alon was denied access to Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Susan Rice is problematic. But that this was leaked by State Department sources at the end of his visit was odious. To make matters even worse, the information was leaked to the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, whose publisher is engaged in a long-standing crusade to demonize Netanyahu and his government and which was the source that had initially released Ya’alon’s off-the-record comments.

Clearly, the White House regarded this as an opportunity to undermine not only Ya’alon’s standing, but the entire Netanyahu government.

This is just the latest in a series of vindictive incidents by the Obama administration because Israel has dared to reject its diktats. Nothing illustrates President Barack Obama’s contemptuous attitude toward Israel more than his directive to withhold arms to Israel during wartime because Israel had rejected Kerry’s initiative to engage Qatar as the mediator to end the Gaza hostilities.

As virtually every foreign policy initiative by Obama has proven to be disastrous, his recommendations or directives must be viewed with skepticism. After all, it is we who will have to live with the consequences.

This administration adamantly insists that the Israel-Palestine status quo is untenable. Yet it remains silent as Hamas boasts of efforts to restore its terror tunnel network; barely reacts to the mayhem in Syria and Iraq where close to a quarter million people have been butchered; ignores the Qatari funding of Hamas and other terrorist entities including the Islamic State; fails to castigate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for enabling jihadists to traverse Turkey’s territory in order to fight in Syria, while standing by and allowing the massacre of the Kurds on his border.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas humiliated the U.S. administration by merging with Hamas without prior consultation. But the U.S. failed to criticize this move, has not responded to Abbas’ policy of ethnic cleansing by making any future Palestinian state Judenrein, nor condemned him for executing any Palestinian found selling land to an Israeli. The U.S. did not reprimand him for failing to denounce the act of terror in which a baby and a young woman were killed last week in Jerusalem. Yet when an Arab teenager was shot to death while hurling potentially lethal Molotov cocktails at Israeli automobiles, the U.S. immediately conveyed its condolences to the family and urged Israelis to initiate an investigation.

Israel, the principal regional ally of the U.S., is the only country consistently facing criticism and has become the punching bag for the inept Obama administration, even being denunciated for opposing a nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Only recently, Kerry again conveyed to an Arab audience the absurd allegation that the Arab-Israel conflict fanned ISIS and Islamic extremism. Yet the U.S. assiduously avoids condemning or responding to rogue states guilty of criminal bloodletting, out of fear of being further humiliated and exposed as lacking leadership.

It should be noted that there is a broad consensus throughout Israel that the government is justified in resisting efforts by the U.S. and others to restrict construction in its capital Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs – which were never challenged prior to the Obama administration.

There are those who question the wisdom of such an announcement at this time, but if there is one issue for which we should stand united and maintain our rights, it is construction in Jerusalem, whose development must not be dependent on endorsement from other countries.

The administration’s efforts to demean Israel’s leaders have always been counterproductive. Despite the initial media frenzy, Israelis have in such circumstances responded by rallying in support of their government. And yet, now when the house of Israel should display unity, some of our politicians are behaving irresponsibly.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni public response to the recent pathetic and mean attempt to humiliate Ya’alon implying that the fault for the breakdown in relations rests with Israel rather than with a bumbling and spiteful U.S. administration were highly inappropriate. They promote chaos and bring shame upon themselves and the government they purport to represent, conveying the mistaken impression that Israel suffers from battered wife syndrome.

It is also regrettable that, in the face of a vindictive U.S. administration, Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog, failed to suspend political infighting and accused Netanyahu of being “personally responsible for the destruction of relations with the U.S.” He could have gained respect by stating unequivocally that there cannot be any limits on construction in the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem.

Yes, there is constant tension and endless recriminations bouncing between the U.S. administration and Israel. And according to Goldberg, there is now even the threat that the US “may actually withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations”.

The government has made every effort to avoid aggravating the situation but Israel is a sovereign democratic nation and there are occasions when it must reject unrealistic or dangerous demands from the U.S.

Netanyahu should be commended for his extraordinary diplomatic balancing act in withstanding the unreasonable pressure from Obama and Kerry, avoiding outright confrontations and in so doing, retaining the support of American public opinion and Congress.

Israel is a small country and its people are aware that the U.S. is crucial to their survival. But does that oblige us to forfeit our self-respect or sovereignty and fawn toward an administration that repeatedly displays its contempt and humiliates us?

