Reuters is reporting that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are both satisfied with their non-encounter at the United Nations last week. Both men "left the U.N. meeting with more than they arrived with: Obama with an assurance that Israel would not attack Iran's nuclear sites before the November 6 U.S. presidential election, and Netanyahu with a commitment from Obama to do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from producing an atomic bomb."
I found the second half of this statement surprising. If it is indeed news to Netanyahu that Obama has promised to do "whatever it takes" to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold, then he hasn't been listening. He's not the only one who hasn't heard the President clearly on the subject. I run into people constantly who believe that the bluffer in this relationship is Obama. Their argument holds that Obama will move toward a strategy of containment soon after the election, and that there is no way he would ever use military force to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.
I'm in the camp of people, however, who take him at his word, in part because he's repeated himself on the subject so many times and in part because he has laid out such an effective argument against containment and for disruption, by force, if necessary. With the help of Armin Rosen, of The Atlantic's International Channel, I've posted below a partial accounting of Obama's statements on the subject. Of course, it is possible that in a second term, should he win his bid for reelection, he will change his mind on the subject, and it is possible, of course, that Iran will somehow manage to defy his demands. But the record is the record: Given the number of times he's told the American public, and the world, that he will stop Iran from going nuclear, it is hard to believe that he will suddenly change his mind and back out of his promise.
Here are some of his statements on the subject, going back to his first campaign for the presidency:
June 5, 2008, in Cairo: "I
will continue to be clear on the fact that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be
profoundly destabilizing for the entire region.It is strongly in
America's interest to prevent such a scenario."
June 8, 2008, to AIPAC: "The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate
this threat.... Finally, let there be
no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to
defend our security and our ally Israel."
October 7 2008, in the second presidential debate: "We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. It would be a game-changer in
the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our strongest ally in the region
and one of our strongest allies in the world, but it would also create a
possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. And so
it's unacceptable. And I will do everything that's required to prevent it. And
we will never take military options off the table,"
November 7, 2008,
press conference: "Iran's
development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable. And we have to
mount an international effort to prevent that from happening."
February 27, 2009,
speech at Camp Lejeune: "(W)e are focusing on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing a strategy
to use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear
weapon; and actively seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Arab world."
January 27, 2010,
State of the Union address: "And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their
obligations, there should be no doubt: They, too, will face growing
consequences. That is a promise."
July 1, /2010, at the signing of the Iran Sanctions Act: "There should be no doubt -- the United States and the
international community are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear
May 19, 2011, speech on the Middle East: "Now, our opposition to Iran's intolerance and Iran's
repressive measures, as well as its illicit nuclear program and its support of
terror, is well known."
May 22, 2011, in an
address to AIPAC: "You also see our commitment to our shared security
in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.... So let me
be absolutely clear -- we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring
press conference after meeting with South Korean president: "Now, we don't take any options off the table in
terms of how we operate with Iran."
November 14, 2011, press conference: "So what I did was to speak with President Medvedev,
as well as President Hu, and all three of us entirely agree on the objective,
which is making sure that Iran does not weaponize nuclear power and that we
don't trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. That's in the interests
of all of us... I have said repeatedly and I will say it today, we are not taking
any options off the table, because it's my firm belief that an Iran with a
nuclear weapon would pose a security threat not only to the region but also to
the United States."
December 8, 2011, press conference: (In response to question about pressuring Iran): "No options off the table means I'm considering all
December 16, 2011, speech to the General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism: "Another
grave concern -- and a threat to the security of Israel, the United States and
the world -- is Iran's nuclear program. And that's why our policy has
been absolutely clear: We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring
nuclear weapons...and that's why, rest assured, we will take no options off the
table. We have been clear."
January 24, 2012,
State of the Union address: "Let there be no doubt: America is determined
to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off
the table to achieve that goal."
March 2, 2012, interview with Goldblog: "I... don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around
advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and
the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is
unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say."
March 4, 2012, speech to AIPAC: "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 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
March 5, 2012,
remarks after meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu: "... I reserve all options, and my policy here is not going to be one of
containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear
weapons. And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all
options are at the table, I mean it."
March 6, 2012,
press conference: "And what I have said is, is that we will not
countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon. My policy is not containment;
my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon -- because if they
get a nuclear weapon that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would
undermine our non-proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the hands
March 14, 2012,
remarks after meeting with David Cameron: "...And
as I said in a speech just a couple of weeks ago, I am determined not simply to
contain Iran that is in possession of a nuclear weapon; I am determined to
prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon -- in part for the reasons that
David mentioned... We will do everything we can to resolve this diplomatically,
but ultimately, we've got to have somebody on the other side of the table who's
taking this seriously."
September 25, 2012, speech to the United Nations General Assembly: "Make no mistake: A nuclear-armed Iran is not a
challenge that can be contained...the United States will do what we must to
prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."