We should display unity by supporting our prime minister’s policy of rejecting further territorial concessions until the Palestinian leaders separate from Hamas, engage in negotiations and display flexibility to enable us to achieve our security requirements. We will not be denied the right to construct homes in our capital or in the major settlement blocs, which will remain within Israel. We seek the support of the United States but we must retain our sovereignty.

 

 

Isi Leibler’s website can be viewed at http://www.wordfromjerusalem.com.
He may be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com.
This column was originally published (in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom) on October 30, 2014

 
 
 

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Remarks by US President Obama to the AIPAC Policy Conference, March 4, 2012, Washington, D.C. (full text)

Text procured here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/03/04/remarks-president-aipac-policy-conference

 


 
The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
March 04, 2012

Remarks by the President at AIPAC Policy Conference

Washington Convention Center
Washington, D.C.

11:10 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, good morning, everyone.

Rosy, thank you for your kind words.  I have never seen Rosy on the basketball court.  I’ll bet it would be a treat.  (Laughter.)  Rosy, you’ve been a dear friend of mine for a long time and a tireless advocate for the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States.  And as you complete your term as President, I salute your leadership and your commitment.  (Applause.)

I want to thank the board of directors.  As always, I’m glad to see my long-time friends in the Chicago delegation.  (Applause.)  I also want to thank the members of Congress who are with us here today, and who will be speaking to you over the next few days.  You’ve worked hard to maintain the partnership between the United States and Israel.  And I especially want to thank my close friend, and leader of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  (Applause.)

I’m glad that my outstanding young Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, is in the house.  (Applause.)  I understand that Dan is perfecting his Hebrew on his new assignment, and I appreciate his constant outreach to the Israeli people.  And I’m also pleased that we’re joined by so many Israeli officials, including Ambassador Michael Oren.  (Applause.)  And tomorrow, I’m very much looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Netanyahu and his delegation back to the White House.  (Applause.)

Every time I come to AIPAC, I’m especially impressed to see so many young people here.  (Applause.)  You don’t yet get the front seats — I understand.  (Laughter.)  You have to earn that. But students from all over the country who are making their voices heard and engaging deeply in our democratic debate.  You carry with you an extraordinary legacy of more than six decades of friendship between the United States and Israel.  And you have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to make your own mark on the world.  And for inspiration, you can look to the man who preceded me on this stage, who’s being honored at this conference — my friend, President Shimon Peres.  (Applause.)

Shimon was born a world away from here, in a shtetl in what was then Poland, a few years after the end of the first world war.  But his heart was always in Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people.  (Applause.)  And when he was just a boy he made his journey across land and sea — toward home.

In his life, he has fought for Israel’s independence, and he has fought for peace and security.  As a member of the Haganah and a member of the Knesset, as a Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, as a Prime Minister and as President — Shimon helped build the nation that thrives today:  the Jewish state of Israel. (Applause.)  But beyond these extraordinary achievements, he has also been a powerful moral voice that reminds us that right makes might — not the other way around.  (Applause.)

Shimon once described the story of the Jewish people by saying it proved that, “slings, arrows and gas chambers can annihilate man, but cannot destroy human values, dignity, and freedom.”  And he has lived those values.  (Applause.)  He has taught us to ask more of ourselves, and to empathize more with our fellow human beings.  I am grateful for his life’s work and his moral example.  And I’m proud to announce that later this spring, I will invite Shimon Peres to the White House to present him with America’s highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  (Applause.)

In many ways, this award is a symbol of the broader ties that bind our nations.  The United States and Israel share interests, but we also share those human values that Shimon spoke about:  A commitment to human dignity.  A belief that freedom is a right that is given to all of God’s children.  An experience that shows us that democracy is the one and only form of government that can truly respond to the aspirations of citizens.

America’s Founding Fathers understood this truth, just as Israel’s founding generation did.  President Truman put it well, describing his decision to formally recognize Israel only minutes after it declared independence.  He said, “I had faith in Israel before it was established.  I believe it has a glorious future before it — as not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”

For over six decades, the American people have kept that faith.  Yes, we are bound to Israel because of the interests that we share — in security for our communities, prosperity for our people, the new frontiers of science that can light the world. But ultimately it is our common ideals that provide the true foundation for our relationship.  That is why America’s commitment to Israel has endured under Democratic and Republican Presidents, and congressional leaders of both parties.  (Applause.)  In the United States, our support for Israel is bipartisan, and that is how it should stay.  (Applause.)

AIPAC’s work continually nurtures this bond.  And because of AIPAC’s effectiveness in carrying out its mission, you can expect that over the next several days, you will hear many fine words from elected officials describing their commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship.  But as you examine my commitment, you don’t just have to count on my words.  You can look at my deeds.  Because over the last three years, as President of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel.  At every crucial juncture — at every fork in the road — we have been there for Israel.  Every single time.  (Applause.)

Four years ago, I stood before you and said that, “Israel’s security is sacrosanct.  It is non-negotiable.”  That belief has guided my actions as President.  The fact is, my administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented.  Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer.  (Applause.)  Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust.  Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every single year.  (Applause.)  We are investing in new capabilities.  We’re providing Israel with more advanced technology — the types of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies.  And make no mistake: We will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge — because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.  (Applause.)

This isn’t just about numbers on a balance sheet.  As a senator, I spoke to Israeli troops on the Lebanese border.  I visited with families who’ve known the terror of rocket fire in Sderot.  And that’s why, as President, I have provided critical funding to deploy the Iron Dome system that has intercepted rockets that might have hit homes and hospitals and schools in that town and in others.  (Applause.)  Now our assistance is expanding Israel’s defensive capabilities, so that more Israelis can live free from the fear of rockets and ballistic missiles.  Because no family, no citizen, should live in fear.

And just as we’ve been there with our security assistance, we’ve been there through our diplomacy.  When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it.  (Applause.)  When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them.  (Applause.)  When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism.  (Applause.)

When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them.  When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them.  (Applause.)  When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them.  (Applause.)  And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them.  (Applause.)  So there should not be a shred of doubt by now — when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.  (Applause.)

Which is why, if during this political season — (laughter) — you hear some questions regarding my administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts.  And remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics.  America’s national security is too important.  Israel’s security is too important.  (Applause.)

Of course, there are those who question not my security and diplomatic commitments, but rather my administration’s ongoing pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  So let me say this:  I make no apologies for pursuing peace.  Israel’s own leaders understand the necessity of peace.  Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres — each of them have called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state.  I believe that peace is profoundly in Israel’s security interest.  (Applause.)

The reality that Israel faces — from shifting demographics, to emerging technologies, to an extremely difficult international environment — demands a resolution of this issue.  And I believe that peace with the Palestinians is consistent with Israel’s founding values — because of our shared belief in self-determination, and because Israel’s place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected.  (Applause.)

Of course, peace is hard to achieve.  There’s a reason why it’s remained elusive for six decades.  The upheaval and uncertainty in Israel’s neighborhood makes it that much harder — from the horrific violence raging in Syria, to the transition in Egypt.  And the division within the Palestinian leadership makes it harder still — most notably, with Hamas’s continued rejection of Israel’s very right to exist.

But as hard as it may be, we should not, and cannot, give in to cynicism or despair.  The changes taking place in the region make peace more important, not less.  And I’ve made it clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met.  (Applause.)  That’s why we continue to press Arab leaders to reach out to Israel, and will continue to support the peace treaty with Egypt.  That’s why — just as we encourage Israel to be resolute in the pursuit of peace — we have continued to insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist, and reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements.  (Applause.)  And that is why my administration has consistently rejected any efforts to short-cut negotiations or impose an agreement on the parties.  (Applause.)

As Rosy noted, last year, I stood before you and pledged that, “the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations.”  As you know, that pledge has been kept.  (Applause.)  Last September, I stood before the United Nations General Assembly and reaffirmed that any lasting peace must acknowledge the fundamental legitimacy of Israel and its security concerns.  I said that America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, our friendship with Israel is enduring, and that Israel must be recognized.  No American President has made such a clear statement about our support for Israel at the United Nations at such a difficult time.  People usually give those speeches before audiences like this one — not before the General Assembly.  (Applause.)

And I must say, there was not a lot of applause.  (Laughter.)  But it was the right thing to do.  (Applause.)  And as a result, today there is no doubt — anywhere in the world — that the United States will insist upon Israel’s security and legitimacy.  (Applause.)  That will be true as we continue our efforts to pursue — in the pursuit of peace.  And that will be true when it comes to the issue that is such a focus for all of us today:  Iran’s nuclear program — a threat that has the potential to bring together the worst rhetoric about Israel’s destruction with the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Let’s begin with a basic truth that you all understand:  No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction.  (Applause.)  And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, and all of Israel’s leaders.

A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests.  But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States.  (Applause.)

Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we’ve done so much to build.  There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization.  It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the world’s most volatile regions.  It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran’s proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia.

And that is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  And that is what we have done.  (Applause.)

When I took office, the efforts to apply pressure on Iran were in tatters.  Iran had gone from zero centrifuges spinning to thousands, without facing broad pushback from the world.  In the region, Iran was ascendant — increasingly popular, and extending its reach.  In other words, the Iranian leadership was united and on the move, and the international community was divided about how to go forward.

And so from my very first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime:  a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don’t.  In fact, our policy of engagement — quickly rebuffed by the Iranian regime — allowed us to rally the international community as never before, to expose Iran’s intransigence, and to apply pressure that goes far beyond anything that the United States could do on our own.

Because of our efforts, Iran is under greater pressure than ever before.  Some of you will recall, people predicted that Russia and China wouldn’t join us to move toward pressure.  They did.  And in 2010 the U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly supported a comprehensive sanctions effort.  Few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime.  They have, slowing the Iranian nuclear program and virtually grinding the Iranian economy to a halt in 2011.  Many questioned whether we could hold our coalition together as we moved against Iran’s Central Bank and oil exports.  But our friends in Europe and Asia and elsewhere are joining us.  And in 2012, the Iranian government faces the prospect of even more crippling sanctions.

That is where we are today — because of our work.  Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure.  And by the way, the Arab Spring has only increased these trends, as the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is exposed, and its ally — the Assad regime — is crumbling.

Of course, so long as Iran fails to meet its obligations, this problem remains unresolved.  The effective implementation of our policy is not enough — we must accomplish our objective.  (Applause.)  And in that effort, I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy — backed by pressure — to succeed.

The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program.  Now, the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists.  Sanctions are continuing to increase, and this July — thanks to our diplomatic coordination — a European ban on Iranian oil imports will take hold.  (Applause.)  Faced with these increasingly dire consequences, Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision.  They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end.

And given their history, there are, of course, no guarantees that the Iranian regime will make the right choice.  But both Israel and the United States have an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically.  After all, the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons.  That’s what history tells us.

Moreover, as President and Commander-in-Chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war.  (Applause.)  I have sent men and women into harm’s way.  I’ve seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who’ve come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don’t make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency.  And for this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it.  And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country.

We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically.  Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States — (applause) — just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.  (Applause.)

I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.  (Applause.)  That includes all elements of American power:  A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.  (Applause.)

Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  (Applause.)  And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.  (Applause.)

Moving forward, I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues; the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world.  Already, there is too much loose talk of war.  Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program.  For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.  Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built.  Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt:  Speak softly; carry a big stick.  (Applause.)  And as we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve, and that our coordination with Israel will continue.

These are challenging times.  But we’ve been through challenging times before, and the United States and Israel have come through them together.  Because of our cooperation, citizens in both our countries have benefited from the bonds that bring us together.  I’m proud to be one of those people.  In the past, I’ve shared in this forum just why those bonds are so personal for me:  the stories of a great uncle who helped liberate Buchenwald, to my memories of returning there with Elie Wiesel; from sharing books with President Peres to sharing seders with my young staff in a tradition that started on the campaign trail and continues in the White House; from the countless friends I know in this room to the concept of tikkun olam that has enriched and guided my life.  (Applause.)

As Harry Truman understood, Israel’s story is one of hope. We may not agree on every single issue — no two nations do, and our democracies contain a vibrant diversity of views.  But we agree on the big things — the things that matter.  And together, we are working to build a better world — one where our people can live free from fear; one where peace is founded upon justice; one where our children can know a future that is more hopeful than the present.

There is no shortage of speeches on the friendship between the United States and Israel.  But I’m also mindful of the proverb, “A man is judged by his deeds, not his words.”  So if you want to know where my heart lies, look no further than what I have done — to stand up for Israel; to secure both of our countries; and to see that the rough waters of our time lead to a peaceful and prosperous shore.  (Applause.)

Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless the people of Israel.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
11:42 A.M. EST

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Zen lies Abu told Ma

The easiest kinds of lies to tell are the ones where you just say the exact opposite of what’s true. It may seem like a lazy approach to deceit, but this simple tactic has proved surprisingly effective over the years. The logical mind can be stymied by a disconnect between diametrically-opposing versions of the same reality. Similar principles are used in Daoist and Zen practices to fool the rational mind into taking a nap.

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Khamenei Considers Constitutional Reform

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei may terminate the position of President (currently held by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) and re-instate the position of Prime Minister that he abolished in 1989.

Read full Washington Post report

Prediction: Ahmadinejad may make a stealthy move against Khamenei 

 

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Rumour: Obama May Run as Independent in 2012

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Still Not Funny

“We’ll laugh about this when we’re older,” people are fond of saying after going through a rough patch together. But is it true?

Apparently not when it comes to cartoon images of the Islamic prophet Mohammed. 

Denmark cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s unflattering portrait of the prophet capped by a bulbously bomb-laden, fuse-lit turban appeared alongside eleven other similarly-topical, debatably-comical entries in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in September of 2005.

He is apparently now trying to sell numbered prints of his work over the internet. 
 

Here’s a Flashback from early 2006, courtesy of VizReport:

Khartoons 
Apparently, Not a Laughing Matter 

February 10, 2006 (Photo: wikipedia) 

muhammadpg (VizReport) How can pictures printed in a Danish newspaper last September be causing such massive upheaval today? 

It seems that a lot of people are confounded by the protests (some of them violent) that are currently raging worldwide against cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed. 

The whole thing appears to have started when Danish author Kåre Bluitgen had a tough time trying to find someone to illustrate his children’s book on the life of the prophet. When the matter came to the attention of the cultural editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Flemming Rose, he contracted twelve different artists to provide their own visual interpretations of Mohammed for a commentary on the basic problem faced by Bluitgen. 

Well, things quickly spiralled out of control; ambassadors were recalled; envoys were expelled; the Libyan embassy in Denmark was closed; apologies were issued; boycotts against Danish goods were initiated; dramatic demonstrations were held; more newspapers printed the offending images; apologies were issued; and several political cartoonists went into hiding. 

Did I mention that apologies were issued? In fact, the management of Jyllands-Posten apologised before widespread protests even broke out. Most of the other newspapers that re-printed the pictures have also since apologised. However, few apologies will be forthcoming from Western governments (as demanded by many protesters) because the press in the West is generally free from direct government control. Things are very different in a number of Muslim majority countries where freedom of the press is usually subject to the wishes of the ruling party. 

On a religious basis, there are two very different reasons for the cartoons to have caused a fuss: 

1) Idolatry – Any depiction that is flattering runs the risk of becoming an icon for worship. This is directly descended from the Book of Exodus, the second of the five books of Moses. 

Actually, the verse (Exodus XX; the basis of the Ten Commandments) doesn’t say that one shouldn’t draw pictures of prophets — it says that one shouldn’t draw pictures. Period. 

This is a difficult concept for us to imagine in our image-saturated world. 

Geometry is okay. Words are okay. But no pics. 

2) Blasphemy – Following right along into the next commandment: Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. 

This, I imagine, would also include defaming the Lord, or the word of the Lord as faithfully presented by his prophets, or his faithful prophets…in that this would reflect on the perception of the Lord’s word. 

The extension to the basic precept opens the door to potential offense if everyone is not in complete agreement on an “official” list of prophets. 

On a sociological level, it’s easy to understand why people fervently devoted to Islam could be upset with some of the images. There’s no doubt about it; some of the pictures and commentary could be considered anti-Islamic. Most of them are in poor taste, to one degree or another. That has definitely provided the emotional impetus to get people out the door to protest. 

But this is about more than just a few ill-conceived cartoons. It’s an expression of the pressure and desperation that is building in the world. 

It’s also about the objectives of several groups that seem reticent to allow this unfortunate episode to progress to its most logical and productive resolution. I can’t tell you why some people see it as their job to fan flames wherever they find them. Some even carry matches. Others, gasoline! 

Well, that would certainly explain the burned-out embassies and consulates. 

islm_cartoon_3aThe best cartoon of the lot (by Arne Sørenson) goes directly to the heart of Bluitgen’s dilemma. It depicts an artist sweating nervously as he surreptitiously works by low light, windowshade drawn, on a picture of what we are told is Mohammed. 

This is an image with humanity. It doesn’t disrespect anyone’s religion, but comments effectively on a bizarre situation faced by professionals who normally create graven images without a second thought. 

It may be impermissible for reverent Muslims to respectfully portray Mohammed in pictures, but the same does not necessarily hold true for non-believers. And even if it did, it is also a fundamental tenet of Islam that the punishment should fit the crime…but not in the way that Iran has attempted to turn the controversy in their own favour, by organising a cartoon competition. Topic: The Holocaust.

Perhaps someone can point out for me exactly where in the Qur’an it says that two wrongs make a right.

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